Better late than never, here’s this week’s Featured Poem – think of it as a midweek recharge over a cup of tea (or your preferred beverage). We’ve been unpicking this verse from Wordsworth in our latest Communications and Marketing team meeting, and had a particular ponder over what it might mean to be ‘surprised by joy’.
There’s lots to consider, so why not take a read.
Surprised by Joy
Surprised by joy- impatient as the Wind
I wished to share the transport- Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love recalled thee to my mind-
But how could I forget thee! – Through what power
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?-That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
It’s Dementia Awareness Week (17th-23rd May), and this year’s theme is Do Something New, emphasising the fact that dementia needn’t prevent anyone from trying new things or taking enjoyment from the hobbies they already love.
Shared reading is a wonderful way to connect people living with dementia to the deep pleasure literature can provide, stimulating thoughts, feelings, emotion and memory. In our groups specially for people living with dementia and their carers, poems are read by the leading project worker to the group. Often these poems will be ones recalled from childhood or another significant life period. The rhyme, rhythm and compressed language of poetry helps to stimulate and maintain concentration, sparking off traces of memory. As well as remembering their past, group members are encouraged to enjoy the literature for what it is in the present moment. Effects of shared reading in this way include an increased sense of calm, reduced agitation and increased social interaction with others who are enjoying literature in the same way.
The power of poetry to give voice and a space for expression to people living with dementia comes through in Joan’s Story, recounted by one of our project workers sharing reading in a care home in Merseyside:
We were reading Wordsworth’s classic and much-used poem ‘Daffodils’. ‘Did you like it, Joan?’ asked the activities co-ordinator, to which Joan responded, very audibly – ‘Yeah. There’s something about it, I can’t explain.’ This felt like a moment of progress, even though or especially because it was about not being able to explain and also being able to say that. Poetry of course is good at creating that effect for any of us, whatever our supposed mental ability or disability: poetry is, as it were, content with making something become present though not fully explicable. After the group, the activities co-ordinator told me that she had never heard Joan able to string so many words together, let alone read aloud words from a page, and in the right order. Staff at the care home have since told me that Joan has a framed copy of ‘The Daffodils’ up on the wall in her room.
During the session Joan also responded well to the poem ‘Your Dresses’ by Carol Ann Duffy: I worked through each stanza, each separate ‘dress’, of the poem and picked out words or phrases with my finger, asking her questions as we went. She seemed to really enjoy looking at the words in this way, and responded either verbally by saying, ‘Yes, very nice’, or by gesturing as if she was trying on a dress in a window. Joan also began to pick parts of the poem to read on her own, and seemed to be trying to say something about it – that she did like it, but seemed frustrated that she couldn’t wear the dresses, or get inside it in some way. At the end of the session we read ‘Everything Touches’ by Roger McGough, to which she listened intently with a big smile on her face. I could tell she liked the poem, but also that some of it made her quite emotional. She said ‘I’m frightened’ at one point, but when I asked her what of, she changed again and seemed to be smiling and happy, reading the last three stanzas of it aloud on her own. On our way out of the room the staff member who had been in the session commented to me, ‘It is amazing – there is definitely something still there, and the poems really seem to bring it out.’
More evidence of how shared reading can improve the quality of life of people living with dementia can be found in Read to Care, an evaluation report of several shared reading groups across Merseyside compiled by the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at University of Liverpool, available to download on our website.
We currently run open community groups for people living with dementia and their carers in Devon, Wiltshire, and Barnet, North London. A new weekly group is starting at Manor Drive Methodist Church Hall, Whetstone on Thursdays, from 21st May, 10-11.30am.
This week’s Featured Poem has recently been read in one of our shared reading groups in drug and alcohol rehabilitation settings, alongside the story The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl. Our project worker in the group explains how both texts have opened up ideas about perspective and how well we can really know a thing from an outside glance:
“The group really enjoyed the poem – indeed one man started to laugh in excitement of having his eyes opened a little into the possibility of other worlds and the possibility of there being other ways of looking at things. I think the poem has both degrees of humour and terror in it, but I have now gone on to use it a few more times and have found that whether group members like it or not, they do talk a lot about the value of thinking about how something else might look to others.”
Why not take some time out of your Monday morning to look at things from a different angle?
I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.
As an extra treat, hear Humming-Bird being read by Nellibobs a.k.a Brian Nellist. If you’d like more of Nellibobs in person, he’ll be leading a course on T.S. Eliot: Fifty Years On at Calderstones Mansion House in Liverpool this June. This three-part course will explore some of Eliot’s classic works, including The Waste Land and The Four Quartets. For more details, see The Reader Organisation’s website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses
As there are increasingly more green shoots and buds on the trees, it’s always worth reading through this poem by A.E. Housman, from his most famous collection A Shropshire Lad – a perfect choice to read as the spring continues, hopefully underneath some cherry blossom…
Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Off the Page is our new Liverpool Families project, which aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children across the city through shared reading. Working with the Liverpool Families Programme, over the course of three years we aim to reach 500 disadvantaged children through regular one-on-one sessions led by volunteers.
Not only will the project directly engage the children themselves with a love for reading for pleasure, in some cases revisited and others for the first time, but will also extend to the adults in their lives – be they parents, carers, family support workers. community staff or volunteers, meaning that reading experiences are more likely to continue.
During the project, 40 of the most disadvantaged children will come together for an extraordinary week-long ‘Book It!’ reading experience at Calderstones Mansion House. This fun reading space will allow the children to make friends, form a positive relationship with reading and one another and relax in the calm, inspiring environment of Calderstones Park. ‘Book It!’ ran for the first time last year, and was part of our drive for knowing that many more children could benefit greatly from the unique experience it provided.
Emma Melling, one of our Off the Page Coordinators, tells us more:
It’s often an exciting time at The Reader – in a staff team that’s almost doubled since I arrived in 2013, there’s always a new face to greet at the Monday yoga class or a new cake to try amongst the friendly chatter in the staff kitchen. I was recently brought on to the new Liverpool Families project Off the Page and can’t describe the feeling of excitement that came with the realisation we’d be working with some of Liverpool’s most worthy recipients of our magical potion – shared reading.
In one way or another I’ve been working with disadvantaged teenagers for over a decade. Of all my experiences though, a project with Looked After Children last summer stood out. We spent a fortnight reading out loud with children who didn’t see themselves as readers, who weren’t used to being around fun adults and had to relearn a sense of play. The results were profound. One child from the Book It! Summer School was waking up at 5 to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Another chose to read after several clear ‘no’s when asked. A third came out of her shell, speaking more frequently and more loudly. The 20 or so children were grouped into teams of animals, and I was a fellow member of the Wolf team. As the days progressed, all the boys from the Wolves showed pleasant surprise at being praised, then pushed themselves to be praised again. By the end, through their own volition, every Wolf read. There was a willingness by all children on the last day to take home books we’d recommended to them specifically. A real trust had been built.
Thankfully some key decision makers heard about the magic and came to see it for themselves. They have gone on to develop Off the Page which, if we are successful, will reach over 500 of Liverpool’s children over the next three years. So if like me, you want to sip at the magic potion and share your passion for reading, get in touch!
We’re currently looking for volunteers to make weekly visits to a child (aged 11-16) either in their own home, foster home or community setting to read aloud and discuss literature with them. Volunteer positions will last for a minimum of six months for one hour at the same time each week, and are set across four areas within Liverpool – Kensington, Everton, Toxteth or Walton.
More information about the project and specific volunteer roles can be found on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/off-the-page
If you think you could take part, please get in touch with Celia Jordan, Off the Page Volunteer Manager: email@example.com