Some guidance from our lead National Memory Day poet trainer.

Whether as a professional carer or a family member caring for someone living with dementia, the reading of poetry can be a gateway to reminiscence, to communication and to greater wellbeing both for the reader and the listener. Reading to one person whilst sitting comfortably together at home or to an audience in a day centre or memory café, the same basic suggestions should help to support your efforts. There are no rules here, just suggestions which will help the session to be enjoyable for everyone.

A few basic pointers: reading poetry aloud is not a lesson, but a shared experience. This means that intimacy, communication, humour and empathy are all key to its success.

  1. Make sure that you are sitting comfortably, at the same level as the listeners; aim for sharing rather than delivering.
  2. Ensure that you make regular and sustained eye contact which will help convey meaning as well as countering any hearing difficulties.
  3. Enjoy the material: it is poetry and is meant to be read.
  4. Choose poems that you like, creating an enjoyable experience for everyone.
  5. Practice reading the poems aloud, so that you get a sense of how they will sound for your audience.
  6. Choose a varied selection, some funny and some serious.
  7. Try to choose some poems which the listener will recognise. Famous poems may well have been learned by rote at school and will bring back numerous memories. However, including some that they might not know, some that are more modern or even some of your own can be really exciting for everyone.
  8. It is worth mixing up styles and genres to keep your audience interested and to stop it becoming a recitation.
  9. Be prepared for audience reaction and interaction whilst you read. You might have to pause for laughter or discussion during a poem. This is a positive result.
  10. Try to plan your reading so that you already know which poems are to be read and in what order, but don’t be ready to respond to other suggestions and requests.
  11. Use a good anthology and mark it up so that all the poems and page numbers can be easily located.
  12. Try to choose poems that are not too long: they do not have to have a regular rhyme scheme, but a good rhythm helps.
  13. Don’t be afraid to choose some poems that deal with old age or even death, but mix up the subject matter so that your audience are both engaged and surprised by the material.
  14. Build in time for pauses and discussion between poems.
  15. Aim for 30–40 minutes per session, but don’t worry if it is shorter or longer or you miss some things out. Be guided by your audience and how they are responding.
  16. Reading out loud can be tiring. Make sure you hum to warm up your voice beforehand and that you have plenty of water to drink.
  17. People may like to have copies of the poems to follow or to keep afterwards.
  18. Accept the audience’s reactions: enjoy them and encourage the audience to read aloud or recite if they want to.
  19. Make a note of what works or doesn’t work and keep adding and developing your repertoire.