Friday, April 04, 2008

Poetry for Seniors

I recently fielded a question from a student about sharing poetry with senior citizens. This is an interest area of mine, too, since I have older family members who have found poetry to be meaningful to them. Several years ago, I read about a nursing home project in which people were invited to share memories and stories from their younger years and then guided in writing about them through poetry—almost a “found” poetry approach, placing key words, ideas and phrases in poetic arrangements. One of my favorite resource books that includes activities used with seniors is:

Morice, D. 1996. The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet. New York: Teachers and Writers Collaborative.

Dave Morice provides options for creating poems in unusual formats with people of all ages, but he also specifically shares examples of working with seniors. His ideas are generally quite playful and unorthodox, but can be lots of fun, too. Here is just a sampling of the 104 choices:
*Autumn leaf poems
*Postage stamp poems
*Rolodex poems
*Thumb book poem
*Poetry poker
*Poetry checkers
*Poetry mazes
*Social security poem
*Shakespearean sonnet maker
*And many more

Another resource book that sounds promising is From Deep Within: Poetry Workshops in Nursing Homes (New York, NY. Haworth Press, 1989) by Carol F. Peck.

And if you're looking for a few poetry books for young people that might also be particularly appealing to seniors, you might consider:

Harrison, David L. 2004. Connecting Dots: Poems of My Journey. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.
Heard, Georgia. 2002. This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1991. Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems. Boston: Joy Street Books.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1995. Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.
Lansky, Bruce. 1994. If We'd Wanted Quiet, We Would Have Raised Goldfish. Meadowbrook Press.
Mora, Pat. 2001. Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Nye, Naomi Shihab, comp. 1992. This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World. New York: Four Winds Press.
Steptoe, Javaka, comp. 1997. In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Willard, Nancy, comp. 1998. Step Lightly: Poems for the Journey. San Diego: Harcourt.
Wong, Janet. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. New York: Margaret K. McElderry.

Here’s one “grandma” poem that really speaks to me—across the generations and across cultures. It’s by a Pakistani poet and comes from Naomi Nye’s amazing collection, This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (Four Winds Press, 1992).

by Sameeneh Shirazie

I hadn’t asked her much,
just how she felt,
and she told me all about her day,
and how she’d washed the sheets,
and how she could not understand
why the towel got so heavy
when it was wet.
She’d also sunned the mattresses,
such tired bones and so much to do,
and my eyes filled with tears
when I thought of how I was simply
going to say “Salaam” and walk away
and so many words would have been
trapped inside her.
I would have passed by as if
what lay between those bedclothes
was just old life
and not really my grandmother.

[Note: “Salaam” meaning “peace,” is often used as a greeting.]
From: This Same Sky collected by Naomi Shihab Nye (Four Winds Press, 1992)

For more poetry, join the Poetry Friday crew at my former student's blog (go, Becky!) Becky’s Book Reviews.

Picture credit:


mjd said...

I am a retired 8th grade English teacher. Dave Morice used to come to my class every year for a week-long poetry workshop. He stayed all day (6 classes!) for a full five days. My students loved him. His ideas were fresh and original, and he had lots of energy and his love of poetry was clearly conveyed to my students. He had *everyone* writing poetry -- even students who pretty much had refused to write anything up to his coming. It's wonderful to find that there are other teachers out there who are using his ideas to get their students writing! Have you come across any of his other books? I would like to give you his email address, but this site won't let me.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I'm thrilled to connect with someone who has MET Dave Morice! I'm a big fan and enjoy his hyper-creative approach to connecting people of all ages with poetry. If you want to email me, simply use svardell at twu dot edu
Thanks for stopping by!