People suffering from dementia and their poetry

Over a period of 5 weeks I have been with poet Karen Hayes and we have been listening to residents at a dementia care home in Liverpool. She has this amazing ability to write down word for word almost everything they say. She then takes the transcriptions away and edits these into poetry. This is a true collaborative process between Karen and the resident that produces a personal and poetic insight into that persons life. The result of this residency was an amazing day of poetry readings to the residents.

On the day Abi Horsfield, theatre facilitator, arrived with 3 members of our third age theatre company. We began in the men’s lounge. The arrival of the four ladies and turning off the TV changed the energy in the room dramatically. When we arrived all but 2 of the men were asleep. As time went on they began to wake up and take notice.

Karen read the poems back to each of the men in turn and there were reactions from all of them. Some started to chat back whilst she was still reciting the poem. They all took possession of their work, often “handling” the papers as though there was something precious about them. By the end the energy had lifted to the extent that Charles had a little waltz with Abi, and Freddie started singing. Once Karen had begun reading the poems the carers became interested. As we were leaving we left a copy of each of the poems with a carer that was to be placed in the residents rooms.

We went to one of the ladies lounges next, it was somewhat chaotic. We found we were not expected and to begin with the carers gave the impression that we were a distraction. After some moving of chairs and getting settled Karen did her readings and it became apparent that the carers were quite taken aback. They came to listen and to read the poems. Edna, one of our group, found the experience very moving and found it difficult not to cry on one or two occasions.

Finally we went to one of the other ladies lounges. Dona, the activities leader, joined us here and became far more involved in the process. She really began to appreciate the value of the work. The third age theatre group spent much of the time talking and interacting with the residents and some members voiced their desire to be more involved in the future, a great beginning to the Live and Learn project.