January 24, 2024, by Arts Placements
Poetry and Dementia
My Experience as part of the Way with Words Reading Group
by Oliver Greenall
Before the Placement
As a postgraduate English Literature student with a particular interest in folk and fairy tales, I was keen to take part in a placement that would allow me to share my love for these tales, and communal storytelling as a whole. I have always been fascinated by the power of literature, and the benefits it can bring to people’s lives. So, when I saw the volunteering placement for the Way with Words dementia reading group advertised, I applied immediately. As part of the interview, I prepared and recited a short poem. I chose ‘To a Mouse’ by Robert Burns as I grew up in the same town in Scotland where he was born. He was also at the forefront of oral storytelling: his poems were written to be performed.
During the Placement
Dr Kevin Harvey from the University of Nottingham was responsible for establishing this reading group. Along with two other English students, we would all meet up at a venue in Beeston every second Tuesday afternoon. As our first session was on Halloween, Kevin asked us to prepare some spooky poems for the group. The lovely, welcoming group invited us to perform our poems and I selected ‘Tam O’Shanter’ by Burns.
Each session had a particular theme — Victorian, folk tales, Christmas poems, to name just a few. This led to us thinking long and hard about what poems to bring with us. Poems with distinct rhyming schemes appealed to me. Works by poets such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Wendy Cope, and Robert Frost as they have a musicality to them when read aloud. Some of the group were retired English teachers and often recited the poems along with us.
After the Placement
The media is guilty of portraying people with dementia as ‘lost souls’, but the people we met and worked with were anything but. A recital of a poem would often spark conversations about similar works or favourites from childhood. We would then tailor our poetry choices to suit the preferences of the group. Arts interventions like this are so important, not just for the people with dementia, but for people like me too. A love of stories never fades. To come together, just for an hour every two weeks, to share and strengthen this love, has been a total joy this past semester. It is an experience I have relished, and one that I didn’t want to end — so much so that we have all agreed to continue with it during the spring semester too.
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