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Signing Hands Across the Water

Seven sign language poets

On March 16th – 18th 2012, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, USA celebrated sign language poetry. Sign language poets from Britain and America came together and explored this rich and beautiful art form with members of College, the Deaf Community and visitors from the wider community, to see

  • Friday evening – a “public conversation” between the British and American poets, discussing national, cultural, linguistic and personal differences in their work;
  • Saturday evening – an open performance of poems in British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL);
  • Sunday morning – a Panel discussion ‘how signed poetry works’, exploring the language and themes used in BSL and ASL poetry.
  • Additionally, on Saturday daytime there will be a workshop for fluent signers to compose signed poetry.

Signing Hands Across the Water gave College members and visitors to College a unique opportunity to discover sign language poetry in the United States and in the British deaf community where traditions, language and culture are different.  All events were fully accessible in ASL and spoken English.
The event was organised as part of the work of Rachel Sutton-Spence, Cornell Visiting Professor to Swarthmore for 2011-2012. Professor Sutton-Spence has worked on creative sign language for over 15 years, especially researching and promoting British Sign Language poetry (

The Signing Hands Across the Water Festival is made possible by the William J Cooper Foundation at Swarthmore College

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