April was National Poetry Month and you’ve probably read about poetry in this space before. Poetry enlightens, inspires, challenges…and also provides a way for people living with Alzheimer’s to reconnect with their memories. The arts – painting, crafts, music, dance – have long been used to awaken the minds of those living with memory loss. So it’s no surprise to me that well-loved poetry can do the same.
During National Poetry Month last year, I met Gary Glazner in Washington, D.C. Glazner is the founder and executive director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, and when I heard him speak, I was moved to tears. My own father lived with Alzheimer’s and he passed away in 2001. Charming to the last, my dad continued to enjoy games and music with us, and it was clear that he could remember beloved lines and melodies. As his language ability diminished, Dad was able to share himself with his touch and his expressions. We miss him.
There are few poems that I personally can recite fully from memory, but there are many that would come back to me with some prompting. Some lines and stanzas, of course, stay with me, such as this from Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the road less traveled by / and that has made all the difference.” I even remember some Shakespeare from a memorized recitation in junior high school: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / but in ourselves that we are underlings.” With some help, I could remember the rest.
That’s why I’m excited about the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. This program facilitates the creativity of people living with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. Using a call-and-response technique, session leaders engage participants in the enjoyment of poetry, as well as the creation of new poetry as a group collaboration.
In the 10 years since the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project was founded in neighboring New Mexico, Glazner and his associates have held sessions at facilities across the U.S. – including here in the Denver area – as well as internationally. The Project also trains local facility staff to keep the program going for residents.
I corresponded with Gary Glazner recently, and we talked about his audience: people, predominantly seniors, in various stages of memory loss. Facilitators seek to bond these people as a group built on shared words, passions, and discoveries. The session leader recites lines of classic poems and the participants echo the words. Even those who have lost their language abilities often respond to the rhythm of the poetry.
These well-loved poems then serve as inspiration for the communal creation of an original poem by the group. The Project quotes the Northwest Arkansas Times: “…somber expressions became animated. Hands clapped. Feet stomped. Eyes shone with humor, recognition, and later in the hour, tears.”
It is with tears again in my own eyes that I write this. I wish – oh, how I wish! – that I had shared poetry with my dad in this way. He would have loved it. And I know right where I would I have started for the father who would watch multiple sports games on stacked TVs: with the Mudville nine, and Casey at the bat.
Andrea Doray is a writer who often quotes Frost with this, as well: “And miles to go before I sleep.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally posted on “This Writing Life” in August 2011 and reposted here in July 2012.
Cliché clinches a spot in the Top 25!
My poem Cliché landed in 24th place in the 6th Annual Writer’s Digest Poetry Competition, and can be found on page 35 of their Poetry Collection printed edition.
This is the second win for Cliché, which placed 9th in an overall Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Another poem, Incantation, also placed in the Top 50 winners of this competition.
For copies of these winning poems, email me at email@example.com.
Defining “craft,” [kraft] (n.) skill in making or doing things, with a dictionary description cannot do justice to its synonyms of ability, expertise, and technique. To “craft” (v.), according to Webster’s, is to fashion, create, construct, shape, or hew. However, simple definitions simply don’t work for our work.
In contemplating craft, I admit I’ve always admired the ability of alliteration. There is something so satisfying about syntactically sequenced sounds—eloquent, elegant, esoteric almost. This is not to say that certain circumstances don’t profit when other practices prevail: at times, these might be rhymes, when nearly anything metrical can be electrical.
For example, in some poetry, the stanza commands a work to be seen—a structure of two lines, or four lines, or even fourteen (this last has the name of a sonnet upon it). Yet, does such structure obstruct our meaning or can the rules and the writing be intervening? I say, “yes”…when the writer consciously employs these elements as craft (or unconsciously uses them, as the case may be, when such craft is so inculcated in the writer that its use is almost parenthetical, an afterthought).
Most prose writing, too, benefits from expertise in craft, rather than following a formulaic ritual in our (a) intro; (b) body; and (c) conclusion. Such rigidity can put off readers who may feel put on by our “I.-Topic-II.-Theme-III.-Content-and-IV.-Format” format.
The technique of writing embodies that spirit which pours out of a writer’s pores in a way we know is like no other. For some of us, a keyboard unlocks our craft and sets the words free. Others, like me, like the probation penne, the “testing of the pen” on paper, which often produces writing in a language that seems completely foreign to me.
When using pen and paper for the first few drafts, I can (in “revision”), go back to my original concepts to keep what I want and to physically cross out what I don’t want to keep. For my fourth, fifth, or finally final draft, I move my work process to word-processing; although, on the computer, once I’ve saved changes, I am sometimes unable to get back to what I originally
In conclusion, craft is just the beginning. The craft of writing is more than an essay exploring ability, expertise, and technique. As for verse, we poets know it’s sometimes a fright—but to sate, not intimidate, is the reason we write. When writing in prose, almost anything goes, as long as we 1) don’t follow a formula; 2) allow for alliteration and repetition; 3) allow for alliteration and repetition; and 4) use our skill in making and doing things to set aside a simple “definition” and fashion, create, construct, shape, or simply hew the best of our craft.
 Note: Using “quotation marks” around “phrases” alerts readers to “something special” so the writer need not use “footnotes” or even “clarifications” in the text. (Italic text can have the same effect.)