A POEM IN OUR EYES
A Poem in Our Eyes is a collaboration between residents of Centre Crest Nursing Home’s memory care unit (Stanton Court), local artists, and a teaching poet. During the weekly, semester-long program, participants work with a Ridgelines teaching artist to write spontaneous poems in response to paintings, photographs, drawings, prints, and sculptures by artists with ties to Centre County. Our sessions involve arguments and laughter, silence and talk, thoughtful discussions and questions.
When we look at an artwork together, we ask: What do you see? How does it make you feel? What would you like to do there? What is the weather like in this picture? What happens before, or after? Anything that people say gets written on a white board for all to see. Although the teaching poet’s hand is involved in copying down and lineating the poems, all of the words and titles come directly from participants.
It might sometimes seem, as you look at the poems and artworks displayed here, that the words wander far afield from the images they respond to. And yet in our meetings, it is often clear that the artworks have triggered thoughts of people, places, experiences, and feelings. An image of a grassy field might put someone in mind of two people on a date—not really such a stretch. And this is, after all, the logic of poetry: notes the poet C.D. Wright, “The goal is not to make a story but to experience the whole mess.”
The goals of “A Poem in Our Eyes” are these: To provide rich intellectual experiences for those living with memory loss; to foster social inclusion and a sense that their words and imaginings are valued; to provide the satisfaction of making something new; to increase mental and emotional well-being; and to provide a vehicle for communicating with others in creative ways. The program also aims, in the end, to challenge the notion that those living with memory loss are not “making sense.” Clearly, they deeply are.
Words by eight Stanton Court residents
After “Newsweek,” by Sophie Najjar
Nobody has any money.
Someone looks mad.
Where? I don’t see any mad.
from shopping, from getting
what they need.
my brother—he’s a good looker.
at a school, parents come in—they all look
like they have complaints.
For important things, the church
is the center. A tender place
you want to go.
There’s too many
in the world to face
only the weather.
She half her hat. But it needs to be loosed.
One prayer for all your friends.
Words by eight Stanton Court residents
After “Susquehanna View” by Loanne Snavely
I went out of that side of the mountain.
The big trees, and lots of space.
It’s clean towards—because what we had
was on zero.
Serenity: the water moving, the sun shining.
This is apparently out in the wilderness—
no people, no housing.
I’d probably just immediately
write off and say, there’s no humans here.
Just nature, green grass.
A barren place. I don’t think I would like it.
I would like the rippling water.
There might have been a storm,
because the clouds are breaking up.
You could be sitting down here
and listening to the water flow by.
What would we do without zero space?
WHAT EVERYBODY THINKS ABOUT BIRDS
Words by nine Stanton Court residents
After “Bird Hang” by Annie-hannah E. Mancini
Water birds in the water.
These birds are on a stage.
It’s kind of gold.
They have glow on them.
I see most everything is different
thoughts and minds—I mean with birds
and flowers and sunlight.
The birds are just fabulous,
they’re trying to be happy
in a winter storm.
Everybody should see that.
They’re in the pond, swimming—
did you ever watch a little child
playing in the water? That’s
what the birds are doing.
Birds are a creature—a person, you might say.
It’s the way I usually see birds.
Are we trying to arrive
at the idea that birds are as much
like humans as we are?
Birds will all get together
and chirp. They’ll fly around
and sound good. A lot of human beings
don’t even talk
to their next door neighbor.
“America is a poem in our eyes.”
—Emerson, “The Poet”
A Poem in Our Eyes is supported in part by the PA Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
If you are looking for ways to engage those living with memory loss through images, pictures, artworks, or other creative processes, the following resources have been valuable to “A Poem in Our Eyes”:
TimeSlips (www.timeslips.org) offers simple tools and training on bringing creativity into memory care.
Pictures to Share (https://picturestoshare.co.uk/) is a publisher of books designed to engage people with memory loss.
Creativity and Communication in Persons with Dementia, by Claire Craig & John Killick (2012), outlines many kinds of creative projects designed for those living with memory loss.