Poetry has such potential to engage in so many ways with what are the meanings of dementia for people and society. Words have a unique precision which, when mobilised through a truly skilled and perceptive poet, can bring out deep associations and multiple resonances, which take the reader/listener directly to the heart of dementia and allow a genuine voice to be heard.
Here is a wonderful poem from Sarah Hesketh, one of the four artists from different backgrounds who are working on the exciting Age Concern “Where the Heart is” project in Central Lancashire. www.facebook.com/pages/Where-the-heart-is/635823289766121. The project as a whole is producing some fantastic work. What makes this poem so special though is the way it bravely gives genuine voice where it is needed so much.
“The Hard Words”
Look, let’s be clear: don’t imagine
there is anybody here who enjoys
dribbling poetry. If you think we’re
holding stars on our tongues
that’s your eyes want testing.
If you hear music when we grunt
you haven’t understood exactly
what it is we needed to say.
You might enjoy the ruins
of our grammar, the way we
chew up our nouns to song.
It’s not your hand that’s getting
thinner on the blanket. Please
don’t ask us to speak the
hard words all at once.
I hope that the passion and anger woven through this poem pricks the bubble of other poets and writers who have got things so wrong. You know who they are – “poets” who exploit people with dementia by ripping out what they consider to be “poetic” phrases from conversations, and parade them for their own gain in a wash of faux emotion. This type of “in the moment” poetry is certainly teetering on the cusp of unethical practice and dangerously gets in the way of the genuinely profound and necessary. So it is fantastic to see really engaged and respectful poetry such as Sarah’s skewering this nasty little industry with such economy and skill.
So “The Hard Words” should be there in flashing lights in every care home in the country – or maybe perhaps embroidered on a million cushions for all to see – whatever it takes to help the voice of people with dementia to come through loud and clear, without distortion and false representation, as it should and must.
For more information on Sarah and her work go to her website here http://sarahhesketh.co.uk/