Dementia Together : My experience with the Memory Café groups has been moving, fruitful and inspiring. My mother had dementia so I feel empathy for sufferers and supporters. I noticed the group cohering through sharing and being listened to as supporters recounted sometimes more recent pleasant experiences, while those they supported generally told us more distant memories. At times these individuals were able, as I read, to recite whole poems, or parts of poems, to their delight and ours. The whole group grew more lively and engaged, discussions were sparked, opinions given.
The group also created their own poem, completely led by their own ideas. This was a new, initially challenging, experience, but confidence grew and blossomed. You could feel the pride in the room, reinforced by receiving their own printed copy, and everyone was keen to create a second poem in the second session, using loved pets as a focus.
I found it so uplifting to facilitate others’ personal creativity, the drawing out of memories; the whole of “Sea Fever”; being a coalminer; the character of ones pet, and of opinions, such as liking or not liking poetry at school, and all the conversations stimulated between participants.
The process has also inspired several poems of my own. One of these is now in the May newsletter of Literature Works. “Testing for Dementia” was first drafted while with my Knucklebones poetry group in Cornwall the day before delivering my first Memory Café in November 2017. In the same newsletter there is the first of the group poems created at a Memory Café in the spring of 2018.
As a result of being shortlisted for the National Memory Day competition I applied to be considered for the Poet training for Memory Cafés, hosted by Literature Works, Plymouth University and the Alzheimer’s Society. I was accepted on to this and it took place on 12th September 2017.
The Memory Café Poetry project will support those affected by memory loss to engage creatively with family and friends. Learning and reciting poetry by heart was once common in schools and part of its legacy is a generation of older people for whom the memory of such poetry has never gone away. The shared recollection of much loved poetry and the enjoyment of new poems to help revive memories, alleviate confusion and stimulate creativity is part of this process. During the sessions there will also be an opportunity to create poetry together.
I am very excited to be part of the beginning of such a project.
I was delighted to find I had been chosen as one of 10 shortlisted for the National Memory Day competition, sponsored by the National Memory Day Partnership.
I rarely enter competitions but when I saw this one I could not resist as I have written so much about my mother’s journey through Dementia.
Some instinct made me check my spam mail box and there was the email saying I had been shortlisted! It is my first national competition shortlist and I was so excited to have this recognition. I started writing about my mother’s Dementia in 2002 when she was first diagnosed; it was a way of coping with the emotions I had to deal with. Those early poems will never see further light of day, but I continued to write up to her death in 2012 and beyond. Two poems associated with loss, but not specifically her condition, were published in The Book of Love and Loss. (Belgrave press 2014.)
Time has allowed me to broaden my range of subject matter but I still find myself at times compelled to explore this part of the experience of being human.
This particular poem, titled “Mmm” at the point of the entry for the competition, I have retitled “Ellipsis” since. It was written recently and came about through homework for the Poetry Can group I attend where we had to write using a chosen punctuation as the basis. As soon as I heard this I knew I would choose the ellipsis as the punctuation and my mother as the subject.
(I have used the form of Villanelle and Pantoum before for their repetitive structures which seem to me to suit the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s.)
My shortlisted poem has no formal structure and is written in the first person as if it is my mother who is speaking.
So far this year I have read it at two events where I have been the guest poet. One was a storytelling event and the other a theatre event; this was so interesting as I was reading to audience which was not made up of poets! On both occasions people afterwards identified this poem as one of the poems that touched them.
On May 1st, I read as guest poet for the Wells Fountain Poets and this poem was included in my set. I have also been asked to share it with the poets attending the May workshop for Project 2017.