The House of the Interpreter

Pair of Bell telephones, made by S. M. James, British, 1878
Science Museum Group Collection

Inspired by a pair of Bell telephones made by S. M. James in 1878 in the Science Museum’s Collections, this collaborative poem for Crossed Lines is written and performed by Lisa Kelly, Nadia Nadarajah, Serge ♆ Neptune and D L Williams. The poem explores the role of telephony in miscommunication, ways of listening and the marginalized voice. Drawing on the line ‘The House of the Interpreter’ from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), it explores the role of sign and interpretation for those who have been ignored, misheard or forced to speak a different language.

Reflecting in particular on the relationship between confession, utterance and silence, as well as on Alexander Graham Bell’s complex relationship with the d/Deaf experience, his promotion of Visible Speech, and his opposition to sign language, the poem considers the different ways in which we can interpret the history of science and technology.

The poem was written and recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown for ‘The Exchange’, a collaboration between Crossed Lines and the Science Museum Group.

Lisa Kelly [lead poet] is a poet, editor and technology journalist. She has single-sided deafness from childhood mumps and is learning British Sign Language. She is on the board of Magma Poetry and co-edited the Conversation issue and the Deaf issue. Her first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, was published by Carcanet in 2019. Her poems have appeared in Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press) and Carcanet’s New Poetries VII. Her pamphlets are Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press) and Bloodhound (Hearing Eye).

Nadia Nadarajah is an artist who creates and performs plays in BSL. Born profoundly deaf, she is a Shakespeare’s Globe Associate Artist who has performed in As You Like It and Hamlet. Recent performances elsewhere include Royal Court Theatre’s Midnight Movie (2019) and A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic Theatre (2018).

Serge ♆ Neptune has been called ‘the little merman of British poetry’. His work has appeared in whynow, Harana Poetry, Lighthouse, Banshee, Spontaneous Poetics, Brittle Star, Ink Sweat & Tears and Strange Poetry. His first pamphlet These Queer Merboys was published with Broken Sleep in 2020.

D L Williams is a deaf queer bilingual poet working with British Sign Language and English. Bilingualism has inspired a deep interest in translation and how her work can be made accessible to signing and non-signing audiences. She has performed around the UK including at the Edinburgh Fringe, the Southbank Centre and the Albert Hall, as well as in America and Brazil. Her poems have appeared in Magma and Leaving: Award Winning Poetry by Hammond House Publishing.