The Poet is the Poem is a unique showcase of Malaysian Sign Language through poetry.

Elaine Foster, who founded MY Poetry School, was inspired to organise the initiative from watching poetry delivered in sign language. 

The result was the premiere of “Walls” a poem film in the Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM) or Malaysian Sign Language by Anthony Chong with a translation in English by multimedia poet, Sheena Baharudin. (BIM is the officially recognised language of the deaf in Malaysia and is integral to their identity.)

The poem film was launched during an online event that also brought together performances by poets, both deaf and hearing. 

Elaine and Anthony also developed a potential teaching methodology for using poetry and other creative signing literary forms to support the education of deaf people in Malaysia. 

“Sign language poetry or sign art, contrary to popular belief, is a sophisticated language art form with its own poetic grammar. It has been described as cinematic. Deaf poets use a combo of visual vernacular (more like mime), sign language grammar, sords (sign words) and sign language storytelling techniques like role shift to create a fully embodied visual language with its own rhyme, rhythm and humour. With BIM poetry, the poet literally is the poem.”- Elaine Foster. 

As a recipient of the Connections Through Culture (CTC) grant, Elaine’s project was aimed at enabling artist exchanges between the UK and Southeast Asia. 

Although her initial plans to bring a UK based British Sign Language (BSL) poet to work with the deaf community in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah was hindered by international lockdown restrictions, Elaine managed to redesign the project to culminate in a meaningful artistic and cultural exchange.

Apart from the premiere of a unique film, featuring a poem in BIM by Anthony Chong with a translation in English by multimedia poet, Elaine and Anthony also worked to develop a potential teaching methodology to support the education of deaf people in Malaysia. 

“Deaf arts, like Deaf poems and Deaf storytelling are integral to Deaf identity. Like all poetry, BIM poetry is an important vehicle of self-expression, through which Deaf Malaysians can tell their stories and be heard. With this project the team wanted to celebrate BIM poetry and arts and artists, create exchanges between deaf and hearing artists and educators in Malaysia and the UK to build a bridge between our communities and finally to advocate for the improvement of the education of the deaf in Malaysia in their natural language which is BIM. Language, as you know, is integral to identity and vital for communication, be it spoken or signed.”- Elaine 

 You can watch the recorded event of “The Poet is the Poem” here

“Walls” the poem film is also available to watch here.

Elaine Foster 

Elaine Foster is a poet educator, community engaged arts and theatre facilitator and creative learning designer from the UK and Malaysia. She is also the founder of a poetry collective called, Poetry Cafe KL and The School of Poetry, through which she has taught poetry in schools across Malaysia, hosted poetry events including an annual Malaysian national youth poetry slam and The Big Fish, a storytelling event for big kids. She has also worked with various arts education organisations in Malaysia and in Singapore, using poetry and drama to teach English and public speaking.

Anthony Chong

Anthony Chong is a Deaf community leader based in Kuala Lumpur, graduate of University of Malaya, majoring in linguistics and of Gallaudet University majoring Deaf Studies. He is a founder and member of Malaysian Sign Language and Deaf Studies Association (MyBIM). He is actively promoting the development of Malaysian Sign Language and Deaf leadership through working projects with the Deaf community. He is involved in several research projects related to the Deaf community. He has facilitated training courses and workshops for the Deaf and hearing people who work with the Deaf community.  

Sheena Baharuddin 

Sheena Baharudin is a Malaysian multimedia poet, educator, spoken word artist, lifestyle writer, event curator and founder of the local performing arts event Numinous.

Ana Jonessy

BIM interpreter and arts educator affiliated with BENTARAKATA, a Sabah based community arts group working with the Deaf community in East Malaysia. They run a community arts space in Kota Kinabalu, facilitate workshops around social justice issues, youth rights, education and health.

Discover more Connections Through Culture collaborations here.  

Check out the opportunities from British Council here.