The launch was a smashing success! Six poets, three health care worker and a representative from the German Alzheimer's Association received three hours of training in a hands-on workshop in using poetry with people living with dementia. The event was the subject of a public radio show which aired yesterday and will continue being broadcast throughout the weekend in a number of markets and was featured in today's Marburg newspaper.
Five people in various stages of dementia participated in the workshop. Those are the numbers, real and necessary for any report and for a clinical description, we might say we saw positive facial expressions strong verbal response and increased sociability. That two of the people participating in the session exhibited spontaneous recitation of poems they knew. But it does not give the emotional impact on the poets and the participants.
We opened with the poem that thus far every German asked knows, "Alle Meine Enchen." Lars Rupple the Marburg Poetry Slam organizer, gave a brilliant introduction, talking about how when he was young he really did not like poetry, how he was forced to learn poetry in school, how for him the poem he most remembered was not by a famous poet like Rilke but this little rhyme, he remembers his mother singing. He asked who each person's favorite poet was and then launched into Alle meine Enchen and everyone started laughing as one of the poets began to do a duck walk. Four of the participants sang along.
Then came a Heinz Erhardt poem about a cow, Eine Kuh, which ended with Lars and one of the poets Felix Romer having a contest to see which of them looked more like a cow. Then another hilarious poem by Erhardt about Maggots. Our theme as you have guessed by now was animals. Erhardt is similar to Shel Silverstein in humor and style.
We composed a group poem by asking if, "You were a bird where would you fly and what would you see?" We used Die Vogel Hochzeit, and Fiderallalla, as inspiration and as a sort of chorus singing it before each person was asked the prompt. One woman said, "I can't fly, my arm is hurt, my shoulder is sore." At the end of the session she said, "When I hear the poetry, my arm doesn't hurt any more." Another woman at first said she would not fly any where." When Lars came back to her he asked if she would fly to a church, and she replied, "No, I would fly into your hair!" At that moment with everyone laughing and Lars pulling and shaping his hair into a nest it felt like there was no dementia in the room.
We ended the session with Ode an Die Freude, by Friedrich Schiller and then Es ist Schon by Felix Romer.At the start of the session one of the women was unresponsive when the poets said hello to her. For most of the session she had her eyes closed. Her face was stiff, showing no emotion. Felix sat next to her and through out the session made contact with her by touching her arm and repeating to her what was happening and what people were saying. At the end she had a small but distinct smile and nodded her head yes when asked if she would like the poets to return. On Monday we workshop in Berlin!