Category Archives: Poetry & Dementia

Poetry and #dementiaawarenessweek

Best_Margaret

Margaret pointing to the pink windowsill

At 8am this morning I was on the phone to BBC Hereford & Worcester, talking about making poems with people living with dementia, and later on, I was in Highwell House Nursing Home in Bromyard, really making poems.

I shared printouts of a painting by Joan Eardley around the room of ten people.  Not everyone has dementia, though several have it quite badly.  I’ve been working with this group for over a year. Today, Joan Eardley’s painting of 1950s children on the streets of the Gorbals proved very popular with everyone.  I write down (a desperate scribble) exactly what they say:
“Oh they’re joyous!  They’re real children”.
“You can see your own children in there”.
“Look at the mum’s tired face”.
“I love the little boy in the braces. His trousers are too big.  His face is too thin”.

After a while I read back to them my scrambled notes, ‘so far’.  Everyone listens, and then I go back round the room, speaking to individuals and persuading further contributions.

Later, at home, I put together a group of poems.  I don’t add any of my own words, but I restructure the ones I took down in my notes.  I think this is today’s favourite.

Pink Windowsill

Red hair, red cardigan buttoned at the top. What’s that dark
in her hair?  Oh, is it the shadows?
I was always knitting cardigans
for my own children.

Mother’s tried to brighten the windowsill
by painting it pink.

Words from Jean, Jim, Peter, Iris, Cecil, John, Isobel, Margaret, Jean, Stella

Next week I’ll take the poems back to the group and we’ll read them and enjoy them slowly – and probably twice.

And then we’ll make some more.

 

 

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Older voices on BBC Shropshire Radio

Apple in hand

So delightful this morning to have the chance to share poems made with residents of Highwell House Nursing Home on BBC Radio Shropshire with the wonderfully enthusiastic Jim Hawkins.

The link is here: and the clip is at 1hr: 39  (or listen to the show from 1h for more on poetry in Shropshire, including Jonathan Day‘s new work ‘Lyric’).

Here’s one of the poems I read.  It was made by writing down conversations with the group as they happened, which then I worked into the poem, using only the residents’ words, but finding a form and line-endings for the poem.  These are the voices of Jim Cecil, Eddie, Vera, Wilf, Peter, Stella, Margaret and Iris.

Wise

We’ve all scrambled through life.
We don’t know why
we go through it, but we do.
It’s called experience.
It’s been an amazing life.
We don’t know
how wise we are. 

Poetry, Punch & Judy in a Care Home

DSCF0048
The children sat in front, legs crossed, looking up.
You want to be a bit scared, then brought back
into the real world again.
He had a trail of children following him, 
just like the Pied Piper,
all bewitched.

This week I was working in a Herefordshire care home with a large group of elderly people, many of whom are living with dementia.  I work regularly with this group, and this time I took them my grandpa’s Punch and Judy puppets to look at.

The puppets were passed round, their fragile condition much remarked on, and soon the conversation was flowing.  I keep the ball rolling, and do my best to write down as much verbatim, of what people say.  No punctuation!  Doing this work has made me inventive with a personalised shorthand…

Later, at home, I work on these notes to make poems, using only the words actually spoken, so adding none of my own.  Here are some photographs and extracts from the poems.DSCF0044

Mr Punch looks sly.  You wouldn’t trust him.
He’s on the make.  The Policeman did
a lot of shouting.  He wags his finger
at Mr Punch.DSCF0047

 

This ghost is a bit menacing.  Feel that rough carving.
It’s been handled such a lot.
That skull’s all shiny
with people smoothing its head.
He’s bad before you look at him.

Next week I’ll be back in the care home to read the group the poems we made together.  And make some more.

Poetry and Dementia – on film

For three years I worked as a freelance poet for In The Pink, a poetry and dementia project managed by Courtyard Arts in Hereford.  As the project reached the end of its funding cycle they made this little film, which focuses particularly on the work I was doing in one of Herefordshire’s care homes.  I like the film because it demonstrates the joy and engagement of these very elderly people with words, and with each other.

In The Pink – a poetry project with people living with dementia

Lillian cups a tiny bird’s nest in today’s session in a Hereford Care Home.  She isn’t able to speak much, bLillian & nest Charles Court March2015 JAut she was utterly delighted.  It was marvellous to be able to bring such pleasure.

What bird lived here? 
So sweet. Soft.  
Keeps warm, I expect.

I don’t think we could do that.
They’re so clever. They just do it
with their beaks.

true     true    true
off they’ll fly

look there, look there

rspb_blackbird_big_grandeI also brought in a little RSPB blackbird, complete with song.  He sang to everyone in the room, and prompted some marvellous language, which I transcribed on the spot and later worked into poems, adding no words of my own.  Here is Paula’s poem.

Blackbird’s Eye

 Oh I’ve got him, I’ve got him.
He says, you’re nosy, just mind
your own business.
He has a pearly eye.

He sees everything.
He misses nothing.

I look in his eye.
I look in his eye.
Tweet, tweet, tweet.

He lifts in the air.
He rises to a height.
He flies away.

He didn’t tell you
what he said.
He’s coming back
another day.

Barrels and Orchards of Apples

A wonderful afternoon full of laughter and conversation with elderly people in a Herefordshire NITP Oct 2014 1ursing Home.  I work regularly as a poet with the Courtyard Arts’ award-winning project, ‘In The Pink’, which employs professional poets to go into care settings to work with people living with dementia. The project is mentored by John Killick.

I took in a bag of different Herefordshire apples – Crispin, Russet, Spartan, Rubinette, some locally bottled apple juice, and a bottle of local organic cider.  We passed round samples, then I listened and scribbled down the resulting conversations and comments.  There was remembering, much smiling, in fact a lot of joy.

I take home the scribbled notes and turn them into poems by rearranging the words, but add none of my own.  Then the next week I go in and read out the poems.  They are given back to the people who gave me the words.

Here’s a couple of the resulting ‘apple’ poems:

I give you half, you have 
the other half.
Could do with a little
more sweet, but
I can eat it.
The pears didn’t 
come to nothing.

 

It really is cider – O that’s wonderful!ITP Oct 2014 Peter cider
Now I’m flat out on cider.

 I think it’s gorgeous.  It’s got
to be right because it’s Hereford

 and for the last forty years
every fruit tree has been cultivated

 by Hereford people, right from
Weston down to Hereford.