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Sign Language Poetry Film on tour

The Scottish Poetry LibraryBSL poem image

The Scottish Poetry Library is looking at equalities and access, with support from Creative Scotland’s pilot Promoting Equalities Programme – 

The first artist residency, to help us explore how we could improve services for all library users, is with Kyra Pollitt, BSL interpreter and poetry researcher, and artist. BSL poet Gary Quinn, English/Shetlandic poet Christine De Luca and Kyra, with kinetic titling by Interface 3, made a moving poem film,‘The stars are the map I unfurl: a poem about Gerry Hughes in BSL, Shetlandic and English’.

Kyra writes about the film:

Having just completed a PhD researching sign language poetry – that is poetry that is created in a natural sign language – I wanted to bring sign language poetry to the SPL’s collection.

We decided in the end to do a film based on a poem about Gerry Hughes, the first profoundly deaf man to sail single-handed around the world, via the five great capes. At the banquet held in the weeks following the sailor’s safe return Gary Quinn – in the true bardic tradition of British Sign Language poetry – honoured Gerry in verse.

Having found our poem, the next question was how to translate the poem into a film. Gary’s piece, like most BSL poetry, takes its language beyond the everyday, creating unusual and beautiful images. I asked Edinburgh’s Makar Christine De Luca to collaborate on a translation. We giggled as Christine’s poetic imagination conjured words that captured Gary’s metaphors and laced his work with her own fingerprints. In her native Shetlandic, the flow of the verse changed again – eddies catching around yet other moments (‘smeddum’, ‘aber, foo o sea stories’).

The results were no more a set of literal translations than Gary’s original verse was a literal translation of Gerry’s journey.

Yet despite Christine’s beautiful texts, an audience might need further guidance to unlock some of the BSL poem’s visual treasures. David Bell’s kinetic typography, therefore, represents yet another layer of translation.

In the final, finished version, you will find elements in the Shetlandic that are not fully represented in either the English or the BSL, elements of the BSL that escape both written (or spoken) languages and so on. I hope, too, that you will find different elements of beauty in each.

The languages and translations of the film do not exactly echo each other, but sometimes follow each other, sometimes travel alongside each other, sometimes cross paths and sometimes divert around the invisible obstacles of language, culture and modality.

I had wanted to make a piece that placed BSL alongside Scotland’s other indigenous languages, to show off the country’s rich linguistic weave.

The film will be on show at a range of venues this autumn, including:

Macrobert Centre, Stirling:  25 September – 9 October:  TV screens in the cafe bar area, and in the cinema before films

Dundee Literary Festival, 22-26 October: on a loop in the Festival foyer in Bonar Hall

Wordplay, Shetland’s annual book festival, 12-16 November: look out for the film in the festival venues


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disability equality in the arts