Raymond Antrobus: Author of, “Can Bears Ski?”

This week, Signature share with you more about Raymond Antrobus, a poet and educator, who in 2019, became the first poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for best work of literature in any genre.  Recently, Antrobus released his first picture book, “Can Bears Ski?”, which follows the journey of a father-and-son who are managing deafness.

 

 

To find out more about Raymond’s passion for poetry and teaching, carry on reading below:

  1. Hi Raymond, could you please introduce yourself to our weekly readers?

I am a poet, writer, teacher, and investigator of missing sound. I have authored two poetry collections (The Perseverance and All The Names Given), and two children’s picture books (Can Bears Ski? And Terrible Horses) and written and hosted two radio documentaries for the BBC (Inventions In Sound and Recaptured Number 11,407).  A few of my poems are currently on the UK’s GCSE curriculum.

  1. Can you tell us a bit more about your upbringing and how it influenced your journey into poetry?

I was born in Hackney, East London to a Jamaican father and an English mother, both enthusiasts of poetry. Due to their love for poetry, I was exposed to a range of poets from Dub poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jean Binta Breeze, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Miss Lou to classic literary poets like William Blake and Claude McKay.

  1. Your collection of “The Perseverance”, explores themes of deafness and communication. Could you share how your experiences as a deaf person inform your poetry?

I try to find forms within poetry that align with my experiences of deafness, both medically and culturally. The Perseverance is an English language, voice-led book of poems with sequences throughout that use BSL illustrations to punctuate and transition between poems. All The Names Given takes a different approach and uses “Captions” on the page to serve the journey from first to last poem. There are BSL versions of some of my poems performed by Vilma Jackson and Nadia Nadarajah, which can be viewed online too.

  1. In what ways do you think poetry and literature serve as a way to express the challenges of deafness in a hearing society?

Perhaps d/Deaf and hard of hearing writers and poets can make more interesting literature and poetry by feeling less of a need to challenge the hearing society and more of a need to understand and express themselves as they are, without guilt, shame, or defensiveness. In my opinion, some BSL poets like Dot Miles and John Wilson achieve this as well as some English-based deaf and hard of hearing poets like Meg Day and Ilya Kaminsky. We are allowed to dream of a world where we are fully understood and embraced on our own terms.

  1. Why was it so important to create the book, ‘Can Bears Ski’? and what sparked your interest to create this children’s picture book?

After visiting numerous deaf schools and noticing a lack of deaf protagonists in the books on the shelves, I felt compelled to write “Can Bears Ski?”. The book made history with Rose Ayling-Ellis performing a BSL version of the book on CBeebies Bedtime. It was also adapted for the stage by Deafinitely Theatre and The Pied Piper Theatre company. They used Deaf and hearing actors as well as puppets. I took my two year old (hearing) son and he loved it. It brought tears to my eyes seeing how much audiences (both deaf and hearing), were resonating with the story. Late deafened grandparents have also sent me messages to say how the book has helped them explain their deafness to their grandchildren.

  1. Where is the best place that you have performed your poetry, and why was your chosen place a standout for yourself?

Tough questions, I performed at the Paralympics closing ceremony at Wembley Stadium in front of thousands of people, the amazing Jacqui Beckford was my BSL interpreter, but that experience didn’t beat returning to my old deaf school and performing for the 50 or so deaf students at Blanche Nevile. I had run a series of poetry lessons with a few students who performed their poems that day too. Each poem was interpreted by a teacher of the deaf. It was moving to me because it was exactly what I would have needed when I was a student there when my deaf and hearing self struggled to integrate. Even my old English teacher came by to congratulate me for finding and embracing my deaf identity.

  1. Here at Signature, we are incredibly excited about a BSL GCSE, can you share your thoughts on the importance of this for deaf/hard of hearing and hearing individuals?

It is long overdue, and I am overjoyed that its happening. When I took my GCSE exams in 2003, the school decided I should drop the foreign language subject because of my deafness. Despite learning and speaking some British Sign Language for four years, my ‘Speaking and Listening’ GCSE exams were only conducted in spoken and written English. It would have made more sense for my deaf peers and me to have had the BSL GCSE. It would have helped to validate the language within the wider culture too. I knew many hearing students who could articulate in BSL because of their friendships with deaf students and family members. Indeed, they would have flourished too. I would like to give a big shout out to BSL campaigner Daniel Jillings for being a big part of making that happen. He could be the next Jack Ashley if he goes into politics.

  1. Finally, do you have any future aspirations or goals that you hope to achieve in the next few years?

My next poetry collection, ‘Signs Music’ is going to be released this September. The collection is a lyrical sequence written during my transition into fatherhood.

My debut nonfiction book ‘An Investigation of Missing Sound’ comes out in August 2025. It weaves in memoir, essays and poems grounded in d/Deaf history, education, and experience.

Going forward, I would like to take on more collaborative projects, as writing books can sometimes be very lonely. I am hoping to maybe write for the screen and stage if I get the opportunity.

Here at Signature, we would like to thank Raymond for sharing more about his passion for poetry. We hope to see more picture books with deaf protagonists throughout the story. We look forward to seeing some of the exciting projects that Raymond has lined up.

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