I like the quiet. I’m not a performer, I speak softly. But when I meet with elders, I often have to raise my voice.
In care homes, there’s always background noise and distractions. Nelly, an older woman I spend time with as a befriender back in London, has hearing loss. We read poetry and talk about writing together. Her stories of life in a beauty salon, a cruise ship, an antique shop are brilliant. I do shout, but I find it hard to talk at a high volume for a long time!
I find the mindful, calm, gentle projects with elders appeal to me most. Poetry and reading activities seem to allow pauses to reflect.
Spare Tyre (UK) runs an interactive performance called The Garden, for people living with dementia. It uses non-verbal methods. Partly as a bilingual person’s ability to communicate in their second language can erode with dementia. The show aims to be quiet and meditative.
I say all this, and then I attend an Alzheimer’s Poetry Project session and my attraction to only quiet things flies out of the window!
The award-winning APP sessions facilitate the creativity of older people living with dementia. Poet and Founder Gary Glazner’s booms short sections from a classic poem for participants to echo. With me sitting alongside, he leads a medley of songs and verse. Shakespeare (Shall I Compare Thee…), Wordsworth (Daffodils) and ee cummings (i keep your heart in my heart). We do hand actions, feet stamping and clapping.
I’m caught up in the bright energy of the session, and even find myself performing lines from Romeo and Juliet in a broad cockney accent. I pretend to meet the Queen. I dance and sing.
We move to a communal creation of a group poem, with participants asked specific questions and told to ‘use your imagination’. One person pretends she is Shirley Temple, another is an eager-to-please waitress. Gary then reads the poem. He improvises, adds detail, inserts a song, concludes with a flourish. It’s perfectly done. Many of those who didn’t join in at the beginning, do by the end. There’s smiles and the joy is infectious.
To conclude? Gary’s work is inspiring, like nothing else I’ve seen. The participants at APP adored the session. Plus, it’s not always the quiet things that count after all.