The best medicine

I’ve taken the title of this blog from a poem by Meg Cox which had three of us in giggles on Friday. You can read it here (scroll down).

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of world events.  That’s partly a function of being online, reading rolling news on platforms that are designed to be addictive, to keep us scrolling and clicking, creating the little highs we get from a sense of connection or completion.  Now that so much of our previously face-to-face life has moved online, screens can dominate our days more than ever.

So, how wonderful to be doing some work offline.  For the past two decades, I have been involved in sharing poetry with people with diagnoses of dementia.  I started in Cornwall with Arts for Health, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly on a project with 9 artists running sessions in a series of care homes – everything from clowning, to dance, to writing.  At the same time, I had an ongoing NHS commission to work one-to-one with someone at home. That continued for a couple of years and was a profound experience.

Recently in Kent, I’ve been lucky enough to work with inspirational groups here including Funder Films CIC with Jasper Bouverie and Fay Blair on ‘A Few Words About Me’. On that project we witnessed the potential for ‘re-menting’ in an atmosphere of permission, joy, connection and community.

More recently, I’ve worked on Bright Shadow’s inspirational Zest project with Clare Thomas. Poetry written in the Zest groups has popped up everywhere, including on a set of colourful tote bags.

Under lockdown of course all groups have ceased meeting face to face and some of the work has moved on to Zoom.  But not everyone is able or wants to participate by computer and Clare asked whether I’d consider doing some poetry sessions over the phone.

I hesitated. The main reason was not wanting to cause harm by confusing or upsetting someone but we agreed to at least give it a go.  I began by ordering a set of The Emergency Poet, the anthology of anti-stress poems edited by the inspirational Deborah Alma

Local artist Rebecca Truscott-Elves designed a book plate. The books were distributed to participants’ homes around Canterbury and Hythe with a photograph of me so that there would be a visual connection with my voice. One person whom I’d never met clocked that the photo is quite old!

Together with someone from Zest, I meet participants on a conference call, some alone, some with a spouse or carer and away we go.  Eight sessions in and we’ve read poems, made poems, reminisced, laughed and generally come away uplifted.  I then write up the poems we create and these are emailed or posted on and the conversations continue. 

And no screens involved – just the old-fashioned phone, books, pen and paper, the human voice and the power of poems.