World renowned ‘dementia poet’ John Killick was The Courtyard Centre for the Art’s poet in residence for three months in 2011, during which time he mentored four local poets working with people with dementia. The four plus John were resident in specialist dementia care homes across the county, where they worked one to one and in groups with residents. They would talk and listen to the residents and work collaboratively with them to form the residents’ words into poems – sometimes based on stories and memories, sometimes in response to visual stimuli such as paintings and photographs.
From this initial residency ‘In The Pink’ was born. Running for 4 years, we worked with over 60 % of the care homes in Herefordshire, with nearly 3000 attendances to the sessions. We had six poets working on this project, all of whom were professional, working poets and writers. Their mentor John Killick is a professional poet who specializes in working with people with dementia.
An extraordinary amount of beautiful and fascinating poetry has been created, with a selection turned into two books and published. Many of the participants who have been involved in the project have come to readings of their work at The Courtyard where an audience comprised of members of the public as well as local dignitaries. Some of the participants were able to read their own poems to the groups at their residential homes.
The process of the work involves the poet letting the participant talk and allowing them the time to be listened to. The poets then ask permission to write down or record particularly interesting or poetic elements of the conversation and form the words into poems. The poems are then given back or read to the participant and together they edit and agree on a title. No words are ever added by the poets – they are all the words of the participant and they have complete control over whether the poem is kept or discarded, whether it can be read to other people (many of the poems are very personal) or published. The participants engage either in group sessions or a one to one with the resident poet. Together they devise poems, which are edited and typed up by the poets so they have a permanent copy.
Following on from the huge success of the work done on In the Pink, we have created a free downloadable toolkit, aimed at poets, care staff, and anyone interested in setting up a similar dementia poetry project. Filled with information about the process, the project success and ways you can start the creative conversation in your own setting.
Printed copies of the toolkit are also available for purchase costing £2.50.
Each year of the project an anthology of poems was created, showcasing the work of the participants. To celebrate the end of this wonderful project we have reprinted all four books In The Pink; Singing Under Our Breath; Bee’s Knee’s and Pickled Onions; and The Word Collector.
Books are available for purchase costing £3 each.
A selection of 6 poetry postcards are also available. Postcards are available for purchase costing £3 per set or 50p each.