Media Releases

October 1997


Here’s a hot-off-the-press gourmet sampling for poetry-lovers!

Robert F. Panara is the legendary professor, drama-club coach, author, historian, baseball buff, authority on deaf figures in literature, and accomplished raconteur (storyteller). At Gallaudet University, he is still remembered as an English professor. At the newly-established National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York, he was the first Deaf professor, teaching "Creative Interpretation of Literature in Sign" and other English/literature courses, to both deaf and hearing students. He also founded the Drama Club at NTID (just as he did at Fanwood). The theater at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf is fittingly named in his honor. Fittingly, too, Bob and Shirley Panara were there when the announcement was made.

Panara co-edited The Silent Muse: An Anthology of Poetry by the Deaf, contributed several articles on Deaf Studies, culture, and performing arts to The Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness, and, with his son John, co-authored the first edition of Great Deaf Americans (1983). In 1996, Deaf Life Press published a revised, expanded version, Great Deaf Americans: The Second Edition, co-authored by Matthew S. Moore with Panara.

Panara’s collected poems have just been published as Deaf Life Press’ fifth book, On His Deafness and Other Melodies Unheard. This collection encompasses five decades’ worth of poems and verse—from Panara’s undergraduate days at Gallaudet College to the "Deaf President Now!" uprising at Gallaudet University. A number of individual poems have been published in various periodicals; some are published here for the first time.

What’s notable about Panara’s work is that in defiance of contemporary fashion, he dares to use traditional forms: rhyme, meter, and classical allusions. There’s even an epic poem with a classical subject matter, "Thermopylae." He experiments with a variety of metrical schemes and verse forms, including free verse. There are several haiku (the pared-down Japanese form that uses 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the middle, and 5 in the third). There’s something in this collection to appeal to all poetic tastes. His style is musical and varied.

Subject matter includes romance, baseball, the Deaf experience, war, nature, holidays, and portrait-sketches. The serious, even tragic, poems are balanced by playful verse. These include satire, spoofs, limericks, and a couple of goodies thrown in just for laughs. In other words, there’s a varied menu of gourmet poetic pleasures. There are tender and humorous poems dedicated to Shirley Fischer Panara, Bob’s wife (and sweetheart). There’s an exuberance and a joy in savoring the simple things: Fourth of July fireworks, playing baseball, revisiting campus.

The title is taken from Panara’s near-sonnet, "On His Deafness," which won the Grand Prize of $1,000 from World of Poetry (and is quoted in Jack R. Gannon’s Deaf Heritage). It concludes with the glowing line:

and, if I choose, the rustle of a star!

On His Deafness includes a humorous "introductory tribute" in verse by fellow poet and former NTID faculty member Sal Parlato, Jr., and Panara’s own essay "On Teaching Poetry to the Deaf, or, Let the Student Be the Poem!" It should inspire teachers to tackle this neglected, supposedly "inaccessible" and "boring" literary genre and make it fun for their students. Panara certainly makes it fun to read. Poetry enriches our lives by sharpening our perception of the world, allowing us to play with eye-pictures, images, and words, putting words together in a fresh, unexpected way. Why shouldn’t deaf children enjoy it, too?

Single copies are available for $15.95 plus $2.00 postage and handling. New York State orders: Please add 8% sales tax. For more information: Deaf Life Press, c/o MSM Productions, Ltd., 1095 Meigs Street, Rochester NY 14620-2405. Fax: 716-442-6371; TTY: 716-442-6370. E-mail: Visit the Deaf Life Press Website at

Poems by Robert F. Panara
A variety of poems, five decades worth—
romantic, epic, serious, nostalgic, humorous, or just-for-fun—
by the legendary teacher/writer/drama coach/sports buff.
Includes his essay, "On Teaching Poetry to the Deaf (Or: Let the Student Be the Poem!)"

Paperback, 112 pages
ISBN 0-9634016-5-3


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