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 or her intellectual range and productivity.
As a musician and a composer, Polansky is 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 to immerse himself in ASL training. 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, 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, he says, has mostly dealt with a literary examination of the art form. His research will be a part of the next level of scholarly work, examining the poetry from a musical perspective.
Polansky will study 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, which has a strong ASL interpreter program. He will spend time at the Sign Language Center in New York City and get involved in Deaf Culture offerings. 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.
“I hope I can make a contribution 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,” says Polansky. “Dartmouth, with its tremendous intellectual diversity and gifted students, seems the ideal place to do this.”
By SUSAN KNAPP
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Last Updated: 12/17/08