It's spoken word without spoken words—ASL SLAM is an open space for poets to perform their work in American Sign Language (ASL). As ASL SLAM's executive director Douglas Ridloff explains, ASL poetry doesn't rely on rhyming patterns or meter within auditory or written wordplay; rather, the art is "more about the movement, a visual rhyme versus an audio rhyme." Its performance is a stunning and emotionally potent artistry that connects with all audiences.
ASL Slam is an "open hands" event where members of the deaf community express themselves through poetry. Held at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, individuals can rap, rhapsodize and rehash on stage.
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ASL has now gained legitimacy and been shown to include the deep grammar and syntax found in spoken languages. It is also the wellspring of deaf culture, a proud community wary of historical attempts to assimilate them into a hearing world.
SITE SANTA FE
Participative ASL Poetry Slam session lead by Douglas Ridloff responding to works in the exhibition at SITE
ASL SLAM Provides an Artistic Outlet for Denver's Deaf Community
ASL SLAM got its start in New York City in 2005 as an open mic night with the name ASLian Poetry and Storytelling Night, which pushed the notion that ASL could be used in poetry performances. By 2010, emerging artist and poet Douglas Ridloff had taken over and expanded the concept to satellites in Denver and Boston.
Nevada’s first ASL slam for deaf, hard-of-hearing held in Henderson.
Douglas Ridloff performs during ASL SLAM at E-String Grill and Poker Bar in Henderson on Dec. 3, 2016. ASL SLAM is a space for Deaf performing artists to share poetry and storytelling in American Sign Language.
It’s a little after seven o’clock on a Friday night in September, and the show’s about to start. A tall man wearing a baseball cap is standing onstage in a dimly lit bar in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. He’s holding a microphone, but he doesn’t speak a word. Instead, he gently taps the mic with two fingers and looks around at the audience, smirking expectantly.
ASL SLAM, self-described as “a space for Deaf performing artists to take to the stage and rap, rhapsodize and rehash,” is a monthly ASL poetry and storytelling event in New York City, Boston and Denver curated by poet Douglas Ridloff.
“Deaf people have a voice,” Ridloff signed from the stage Sunday night. “It’s silent, but we can be quite vocal.” After the show, Ridloff explained through interpreter Anthony Adamo, “ASL Slam provides deaf people an audience that can participate, but also gives them a chance to be part of one, or to get up on stage and express their art through different types of poetry.”