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Robert Smithdas, American deaf-blind poet -“Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deafness takes you away from people.”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 December 2018

Robert J. Smithdas was the first deaf-blind person to gain a master’s degree when he graduated from New York’s St. John’s University in 1953.  Born in 1925, Smithdas caught cerebro-spinal meningitis aged four and a half, and lost hearing and sight as a result.   He became director of Services for the Deaf-Blind at the “Industrial Home for the Blind,” and at the Helen Keller National Center.

We have a signed copy of his poetry book, City of the Heart (1966).  In the preface he says,

I composed these poems because my heart sang them to me over the years – because poignant moods, or powerful emotions, made me crystallize my thoughts and feelings into verbal expressions.  Sometimes inspiration was so spontaneous that the words came flooding into my consciousness and shaped themselves into song; but far more frequently I found myself searching through the labyrinthine meanings of language to find the most convincing words , and the most plausible rhythms, to serve as crucibles for my themes.  Yet I always knew the intrinsic essence of the thing I wanted to express in a sonnet, or a lyric, or the nobler passion of blank verse.

This is a clip from an interview theat Barbara Walters did with Bob Smithdas.

Barbara Walters: The lives of the deaf-blind have changed remarkably since the era of Helen Keller. She was never able to live by herself without sighted help, never able to be independent.

Bob: And today, it’s a tremendous difference, we can communicate, we can cook, we can go out and it is a wonderful type of progress

Barbara Walters: In spite of the good things Bob, what is the hardest part of be being deaf and blind?  What is the most frustrating?

Bob: At this stage of life, I am very used to being deaf blind, but I will admit that I miss not being able to see my friends’ faces or hearing their voices. Remember deafness takes you away from sound, from music. Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deafness takes you away from people.

Robert Smithdas died in 2014.

His poetry book, Christmas Blessing and Other Poems, (1959) is available on Archive.org

“Gently the snowflakes fall

Fragile and thin and light…”

https://nationaldb.org/pages/show/in-memoriam-robert-j-smithdas-advocate-for-the-deaf-blind

The photo of him above is the same as that at the back of the poetry book.  Unfortunately, when an external contractor tagged all of our books, the #### people doing the task were so slap-dash that they place the tag neatly over the photograph.

Please note, the chief U.K. deaf-blind charity is Sense.