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This report is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

Oralism, Ableism and Counter Culture Lisa Kelly
If you allow poetry to do its real work to learn and go on learning – to steal from Cavafy’s ‘Ithaka’ – your writing will take you on some unforeseen journeys. In 2016, I co-edited the Deaf Issue of Magma Poetry with Raymond Antrobus and chose the theme, having lost the hearing in my left ear through childhood mumps, but I knew little of Deaf culture or British Sign Language (BSL). Early on, my ignorance led to a sharp lesson. I cornered a well-known Deaf poet at an event and asked if he would like to contribute to the issue. When he realised I could not lipread nor communicate in BSL, I got his turned back for an answer. I resolved to take classes there and then.

Having grown up in the hearing world, where my deafness was something to be downplayed, negotiated, or joked about, I was never taught about Deaf culture or given the opportunity to learn BSL. In many ways things have not moved on. My brother-in-law trained as an audiologist and has no BSL skills. It is not offered as an essential part of professional development, and routinely deafness is treated as a medical problem which can be ‘cured’ with hearing aids or a cochlear implant. Such ableism denies opportunities that come with being part of a rich Deaf culture with its own language and history.

Some five years after my introductory course to BSL, where I painstakingly fingerspelled my name and learned how to sign ‘thank you’ – which millions can now do thanks to ...


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