"Perchance My Hand May Touch the Lyre": Orality and Textuality in Nineteenth-Century Deaf Poetry‪.‬

Victorian Poetry 2011, Winter, 49, 4

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Beschreibung des Verlags

In his book The Lost Senses: Deafness and Blindness (1845), deaf (1 British writer and missionary John Kitto declares that deaf people cannot write poetry. Kitto argues, "For want of hearing others speak, it is next to impossible that [a deaf person] should have that knowledge of quantity and rhyme which is essential to harmonious verse." (2) However, after explaining this personal disqualification, Kitto provides specimens of his own verse to demonstrate his attempt at "the tuneful art" (1:171). Kitto suggests that "if the reader can discover the formal errors-the bad rhymes--the halting, hopping, stumping feet-which I am unable to detect, then my proposition is demonstrated; but if he can make no such discoveries, it must then be admitted with some qualification" (1:171). While Kitto's poetry provides evidence of his poetic ability, his preface exposes his anxieties about writing in a genre that he believed required the ability to hear. Kitto's strange vacillation between declaring the impossibility of a deaf poet and demonstrating the viability of his own poetry reflects the complicated position inhabited by a nineteenth-century deaf poet writing in English. Kitto, like all other nineteenth-century poets, both hearing and deaf, was facing a cultural climate that linked written poetry with orality, especially in terms of formal features including rhythm and rhyme. Kitto was not the only deaf poet who felt ambivalent about participating in a genre tied to sound and speech: about a dozen American and British deaf poets, who used signed languages or fingerspelling to communicate, published one or more volumes of work during the Victorian period. These deaf poets often acknowledged that their position was contradictory in a cultural paradigm that invested poetry with a special relationship to aurality and orality. This essay will investigate how these nineteenth-century deaf poets balanced cultural beliefs about the primacy of sound to poetry with their own desire to sever hearing ability from poetic ability and will explore what this tension reveals about nineteenth-century perceptions of the relation between sound and poetry. By considering both the formal conventionalism and the thematic radicalism of their constructions of sound in poetry, I will argue that these poets mobilized the tension between sound and deafness. This essay will posit that nineteenth-century deaf poets ambivalently maintained an idea of "vocality" in their poetry while underscoring how that imagined "voice" was a silent construct of print. My argument about nineteenth-century deaf poetry also intervenes in contemporary critical conversations about sound in poetry because deaf poetry disrupts any model of poetry that imagines sound as essential to poetic craft and consumption.

GENRE
Gewerbe und Technik
ERSCHIENEN
2011
22. Dezember
SPRACHE
EN
Englisch
UMFANG
30
Seiten
VERLAG
West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia
GRÖSSE
223,5
 kB

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