Deaf Jam: A Look At American Sign Language Slam Poetry

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the screening of Deaf Jam in the Connelly

Center. Deaf Jam is an independent film directed by Judy Lieff and it documents the life of Aneta Brodski, a deaf Israeli born girl living in New York City, who wants to break the barriers between the divided worlds of the deaf and the hearing.

To accomplish this, Aneta joins a program which introduces her to ASL poetry. It is all about communicating and expressing one’s ideas through the dynamic, fluid movement that is embodied in a language that Aneta hopes the “hearing world” will be able to understand withoutany translation.

While Aneta is being taught ASL poetry at her school, she meets with a slam poet, Tahani, a non-deaf Palestinian Muslim who asks Aneta if she wants to combine their poems together to compete in a poetry slam. Aneta does not hesitate to seize the offer, and they begin working together. As they practice with each other for months on end, they merge aspects of both of their physical and cultural differences to create poetry, and a friendship.

They perform their poem at the poetry slam. Aneta freely moves her arms and body, signaling the story by feeding the audience with the staccato movements in her fingers. Tahani’s voice is clear, vivaciously reiterating Aneta’s parts of the poem with a voice that beats through the audience, as people witness the two languages breaking the wall between Israel and Palestine,hearing and nonhearing, as Aneta howls the word, “PEACE!”

This film is a must see for everyone, whether or not one has had experience in ASL or slam poetry. I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Tahani after the film was finished and she helped me create my first ASL poem with a group of teachers and students who had attended the screening. I completely agreed with Tahani when she said, “…Immersing myself in the physical form of poetry, I absorb it a lot better.” It’s true I still remember my poem.

This film teaches us that instead of feeling sorry for those we think do not have the ability to hear, we should disregard the ears, and focus on what people who do not hear really do have to say.

There are more ways for one to speak than with one’s mouth, and Deaf Jam has really proven that to be true.

By Saima Ahmad ’17

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