The audience was quiet, partially because some of the people were slumped over in their wheelchairs, eyes closed. Gary Glazner stood in front of the group, wondering if he could engage them. He had received a grant to offer a poetry workshop in a memory care unit and he had carefully selected several familiar poems. He’d introduced himself to everyone and he was ready to inspire people through reading poetry. But were they ready for him? He took a breath and began.
“I shot an arrow into the air,” Gary said to the seemingly comatose group.
“And it fell down I know not where,” said an elderly man without even raising his head.
That was the beginning spark for Gary Glazner’s Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. He created this process, which includes reading aloud and discussing poetry, to engage people living with dementia.
“There are four steps to the process,” Gary explains. “First, a call and response, where I read a line of poetry and the group echoes it. Then we discuss the poem. Next, we add props to the experience and finally we create our own poem.”
A few of the familiar poems Gary uses include:
The Tyger—William Blake
The Owl and the Pussy Cat—Edward Lear
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod—Eugene Field
How do I Love Thee?—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Purple Cow—Gelette Burgess
His website, www.alzpoetry.com, is brimming with verse and rich with recommendations.
Gary has shared poetry with people living with dementia all over the world. His usual session lasts around an hour. He often centers his poems on a theme, such as Summer, Birds, Trees, or Food, and enriches the gathering with objects that engage the senses. For example, to supplement summer-time poetry, he might include a bucket of sand and a conch shell. He brings a misting spray to simulate an ocean breeze and lets people smell suntan lotion. For refreshments, he suggests fresh strawberries, lemonade, popsicles, or homemade ice cream. This four-step poetry process also works at home with just two care partners
“Poetry goes beyond the autobiographical memory and offers care partners a way to communicate with someone who has memory loss,” Gary says.
For more information on Gary and the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, visit www.alzpoetry.com.
Gary’s book is a great resource: Dementia Arts: Celebrating Creativity in Elder Care
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.