May 17 2017
Entitled ‘Coming Back to Me’, the call for contributions to the wiki poem was made at the launch of the National Memory Day project in June last year.
National Memory Day (18 May), is part of Dementia Awareness Week and a celebration of the power of poetry for those with and affected by dementia. It is the creation of a partnership of Literature Works, the University of Plymouth, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Poetry Archive.
The initiative caught the imagination of a wide variety of people, from the former Poet Laureate himself to TV presenter Angela Rippon CBE, Prime Minister’s Rural Dementia Lead Ian Sherriff, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, Jeremy Hughes, as well as people with dementia, families, carers, clinicians, dementia scientists and more.
Each contributor added a line to the poem online and entries were open to a global audience. The contributions were then given to renowned poet Karen Hayes who formed them into the finished poem.
Karen said: “What seemed to be addressed in the unshaped lines which I received was the sense of relatives going on the long slow journey of disassociation with their loved one and how the islands and sheltered spots along the way were very much a shared and joyful experience as well as full of longing for another, earlier time.
“The creation of the Wiki poem has made me think that perhaps poetry is the natural medium for everyone's experience of dementia in that there are very few other ways of expressing such a profoundly moving human journey.”
Care UK’s dementia expert, Debra Fox, said: “Even though dementia can often rob people of their recent memories, many people find that they can still recall poetry that they had to learn off by heart at school.
“Reading poetry together is a lovely way of prompting reminiscences and conversation. I love the new poem created for National Memory Day and I hope its haunting verses help even more people to think about what this disease does to families and to understand just how diverse and complicated its impact can be.
‘Coming Back to Me’ was launched with a film of the poem read by 12 people associated with or connected to dementia or poetry. They include:
Angela Rippon CBE
Tracey Guiry, director of The Poetry Archive
Ian Sherriff, dementia lead at the University of Plymouth and chair of the Prime Minister’s Rural Dementia Group
Dr Oleg Anichtchik, dementia scientist at the University of Plymouth
Heather Norman-Soderlind, chair of Literature Works
Professor Richard Yarwood, rural dementia researcher at the University of Plymouth
Trevor Jarvis, diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2001
Jessica Holloway, Plymouth Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate 2016
Karen Hayes, poet and National Memory Day workshop leader
Emma Lydon and Kerry-Ann Beers, student nurses at the University of Plymouth
Sam Griffiths, group coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Society in Devon and Cornwall
In February, Care UK celebrated World Read Aloud Day with a series of events across dozens of its care homes and created a film featuring Taffy Thomas MBE sharing his tips for reading aloud with older family members.
‘Coming Back to Me’
What I remember is the day you gave
Your pendulum of nights and days to count.
The precious seconds of that perfect hour,
Tethering you to me as if at any moment
You would be lost.
We walked in the rain of failing memory,
Listening to the water as it rippled by,
Sailing down the river like your tin-foil boat,
Red flowers and laughter on the journey
Of coming back to me
In snatches of beauty.
Salty coast air, fresh cut grass,
Indian summers, steaming trains
Like leaving the haze of the plains for the shade
Of the Himalayas.
Your eyes turned skyward,
But suddenly I am unsure
Whether it is me you are remembering or
Yourself as you used to be.
We sit on the porch considering the stars.
Day becomes night
And as you reached for my hand in the cooling darkness
Your voice reaches me as a tiny whisper
And for a moment I think it is only the wind.
We smile as we remind you of the journey,
Is it yourself? you said, a lullabye.
I wait until you tell me more forcefully,
Breathless with wonder that you still live inside you,