Celia came for coffee this morning and stayed for lunch. That was, I hasten to add, at my invitation and I was delighted she accepted.
She came to read poetry.
Today, Mother would have been 95. I have emailed people to ask them to celebrate her life by reading a poem aloud to someone else, to enjoy some shared reading, just as she and I did. I’ve had some lovely responses. Now it’s time to ask you.
It doesn’t have to be today; spin in out – make December the shared reading month, or 2015 the shared reading year – it may be decades since you sat back and listened to someone read to you, or maybe it’s something you do every day. For many of us, it’s something associated with childhood, something we don’t do with other adults. Yet for something so simple, it is immensely powerful and helps us to connect with each other.
I think this photo is from the day I started taking reading aloud to my mother seriously. I flipped back through the posts on this blog, and found what I had written. If you are curious, click here, and you can read it too.
Mum 2nd June 2010
Our poetry group has blossomed. At the end of 2013 it was an endangered species. The library, where it began under the protective eye of David, a library assistant who is also a published poet, has been closed for over a year due to a devastating fire in the building next door.
We were moved to a library some distance way. Numbers fell. To be honest, they had already fallen when David was moved to a different library and a new library assistant was assigned to us. Celia and I, with our dying mothers, had other preoccupations. In November, the local authority decided that if only a couple of people were going to attend, it was no longer viable. The group would close. Perhaps, when our library reopens sometime in the distant and unspecified future, it might start again.
Could we, we suggested, run it ourselves in the interim? Suspend it rather than close it, let it loose in the community until new stabling is found?
So we sat in the pub and discussed how we would do it. We needed a venue. The pub landlady, asked for her opinion, was happy for us to meet there. In January we marked our new group with an outing to the TS Eliot Prize readings by the ten short-listed poets. In February we were at the pub. It was the same night as a Labour party fundraising quiz night, and pretty noisy. But there were three of us, and later Reuben and Emily came to find out what we were up to.
This was a lucky moment, as they have a gallery space nearby, and said they would be happy to host us. We had already arranged that March would be at the poetry library, so on a chilly night in April, five of us sat at a round table at Hotel Elephant with our poems and some lager. Ronnie, Reuben and Emily’s new puppy, was so delighted to see us he peed on the floor. Continue reading
As luck would have it, I was booked in to attend the Reader Organisation conference today in London. I spoke about this organisation at Mother’s funeral yesterday, explaining why it is one of the two chosen charities we are asking people to donate to in her memory. The other one is Pets as Therapy. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew, which was foolish, because of course the facilitator from the Get Into Reading group I have attended twice was there. She was one of the first people I saw when I went to the coffee and second breakfast spot.
I was wishing more and more that I could swap my first workshop for the one on dementia, when I saw the reports on the work the Reader Organisation has done with people living with dementia sitting on a table. I picked up two copies; one for me, one to drop into the home where Mother was living.
There was an opening session in the auditorium. I took a seat, and then saw Sandra, a local storyteller and member of our poetry group walking up the central aisle. I caught up with her at the coffee break. Her sister died in the autumn, and both of us had been tripped up by a reading about a boy who had lost his mother.
We were in the same group after the break. My emotions sloshed about in that one too, and then it was lunchtime. Another member of my local Get Into Reading group turned up. She is interested in joining the poetry group, so I introduced her to Sandra, and watched them bond.
After lunch there was a fascinating talk about how our brains respond to poetry, and how in particular they respond to functional shifts; nouns used as verbs, adverbs as nouns and so on. Shakespeare was fond of this, and today helped explain why some of his phrases catch us and spin our imaginations as they do. But I was amazed that reading poetry results in increased activity in all parts of our brains.
We were very well fed all day. Despite the fact I was interested in the talk, I could happily have had a mid-afternoon nap, but it was on tothe next seminar.
The whole day was about the strength of shared reading, of building communities around shared reading; using reading to make connections with people, to improve health and wellbeing. Continue reading