Wednesday 24 November 2021

Review by Katharina Maria Kalinowski of "What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective," ed. Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone

What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective is an anthology that registers UK Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing experiences by British writers. It does not, as the editors write, aim for a definitive account of deafness, but rather seeks to offer a kaleidoscopic view on (not-)hearing. To that end, Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone beautifully assemble a variety of forms, including poetry, short story, journal entries, and short plays loosely linked to the theme of movement: voices are “in the movement of our hands,” words “moving pictures / Building scenes.” The anthology also provides videos of the texts in British Sign Language (accessible here), which enact the powerfully loud speech of the “silent linguist” and are highly recommendable.

Acknowledging that “life moves and / I with it,” the various perspectives gathered in this anthology take the reader on a multi-faceted journey exploring the “spaces / in between.” These include questions of identity, troubled relationships, family stories, human-animal bonds, and reflections on maps, internal and external, that light up new paths enabling everyone to travel at their own pace. Snapshots of a coastal walk during which “the wind is a bully in hearing aids” joins the “MAPping of a new landscape” that also describes the testing of threshold limits in hearing aid fitting. “Lockdown lyric” accompanies everyday struggles of signing a coffee order in a language that has no legal status. Accounts of contemporary routines involving taking the “cochlear implant off first, then mask, then implant back on” feel urgently political, bearing in mind face masks complicate lip reading, and “people are quick to judge on appearances.” Sometimes unmistakably direct, sometimes subtly entrenched in lines that are audible for some and visual for others, a manifesto for access takes shape, for “deaf rights / to be amplified,” “firmly rooted in society.” 

Inviting the reader to meet “eye to eye” in a world that seems to move faster than our senses can follow, these pages spell out the need to listen vigilantly, not only with the ears. The in-between spaces of what meets the eye are full of inspirational inner strength fuelling a continuous “fight against all / that deem us too small,” fuelling the many dances of hands that “ache” but “never tire.” Hearing is remapped, communication envisioned in different, more accommodating ways, tied to a longing for life without labels and respect without conditions.

About the reviewer
Katharina Maria Kalinowski is a bilingual poet and holds a PhD in English Philology and Poetry: Text, Practice as Research from the University of Cologne and the University of Kent. Her creative-critical research focuses on ecopoet(h)ics, translation, and the Anthropocene. Her work can be found in the Journal of British & Irish Innovative Poetry, Ecozon@, and the Irish Poetry Reading Archive

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