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Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Larry Polansky, the Jacob H. Strauss Professor in Music, has been awarded a New Directions Fellowship by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support his emerging interest in American Sign Language (ASL) poetry and performance. This type of award, according to the Mellon Foundation, is for advanced training in pursuit of a specific research agenda outside the recipient's own discipline, and as a long-term investment in his intellectual range and productivity.
As a musician and a composer, Polansky has always been fascinated by the relationship between sound and meaning. "While music may be said to be sound without meaning, ASL is the opposite, meaning without sound," he says.
Polansky will use the award from Mellon to immerse himself in ASL training to become a more proficient signer. He will merge that skill with his profession to explore Deaf poetry and Deaf performance art. In his proposal, he states that he will research ASL poetry and integrate ASL arts and performance into his teaching at Dartmouth.
"It might sound unconventional, but I think it makes sense to examine ASL poetry in terms of rhythm and formal structure, not just semantics, and bring my musical expertise to the consideration of ASL poetry and performance."
Polansky began taking ASL courses and involving himself with signing culture about five years ago, simply because it intrigued him. As he learned ASL and as he connected with more signers, his interests deepened. He hopes his research will contribute to the nascent body of work examining ASL poetry, which until now, according to Polansky, has mostly dealt with a literary examination of this beautiful art form. His research will be a part of the next level of scholarly work, taking a look at the poetry from a musical perspective.
Polansky will take courses at Gallaudet University, the world's only university designed specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students. He will also take courses at Northeastern University in Boston, which has a strong ASL interpreter program. He will spend time at the Sign Language Center in New York City, as well as get involved in the many Deaf Culture offerings of that and other cities' Deaf communities. The Mellon grant will also allow him to travel to meet Deaf performers and poets, and to work in major video archives around the country.
"For purely practical reasons, it is not possible for a deaf person to learn to understand spoken English, so it becomes a responsibility to learn ASL," says Polansky. "The kindness and care with which I have been treated by teachers and members of the Deaf community over the years has been extraordinary. I hope I can make a contribution in return by taking a new perspective on Deaf poetry, which despite its importance and longevity in Deaf Culture, is not well known in the hearing world. Dartmouth, with its tremendous intellectual diversity and gifted students, seems the ideal place to do this. I am fortunate and thankful to Mellon and Dartmouth for this opportunity to follow my artistic and scholarly instincts in such an unusual way."
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