Poets Don’t Lie – The Reader Volunteer Anthology
Introducing our latest anthology, Poets Don't Lie, created by and dedicated to the volunteers who make possible so many of our Shared Reading projects across the UK.
For the last five years Reader staff on the Big Lottery team have had the very great privilege of recruiting, training, supporting and working alongside an incredible group of people. These amazing volunteers who read with older people - many living with dementia - in care homes, day centres and in their own home, and who provide administration assistance to ensure our reading volunteers have access to resources. Between them, this army of volunteers have created over 30,000 individual reading experiences for older people across Merseyside.
To mark the success of this project, and celebrate the people who made it happen, we had a bit of shindig at The Florrie last week, but we've also put together a new anthology created by and dedicated to all of the wonderful volunteers who help us bring Shared Reading to more people across the UK.
We invited volunteers from all Reader projects to submit a favourite poem to Poets Don't Lie and we received contributions from those working on Big Lottery projects in Merseyside and Wales, from volunteers in Leicester, Barnet in London, and from Off the Page volunteers in Liverpool.
Their recommendations represent the personal and real connection that our volunteers have with literature, poems which they have shared with older people in care homes, day centres, libraries and one-to-one in people's homes. Each of the poems included in this anthology will have provoked liveliness and great discussion, stirred feelings and memories in readers who might often be judged to have lost, or to be losing, the ability to access those personal responses.
Poetry can often be a challenge for readers but Shared Reading projects like Big Lottery Merseyside demonstrate the power it can have for people, unlocking something we
thought we'd lost, or perhaps something we didn't even know was there.
One of our volunteers, Jennifer Lyle, recognised this truth while reading Gingko Biloba by Goethe, when she uttered the phrase which would go on to title our new anthology, Poets Don't Lie.
"The Gingko, that Eastern tree,
In my garden plot now grows.
In its leaf there seems to be
A secret that the wise man knows." - Gingko Biloba, Goethe
You can read this poem, and dozens more from poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ella Wheeler Wilcox in the anthology which is now available for purchase on our website for £6 each.
Dear Big Lottery team, from one of your Merseyside volunteers…
Sad that it has to end but really grateful that it happened in the first place!
When something as incredible as the Big Lottery Project comes to an end it’s hard not to feel sad that it’s over: sad for the brilliant team that was Megg, Katie, Chris and Graham, the nursing home residents and staff and the volunteers alike. On the other hand, when you consider how amazing Big Lottery has been and will continue to be thanks to the dedication of the volunteers: the members reached and the lives that have been touched, it fills me with hope that the ripples of impact this has had will be felt well beyond the end date of this project.
In the short time I was involved with volunteering, as over the top as it sounds, I saw so much positive change happening before me - not just short term fixes either, massive strides! I remember so clearly the first training day, how nervous I felt before I got there and how silly I then felt that I'd been nervous at all from the moment I arrived.
Megg skilfully led what was my first experience of Shared Reading, selecting a poignant short story that enabled us to consider what life can be like for those who are residents in nursing homes and yet how much joy those residents have to offer and can relish still. I remember so vividly reflecting on my Granny at the time and how moving and uplifting it was to be reminded what a warm and colourful character she was, even if her physical surroundings and situation couldn’t quite reflect it - that session still gives me comfort today when I think of her.
I also remember meeting another volunteer who hated poetry! He couldn’t stand it, was not up for changing his mind at all. It was really powerful to see him transform over the sessions, he became so much more open, not just to poetry but to other people as well - what a difference two training days can make!
From training to actually running a session was a big jump but I was really glad to have shared that experience with the volunteer I was paired with. It felt like we were a great team and I’d known them for years, we still keep in contact today. I can remember how anxious they told me they’d been before our first session. Three weeks in and their quiet, trembling voice was booming around that sitting room! Their fiancé couldn’t believe what a boost it had been to their confidence. I have so many cherished memories from our sessions but there’s some moments and comments that have really stuck.
Chris had been a massive help to us throughout and with his encouragement, we decided to keep pushing ourselves with the poem choices. We really struggled with the group over Hope’ is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson and whilst we were just clearing the tumbleweed on our way out, one of the members pulled us over and said, “You’re leaving now but we still think about these poems when you go, you know…I still think about them before I go to sleep!”
It was also really inspiring to see the nursing home staff wanting to get involved too and you could tell they hugely appreciated having that chance to be with the group members. We were just pondering over the line “The central stream of what we feel indeed…” from Below the surface-stream by Matthew Arnold, when one of the members said, “Nobody has time to listen anymore.” A member of staff from the Care Home took her hand and said, “We always have time for you here, I know we can get busy but we always have time for you!” That pretty much sums up Shared Reading for me.
Graham, Chris, Katie and Megg have worked so hard - and on behalf of all the volunteers, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me taking this space to thank them for everything they did and most importantly, for the thoughtful and caring way they did it. I was sorry to have missed the controlled chaos that was barn dancing at last Saturday’s celebration but it came as no surprise to me to see Katie still looking after everyone at the very end, directing taxis and sorting lifts.
It is those small acts that can mean such a great deal and I feel really confident, whether volunteer or group member, that it is those small acts of Shared Reading that will leave a positive and indelible imprint on so many in the years to come.