Style in Signed Art Forms (Signing and performance style (Gaze to the…
Style in Signed Art Forms
In other poems, the narrator is far less obvious and may not even be present at all, so that characters speak and act as themselves. These poems use many more handling classifiers and constructed action.
Some poems do not have any active narrative voice (of the poet, of narrator, or of a character), and are told through a series of images.
Styles also vary according to the ‘voice’ in the poem (as the poet and scholar T.S. Eliot called it) and the ‘point of view’ of the poem.
The narrative style of any piece concerns the ‘story’ of the piece (‘what’ it is about), and the way it is told.
There are traditions of literary analysis that focus entirely on the text, and do not consider the life experience of the poet (or their audiences).
Deaf poets are also influenced by a variety of other poets depending on their age, national heritage and education, and this will create different styles in their signed work. Many signing poets have acknowledged the influence of written poems by hearing poets.
The life and language experiences of signing poets can help us to understand the choices behind some styles of sign language poetry.
For example, the age at which the poet became deaf will influence their language style, because poets who became deaf after acquiring a spoken language have a very different relationship with written language from those who were born deaf, or became deaf at a young age.
Poets with deaf parents who were brought up in a signing deaf environment have very different relationships with sign language and deaf culture from those brought up by hearing families who did not sign with them. This is often reflected in their choice of themes. Poets who grew up in deaf families and those who came later to the deaf community may all be radical and confrontational in the deaf politics of their work. However, we have seen a trend that the poets who comment more on wider politics (such as social inequality, the environment and war) often grew up in hearing families.
The modality of sign language offers a visual means of juxtaposing two distinct concepts, often motivating links which are only possible in sign language.
Different genres of literature use figurative language differently.
For example, extensive metaphor is sometimes seen as a characteristic that defines a piece as poetry rather than prose. Even within poetry, however, different forms have different figurative styles.
Another difference in literary style is the extent to which we see devices such as metaphor, simile, allegory and allusion in a piece.
The traditional Japanese haiku form, for example, has a very literal style, as it attempts to create strong sensory images without metaphor.
Signing and performance style
Gaze to the audience, in the narrator’s role, brings the performer and audience closer together. Almost all the signing poets and storytellers whose work we have studied do this to some extent, but how much they do it varies as part of their style.
Styles can also run along a continuum of formality, ranging from scholarly (the most formal) through formal and educated, and casual slang, to colloquial (the least formal).
Vocabulary choices mark styles clearly. In sign language poetry and storytelling, one major style division is seen between using signs from the established lexicon, whose purpose is to ‘tell’, and using signs from the productive lexicon, whose purpose is to ‘show’.
The style of interaction with the audience also varies by poet and by poem. In some poems and stories, the poet or performer appears to address the audience directly. At live events, there may be audience participation in the performance, even to the extent that the audience influences the text. Even without direct participation, though, how poets or storytellers position themselves in relation to the audience forms part of their style.
All poets have their unique signing style.