Robert Panara & Allen Ginsberg
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester, NY - February 1, 1984
Jim Cohn responded to a query by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Professor Sam Abrams, a distinguished poet in his own right, if he had any events to add to Allen Ginsberg’s itinerary for when Ginsberg was coming to RIT late January 1984. Cohn suggested a “Deaf-Beat Summit” workshop on translation issues. The event, held on the RIT/NTID campus, occurred on 1 February 1984. This workshop presented Ginsberg with Deaf poet Robert Panara. Audience members included Cohn’s deaf friends Peter Cook, Debbie Rennie, and Professor Patrick Graybill––with whom Cohn studied and was also friends. The highlight of this workshop was when Ginsberg asked for an ASL translation of the famous juxtaposition from “Howl”––the words “hydrogen jukebox.” Professor Panara offered a translation into signed English (Panara’s preferred assimilated style of signing) that was dry and perfunctory. Professor Graybill volunteered a translation into ASL that was visually precise, vivid, memorable, and spontaneous. The entire room, including Ginsberg, shared the “hydrogen jukebox” translation experience by Graybill with utter approval. This was perhaps the key moment in Cohn’s work with Deaf poets because afterwards ASL poets began to emerge in earnest with a new kind of poetry that had certain formal and thematic compatibilities with Beat Literature, a crossing over effect that had not occurred in past American Deaf poetic history.
Video clip of Allen Ginsberg, Robert Panara and
Patrick Graybill with Kip Webster interpreting:
Recitation and Translation of Hydrogen Jukebox
from "Howl" from English to ASL
Robert Panara and Allen Ginsberg with
William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" on whiteboard
Robert Panara signing "hydrogen jukebox"
Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl"
Excerpt from The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox (RIT/NTID, 2009) by Miriam Lerner & Don Fegel.