A’s dementia is advanced and affects her speech. She talks in a ‘made up’ language, and only occasionally says words that others can understand.
I had always assumed she wasn’t getting much from the poetry, but one day she held up the poem to me and shook her head – I realised that I’d given her the wrong poem, and that she was aware that she was unable to follow along. I gave her the right poem, and she raised her voice, read out the title (fluently) and began to read the poem to the whole group. A lot of her words were incomprehensible, but occasionally she would read a line or a word correctly, and it was clear that she was following through it systematically.
When she started reading, some members of the group tutted and muttered to themselves. When it became clear that the activities coordinator and I were listening, the group gradually sat in silence. At the end of the reading she got a round of applause from the group. She has done the same thing a couple of times since – making me realise that although she can’t communicate, she is very aware of where she is in the group, and enjoys being there.
B is an extremely frail resident in her eighties, who has recently had a spell in hospital after a fall. She suffers from dementia, and can get very agitated.
One day B arrived at the group in a very agitated state. She was helped by care staff into her seat, and she cried out very loudly, expressing her distress and saying she was going to be sick. C, the activities coordinator, sat with B and held her hand. She helped her to find her place in the poem so that she could follow along as I read. The poem had an almost immediate effect on B. She seemed soothed by the rhyme and rhythm of the poem I was reading. At the end of the session I had a little chat with B, and she smiled at me and expressed how much she had enjoyed the poetry.
As someone who is frequently agitated, the session has an amazing effect on B, enabling her to enjoy listening, and occasionally contributing to discussion. When I look at her during the reading, she is always gazing in my direction and smiling at me.
C is a very lively, talkative resident who seems to derive a great deal of pleasure from being part of the reading group, particularly the social aspect. C was the first resident to read aloud in the sessions, something she very much enjoys doing.
Although there have been times when C has turned up for the group looking pale and tired she is always invigorated by the poems and leaves the group in a much happier state. She loves reading the poems aloud and before she does so will look around the room to check everyone is listening! She is very proud of the applause she gets and often waits for people to stop clapping before she responds, often with comments like this: “Well, I just do my best, you have to read it right, because there’s meanings there and you have to watch ‘em you see. You see what I mean?”
C’s son-in-law has attended the reading group a couple of times and he recently remarked: “Oh she really loves it. She keeps copies of your poems in her bag and brings them out throughout the week.”
C overheard us talking and said: “I like to read them again, you have to, it helps my head. You see what I mean.”
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