Spoken word poetry has been gaining traction for the past two decades and what was once thought to be a fad continues to hold sway over new audiences. Philadelphia is home to several internationally recognized poets and spoken word artists: Ursula Rucker, Black Ice, Rich Medina, Yellow Rage, and Stephanie Renee, just to name a few.
The movement has even caught the attention of Generation Y. This past summer the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM) took home top honors at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival—the largest spoken word event in the world. Filmmaker and Pew Fellow Judy Leiff discovered a group of deaf teens who have been exploring ways of using American Sign Language (ASL) poetry to carve a space for themselves on the burgeoning youth poetry circuit. The resulting documentary film, Deaf Jam, has its Philadelphia premiere on October 6 at Community College of Philadelphia.
Deaf Jam beautifully chronicles young deaf poets witnessing and participating in these contests for the first time. Performing in ASL, a dramatic visual language, the poets use rhythm, movement, and body language to create a cinematic equivalent to oral poetry. In the film, the poets use sign language and poetry not only to express themselves, but also to raise issues about disability and the future of ASL. Paralleling the journey of the poets and contributing to this bittersweet story is a counter-narrative, which traces the increasing erosion of this indigenous art form in the face of technologies and the public educational system attempting to mainstream the deaf into the hearing world.
Award-winning slam poet Michelle Meyers (of Yellow Rage) and ASL slam poet Aneta Brodsky, who is featured in the film, will perform and participate in a Q&A after the film.
The screening is free and open to the public. It is presented by ITVS Community Cinema and WHYY in partnership with Community College of Philadelphia, Greater Philadelphia Cares, and the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement. To RSVP visit whyy.org. ASL interpretation for the poetry and discussion is available. The film is formatted for viewing by both deaf and hearing audiences.
Thursday, October 6
1700 Spring Garden Street
Watch the trailer here.