National Deaf Poetry Conference
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester, NY - Sept 24-26, 1987


The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) invited Jim Cohn to coordinate the first National Deaf Poetry Conference (24-26 September 1987) on the NTID campus in Rochester, New York. The conference included presentations, panel discussions and performances by thefeatured American Sign Langue poets: Peter Cook, Patrick Graybill, Ella May Lentz, Debbie A. Rennie and Clayton Valli. A team of performance art interpreters provided both voice and ASL interpretation for audience members as well as for the poets. The purpose of the conference was to draw upon poetic practitioners of American Sign Language aesthetic intelligence. The focus of the conference was on the evolution of Deaf Poetry and the Deaf Poet inside and beyond Deaf culture.

Each poet delivered a presentation of poetics. Presentations included personal accounts given as testimony of Deaf cultural experience as well as linguistic analysis of how that experience is considered aesthetically in the tradition and history of American Deaf Poetry. Peter Cook gave a presentation titled “Mind Trip Thru A Poet’s Eye.” Patrick Graybill’s presentation was titled “My Poems In Native And Secondary Languages.” Ella May Lentz’s presentation was titled “Evolution Of A Deaf Poet.” Debbie A. Rennie’s presentation was titled “Poetry And The Community.” Clayton Valli’s presentation was titled “The Nature Of A Line In American Sign Language Poetry.”

Patrick Graybill held a workshop titled “Have, Fun, Create Poems.” Ella May Lentz held a workshop titled “Classy Classifiers: Twisting ASL Rules.” Debbie A. Rennie held a workshop titled “Handshape.” Clayton Valli held a workshop titled “How To Spot Its Message.” A panel discussion titled “Two Worlds, One Spirit” was held featuring all the ASL poet-presenters as well as ASL interpreters/translators Donna Kachites, Kenny Lerner and Marc Schmitt.

Debbie A. Rennie and Patrick Graybill were the featured poets on the evening of September 24. Ella May Lentz and Clayton Valli were the featured poets on the evening of September 25. Peter Cook, joined by his hearing collaborator Kenny Lerner, was the featured poet on the evening of September 26.

The poster Cohn produced with NTID for the conference.



The featured American Sign Language (ASL) poets who performed:

Ella May Lentz

Clayton Valli

Peter Cook

Debbie Rennie

Patrick Graybill



National Deaf Poetry Conference Program Book Mock-up.


A Tribe is Deaf

Introduction to the National Deaf Poetry Conference by Jim Cohn 24 September 1987.