I spent my first morning in NYC participating in a poetry workshop led by Gary Glazner, the founder and Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, (APP). The session took place at the New York Memory Centre in Brooklyn and included the participation of over 30 older adults, at various stages of dementia.
The workshop was unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I could feel the excitement of the participants before the session even began. Having arrived 30min early, I was offered to take a sit in the room where all the participants were waiting for Gary to arrive. One of the ladies who use to come to the sessions regularly sat in the middle of the room and started to read everyone’s horoscope; people were singing spontaneously, praying and speaking in prose to each other. The room was filled with positive energy which only went up when Gary arrived.
I asked Gary if it was OK for me to take notes and he told me that I could, but that I would probably be too busy for that since I was going to be a part of the session. I wasn’t expecting to be put on the spot and was a little nervous but very excited at the same time.
The session started by Gary saying a poem for everyone to repeat, line after line, with matching movements. This exercise helped the energy flowing and for everyone to warm up. We then started the creative aspect of the workshop. Gary took my visit as a starting point for a session on travelling, focusing on France and people’s perception of the country. He asked me and the participants questions, making notes of everyone’s answers and acknowledging every single contribution to create an original poem, on the spot. What impressed me was his ability to improvise and incorporate a variety of art forms to answer participant’s suggestions. Gary would, for example, include movements, rhythm work, play the harmonica and even mix famous songs such as ‘I Feel Good’ to enhance the poetry session. This resulted in an incredibly dynamic workshop where participants felt free to be playful and creative.
Gary was keen to let me bring some of my performance background and culture to the session and suggested that I teach everyone a French poem. I picked ‘Vowels’ by Arthur Rimbault, which has always been one of my favourites because of its sensory potential and the creative possibilities it offers. Using the first line of the poem we started a game where I would translate it in French and everyone would repeat the words in their best French accent. This resulted in a funny and playful moment as we started to incorporate movements and rhythm, turning the poem into a small performance.
The session concluded with a final reading of the poem on France that everyone created together, dancing to Gary’s harmonica as well as people collectively singing ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ as a closing act. This session left me very uplifted and as well as with a lot of inspiration for my future work as a drama practitioner.