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Volunteering at Swarthmore - Poetry sessions with Erica

19th October

Every Monday, Erica, whose mother, Peggy, is one of our residents, leads a poetry session at Swarthmore.

As an English tutor, Erica has been providing school children with additional help and this has reignited her passion for poetry. Knowing that her mum is also passionate about poetry and can always quote lines learnt in childhood, she took the opportunity, over lockdown, to offer poetry sessions to Swarthmore residents.

It’s quite a task to get the tone right – the poetry must engage readers, so it can’t be too hard, too easy or too rude! Over time, residents have found their own voices by asking in-depth questions, and by reading out loud or as a group. They have also frequently brought a new perspective to the poetry. Poems have provoked questions such as ‘what was happening in society at the time this poem was written?’ or ‘how does this poem reflect the poet’s life?’ And also, of course – ‘Do I like this poem or not?’ (One particular resident has particularly strong opinions…..) Sharing poetry clearly helps people to express themselves, and all responses are interesting and welcome.

Since they belong to the generation who learnt by rote in school, residents can often recite whole verses of poems. Poetry can trigger memories, too: when celebrating all things Welsh on 1 March, St David’s Day, one resident sang to everyone in Welsh. When the theme was trains, one resident spoke about her father’s work on the Italian railways. By contrast, poetry on Remembrance Day felt very sombre.

Some of the group’s favourite poets include William Wordsworth and John Masefield. We also have modern poets, such as Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney and John Agard. Michael Rosen, AA Milne, Shakespeare and Christina Rossetti make frequent appearances too.

Older people are complete people and that comes out when they get engaged in conversation: they have led interesting lives, felt love and loss, enjoyed fascinating careers, and have many stories to tell. They may be hard of hearing, or their memory may not be as good as it once was, but they clearly still have a strong intellectual capacity. The poetry sessions bring enjoyment each week and both the residents and Erica truly look forward to them. In fact, one resident has given her daughter strict instructions not to visit her on poetry days…..

Thank you, Erica, for all your efforts each week.

 Sea-Fever by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, 

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over. 

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