Skip to main content

Do you remember an inn, Miranda? Do you remember...


Of course I knew that poetry can short circuit.

That’s the point of it really – to go straight from the centre of one’s being – the deep heart’s core – to another, perhaps not needing even to think.  Like music, poetry can fly: cut directly through clutter – all those habits, pretence and assorted nonsense and trivia of everyday so-called grown-up life, to ancient memories, deep-seated experiences and relationships, and love itself.

I’ve been reminded of this vital ability of poetry by the recent happy experience of working with an amazing National Memory Day Project.  Literature Works at Plymouth University, in partnership with the Poetry Archive, supported by the Alzheimer’s Society put out a call to train and commission poets to use poetry to help people living with memory loss.

The idea was that by reviving memories through the shared recollection of much-loved poems, confusion might be alleviated, conversation encouraged, speech difficulties eased and creativity stimulated.

Learning and reciting poetry by heart used to be the norm.  Many older people retain their memories – and potentially, their enjoyment – of those much-loved poems.  This is particularly the case in memory loss, when recent memories may fade rapidly, but earlier recall is much better preserved.

So for that generation the memory of poetry has never gone away – it lies there, waiting to be awoken.

I applied and was pleased to be accepted on a training course.  Our tutor, from an acting background, was superb.  I learnt much about choosing, reading and performing which has proved helpful to me in a general way.  But specifically, the course gave the necessary confidence to deliver poetry to people living with dementia.

Soon enough, I found myself at a Memory Café – more than a little anxious, to tell the truth.
But as soon as I started reading, I felt the magic of poetry come to my aid.  Rhyme and metre to start with, and then the flash of recognition, which was electric.

I took the risk of actually singing the Owl and the Pussycat (the music was an old childhood memory of my own, I suddenly realised, as I looked at the printed page and was considering how best to read it out loud).  One older lady with severe dementia who, I learnt afterwards, hadn’t uttered anything for a long time, began to join in – words and music remarkably intact.  I could almost stop, and leave it to her.  Her carer was overcome. 

I’ve now read more than a few times and have had similar experiences nearly every time. Along with my increased confidence in and, I hope, skill at reading, I feel my own writing has benefited.  Without I hope sounding patronising, I’ve learnt about the poetic language of dementia: people often talk poetically, and their natural rhythms tend to be iambic pentameters.  And I’ve been reminded of the power of poetry to make a positive impact on the lives of not just those living with dementia, but all of us – however intact our memories happen to be.  Poetry enables us all to share, recall, explore and create together – and to communicate.

Here’s a couple of little poems on the theme of dementia.


Dimentia

It’s interesting – I don’t suffer
from dementia.  That’s not quite right –
it’s more a case of how he spelled it –
dimentia.  Everything is not so bright
so you cannot find the occasional word
that you were looking for
like Proper Nouns particularly.
And others too – they hide away
as if they know you’re searching
to pop up later when it doesn’t matter
any longer.  There it is, her name
after I stopped trying to remember.
No, not suffering as of course I knew
knew who she was – just not her name.
To forget may bring relief
as lights go down, some words go too
lost in dimpsy for a while
perhaps for longer
who knows?  It’s early dusk,
what lies ahead is no more known
by you than me.


Flotsam

You never know what may come and what may go
stuff gets washed away just when you thought
you wanted it now it’s here but there it’s gone
even as you wonder what it was you never know
something else floats by not what you thought
you had in mind still you never know it may be
useful no need to worry then if you thought
you lost it as the unexpected drifts in so
let the waters flow thoughts come and go
you never know how much you never know.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A plague on all these houses

It's a great poem, Lowell's For the Union Dead.
I only recently came across it - at least, that's what I thought - but it's been grunting (I choose the word advisedly) away in my head ever since, especially that fourth verse.

Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting
as they cropped up tone of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

It took a little while for me to realise why.
Before (I thought) I'd read it, I wrote a poem about the new housing estates springing up round our little town. I was thinking about the various creatures that had lived on the field that was to be covered with houses - sheep primarily - and then those that were to follow.

The first were, well, a sort of dinosaur.

Here's my second verse:

At first it was the one-armed monsters,
set free within their caged arena
to trundle round, and gently paw
the ground, then pile up mounds of earth
accompanied by Lego men.

I was pleased with my trope, so muc…

The Cadence

He embraces the sheep
an ungainly bundle unusually tilted
now leaning back against the man
who bowed over, grasps with his knees
and left hand, to perform. Like a cellist

he knows how to play.
Fingertips splayed to tension the skin
right hand guiding across the bridge
a gleam of blades to separate fleece –
music from silence, wrapped up in wool.

The animal listens
accepting the prospect of resolution ahead,
resigned to his practised hands, grip of the thighs
the charm of the music
and caressing of steel.

He stretches his arm out
to reach high notes in third position.
Lanolined leather feet shift softly beneath.
The sheep tips back more to enable the soar
of melody heard only by them.

He lets fall the burden
accustomedly righting the sheep. He arises
to bow for a moment as if in acknowledgement
then straightens – the fleece being lifted
and folded, like music.

The performer resumes
with no pause for applause. He turns
to the next – there are more
many more waiting. So the music contin…

Viral Information

Viral Information




Virus - a word much heard not just at this time of year ('there's a lot of them about') but one that's spilled quasi-metaphorically into other non-biological areas, you might say succeeding virulently... gone viral?

 But that's what viruses do, and do very well.
Fulfilling only some of the criteria for qualifying for life status, here are strange creatures indeed, not that that's the right word at all - not organism, more construction, set of instructions or even just a programme.  So the use of the word in computer malfunction is hardly metaphorical...
Approaching this extraordinary - but so frequently encountered, so in a way not extraordinary at all -  thing (I find myself reduced to using this rather weak word) that may be represented in (admittedly astronomically colossal) sequences of numbers, with words - all that poetry possesses, however they may be presented - poses problems. 
So I thought I'd turn to a different sort of poetry: …