“And then my heart with pleasure fills” - The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project
- 08/11/2012 by Angela Church (WBAI)
Last Monday, I began my day by visiting the New York Memory Center in Park Slope, an organization committed to enriching the lives of those living with Alzheimers and related dementia. I was there to observe “The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project”, curated by Gary Glazner, a Brooklyn based poet.
The Project’s goal is to: … facilitate the creativity of people living with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia ... strive for the daily inclusion of arts in assisted living and adult day care ... and to not set boundaries in our beliefs in what possible for people with memory impairment to create.
May I say upfront: I had NO idea what to expect from this experience. The morning was divided into two parts: time with 4-5 year olds in ACE preschool just above the Memory Center (as the address houses several organizations) and with the Adults visiting the Memory Center. I met vibrant and happy children who invited me to participate with them in their exercise of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “My Shadow”. Gary spoke a line, and the children and I repeated them complete with gestures, mimicry, and laughter at the fun words of the celebrated author. I was enchanted as he rallied their effusive energy to then take to the waiting adults. Thus began the second part.
I watched as each child, showing grace quite beyond their years, walked in turn around to each adult and said hello. This inter-generational behavior quite impacted my assessment of what I was about to experience. We revisited Stevenson’s poem this time encouraging the adults to repeat the lines along with the us. Then came a much loved “The Tiger” by William Blake with its colorful imagery; and “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth which had a child paired with an adult holding hands and moving to the rhythm and repetition of the last lines “And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.” I was touched by the beauty and ease of the interaction between the adults and children in their weekly visit.
Once the children went back to their classroom, Gary’s methodology became more apparent. He began by asking me what I have recently written, so I mentioned a piece I was working on about the “Art in Tennis” in preparation for my article on the US Open. To my delight, this began a discussion with the adults about sports in general, and whether or not there is art in them! One man spoke of the dancing in boxing, another the art of the swing in golf, and we even ventured into the philosophy of fishing. Once again, I was enchanted. Our conversation then shifted to summertime activities and memories. He simply asked: “what do you think of when you think of summertime?” Gary delegated me the “scribe” of this activity and I recorded their answers in list form. Simple fragments. With each person Gary asked a probing question and managed to pull out exquisite memories surrounding the word “summertime”. Individuals suffering with the disease struggle at various levels, but I could see on their faces the exact moment when they remembered something and gave it a word or phrase. He had sparked a memory. This is Gary’s work. It is loving and uplifting. He then sat with his notebook of answers and said with great poise, “Let’s read our poem entitled ‘Summertime’”. There were smiles all around, and I saw as each precious memory was revisited. It was a genuine thrill for me to play that critical role of the poem’s creation and then experience the collective joy... when I honestly and preemptively worried the experience would be a sad one. This truly illustrates how easily expectations and preconceived ideas based on limited knowledge can be flipped on their heads by something joyous and unexpected!
If you would like more information on Gary’s work, the New York Memory Center, and how you can make a donation, please visit the websites: http://www.alzpoetry.com/ and http://nymemorycenter.org/.
And by the way, if you are caring for or know someone living with Alzheimers, there is an amazing once a month meetup at the Memory Center called “The Memory Arts Cafe”, if my experience was any indication of how the evening will go, I say: take your loved one on the R train to 199 14th Street at 4th Avenue in Brooklyn and be prepared to experience an evidence based, creative approach to fighting this disease. For info: call (718) 499-7701