As I’ve mentioned before I work part-time for The Reader Organisation and I read aloud every week with groups of people living with dementia and their carers. We read all sorts of poems and stories, talk about feelings and memories that these bring to mind, enjoy a hot drink and a few cakes and generally escape wholeheartedly into literature for an hour.
I try to choose a wide range of literature so that everyone enjoys the sessions and keeps coming back each week. I make good use of A Little, Aloud one of The Reader Organisation’s own anthologies with tried and tested stories and poems that have proved popular in shared reading settings. The internet is, of course, a fantastic resource, and I’m a frequent visitor to sites such as The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Archive and the Scottish Poetry Library .
Books I’m currently reading are also a good source of material and I’m always particularly pleased when I find a poem I think will make the group laugh. Such poems are gems indeed. I also look for poems (and short stories or short prose extracts, although I find with some of my groups, longer pieces require a greater degree of focus, and that’s more of a challenge for people living with dementia) to do with current events – not so much news, more seasons and weather – and even television programmes.
So I was delighted to bring in two poems sort of related to Wolf Hall which has been dramatised and is being shown on BBC2 in the UK at the moment. The first is a poem – They Flee From Me – by poet and ambassador (in the time of Henry VIII), Sir Thomas Wyatt, who may or may not have had an affair with Anne Boleyn. None of us were quite sure what the poem was about but we enjoyed the beautiful language, including the endearing inversions of word order – “They flee from me that sometime did me seek” “Therewithall sweetly did me kiss / And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?” which added to the ornate, courtly tone of the poem.
We talked about Sir Thomas Wyatt being credited with introducing the Italian sonnet to English Literature and this gave way to a discussion about how far and wide people travelled in those times before steam ships or aeroplanes. This led us to read Cargoes by John Masefield – not the same period at all but we like to vary our reading in our groups!
Then it was back to Sir Thomas Wyatt with a brilliantly funny poem by Carole Bromley from her Smith/Doorstop pamphlet Unscheduled Halt which I bought recently during a frenzy of pamphlet buying (more in another post!). As I mentioned earlier, poems which raise a laugh are precious indeed, and although we all agreed that not all “men are like that”, we thought the writer had cleverly given a woman’s version of events in the household of an important (self-important, perhaps?!) man. We loved the detail of Lady Wyatt thinking “Oh well at least it’s short” as she’s subjected (again) to her husband’s creative efforts and the image of her standing with her arms crossed “like Jack’s mum/when he brought back that fistful of beans” as he’s reading his poem aloud to her. Everyone asked to take a copy of the poem home.
Hope you enjoy it, too. Thanks very much to Carole for giving me permission to reproduce the poem here.
The Homecoming of Sir Thomas Wyatt by Carole Bromley
When Sir Thomas returned from Italy
bearing the sonnet his wife gave him a cold
welcome. She’d had a pinnyful of roundelays
and epics, of his naked foot stalking
in her chamber at all hours declaiming
Sir Patrick bloody Spens and now this.
She’d been hoping for chianti, one of those models
of the leaning tower or at least a decent bunch
of grapes. And he’d been so irritatingly cock-
a-hoop. Men are like that. Have to plant
their little flags. She didn’t let on though,
just thought ‘Oh well at least it’s short’, folded
her arms and gave him a look like Jack’s mum
when he brought back that fistful of beans.