The Caroline Werner Gannett Project 2007-08
Ze Frank

Kenny Lerner and Peter Cook

Peter Cook and NTID's Kenny Lerner ;
acclaimed ASL poet & hearing collaborator perform imaginative, experimental visual & visceral poetry


“Poetry in Motion: The Flying Words Project”

When: 7.00 p.m., Saturday, Febuary 2, 2008
Where: Webb Auditorium
(James E. Booth Memorial Building - 7A)

Peter Cook is a Deaf performing artist whose work incorporates American Sign Language, pantomime, storytelling, acting and movement. He has appeared in Live from Off Center's "Words on Mouth" (PBS) and The United States of Poetry (PBS) produced by Emmy award-winner, Bob Holman. He has also directed a touring production of a children's play, "World of Whys," (parent company, National Theatre of the Deaf, Chester, CT) and recently made a directing debut with International Deaf Poetry in Stockholm, Sweden, in Norway and Denmark. Kenny Lerner teaches History to deaf students at RIT. He has been the co-creator and the "voice" of Flying Words since they began collaborating in 1984.


Selections from reviews:

The Flying Words Project--at  once spontaneous, deliberate, political, angelic;  draws on both deaf and hearing poetic lineages and recombines them in startlingly new ways.  A Flying Words project poetry performance was a combination Tin Pan Ally circus-vision two -headed-man Yes concert Nickelodeon Star Trek hockey rink Mao Tse-Tung French Revolution with goofball dinosaur egg-hatching tornadoes of rain-drops falling on the skin of a boy & his father like a technicolor Beavis & Butthead Laurel & Hardy sad-eyed Charlie Chaplin in Vietnam helicopter Einstein under Newtonian apple tree reincarnation arguing interactive video TTY arcade medicine show tipi "Deja Vu Salesman" frisbee toss Giant Deer-leap waterfall car-crash Civil War battlefield spaceship 4-armed Laurent Clerk Ronald Reagan Ayatollah Khomeini Mickey Mouse holocaust boxcar post-Modern Apocrypha.

As they performed across the US and Europe, before deaf and hearing audiences with equal acclaim, the meaning of their poetry became grounded in a theater of sacred-clown candor and skeleton-boned consciousness at once akin to the lineage of Whitmanic catalog, the "First Thought Best Thought" spontaneous poetics of Allen Ginsberg and the traditions of epic Deaf Minstrelsy, sign mime transparent folkloric,  journeyman performance artisanship, postmodern telegenic entertainment poetry slams, and ASL informant transmission poetics specialist.  In addition, Kenny Lerner contributed a singularly profound and radically original audiospatial iconic complex, a proof of the existence within the hearing body of a comparative apparatus of perpetual spontaneous embellishment.  Having contributed to the collective interpretation of the Deaf Body, they laid the groundwork for the recognition of the cultural specificity unique to Deaf people in the simple act of composing and performing their art in ASL, much as Dante did in choosing Italian over Latin. (Jim Cohn, Sign Mind)

"Cook and Lerner have freed themselves from the obligation to make sense, to present a message, or to do ASL poetry in the conventional sense. Though they do poetry that tells messages--indeed, poetry in the sense that Dot Miles meant it, full of knowledge about the language and its political situation--they also experiment and draw attention to the very act of ASL poetry itself. At every turn during their performances, their audiences understand what they are doing. They laugh and cheer at every pretense of the poets. Sign poetry has reached a point where it no longer needs to teach or justify itself; it is widely regarded and appreciated for what it is--an emotional outlet, a political statement about the language and culture, and finally, simply entertainment." (Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture)

"These are two artists, good-hearted and pleasantly dedicated, who create new worlds, if not universes, using mime and voice and the breath of their bodies." (Feld, Drama-Logue)

"You can't miss Flying Words. You simply can't. It's simply one of the most amazing displays of eloquence in motion that you'll ever see. The presentation is simple--just a couple of ordinary-looking guys on stage combining the spoken word, sign language and motion to communicate in great depth the world of the deaf to everyone, whether they hear or not. It's as though the gulf between hearing and deaf disappears." ("On the Wings of a Word", The Edmonton Bullet)

"The more theatre I see, the more I'm convinced there is a direct relation between simplicity and power. The simpler the performance-the less encumbered it is with inessential props, costumes, scene changes, sound cues, elaborate multimedia effects, arcane performance theories-the more directly the work speaks to the audience. Which is why I am so taken with the work of Kenny Lerner and Peter Cook . . .Some have compared Flying Words Project's circular stories to Allen Ginsberg's poetry, though Cook's striking, surreal imagery-a man "swimming" through rocky earth, stars and galaxies shooring out through the opening of a tent-is much more reminiscent of the crazy dream logic of animated cartoons." (Jack Helbig, Critic's Choice, The Chicago Reader)