Alzheimer's Poetry Project

This blog will be a place to post poetry written by people living with Alzheimer's disease. We will focus on poetry that is created as part of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project. We will post information and news about dementia. We hope this blog is of use to the family members who have a loved one with dementia.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nurses Day

Nurses Day
(By the Avalon Poets on 5/6/16 with past Poet Laureate of Madison, Fabu Carter)

I still am a nurse. Once a nurse, always a nurse.
I have such a pain in my neck. I need a nurse.
Nurses are kind; helping people recover from whatever is bothering them.
Nurses are very nice people to work with.
I love nurses.
Nurses are for us. They look after us.
I enjoyed teaching, but nursing is something else.
The noble profession of nurses.
I’m happy its National Nurses Month, week and day.
I’d like to be a nurse.
I always wanted to be a nurse and have someone call “Nurse, Nurse!”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Imagine That- Sarah Jacobus

One of the pleasures of running the Alzheimer's Poetry Project (APP)
is the people you meet.
Sarah Jacobus has been taking the the APP on-line training
and it is true delight to see how she is shaping the APP to her own voice and vision.

In addition, Jacobus has been certified in the storytelling project, "TimeSlips,"
and is taking an improv class!

The poems she has been creating with her groups in Los Angeles are full of strong images.

This is a photo Sarah took of a budding peach tree in her backyard.
She brought clipping from the tree to share with and inspire her group.
She asked a series of questions around the theme of trees
and the group's answers became the lines of the poem.

I can't wait to see what her and her poets come up with next.
It is an honor to share their poem with you.


(The poem “I Am a Tree,” inspired by the Joyce Kilmer poem “Trees,”
was created with Sarah Jacobus by the poets at OPICA,
a Los Angeles adult day program and counseling center for people with memory loss.)

I have a strong central bark
and branches with flowers at the end
I am mostly green
a little brown at the tips
but mostly green, that’s for sure
I am brown, solid and gray
with little touches of red and blue
Fragrance clean
I smell like sweet apple
I shade myself from being frightened

Refreshing, I smell the air in the neighborhood
It keeps me from thinking of bad things
Refreshing, and raring to go explore the area
maybe a deer, or a small squirrel there
a brook with stones that are smooth
They make a person feel real good about life.

We had an elm tree in the backyard
There was another tree like it
3,000 miles away in Connecticut
It had the same fragrance
I could jump back and forth between them

I sit at the top of a windy hill and feel
nostalgic about an old memory
I’m a tree that hides me from the world
and lets me think about
who I am
who I want to be
What a memory

Sarah Jacobus, LCSW, MFA, is a Los Angeles social worker with a Master of Fine Arts Degree in creative writing. She is committed to creative engagement for elders with memory loss as a tool for meaningful self-expression, community building and fun. Trained and certified by APP founder Gary Glazner, she is currently bringing the APP method to senior centers, care communities and individuals in Los Angeles County

Learn more about Sarah’s work at

Friday, February 19, 2016

APP on Wisconsin Public Radio

Fabu Carter on Wisconsin Public Radio on the APP and how dementia effects the African American community. Fabu leads the APP in Wisconsin and works at the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. Such an honor to get to work with her.

Please give the show a listen:Poetry And Alzheimer's

The Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center is a unique program combining academic, clinical, and research expertise from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center (GRECC) of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.

For Our Elders With Memory Loss
by Fabu Carter
(From Dementia Arts: Celebrating Creative in Elder Care)

Some call you seniors
I call you wise elders
Living long and learning much.

You should be honored
Your grey hair a symbol
Of victory and authority in life.

When your memory flees or hides
And every face seem strange
Remember the other signs of love.

The gentle touch, the kind voice
The spirit that welcomes you
Just as you are.

Reassure yourselves
That you know how love feels
For it will chase the fear of forgetting

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rhythm of Poetry

Rhythm is essential in performing and creating poetry with people living with memory loss. We often chant the poems using, "call and response," to engage the group. In this case "call and response," is where the session leaders says a line of poetry and has the group echo or repeat the line.

The NPR piece below, "How Rhythm Carries A Poem, From Head To Heart," gives a wonderful description of the importance of rhythm in poetry. The poet Edward Hirsch says, "Spoken-word poetry brings back that ancient feeling of poetry as performance and poetry as contest; and poetry as spoken, chanted, sung."

My background as a performance poet and my involvement with the Poetry Slam informs and guides my work as the founder of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project (APP). I trace many of the techniques and methods of the APP to lessons I learned in how to engage the audience as a performance poet. That ancient sense of poetry as performance is at the core of the APP.

One of the reasons "call and response," works so well with people living with memory loss, is that it taps into what neurologists call, auditory sense or echoic memory. In the book "Nueroscience," temporal categories of memory are defined in three classes:
1. Immediate memory
2. Working memory
3. Long-term memory

The book states, "The capacity of immediate memory is very large, each sensory modality, (visual, auditory, tactile and so on) appears to have its own semi-independent "memory register." Accessing immediate memory through the auditory sensory modality, we are able to engage in the performance of poetry. We find a high degree of success in asking them to repeat back words they have just heard and the rhythm along with rhyme help to facilitate the recitation.

Here is a joyful and playful example of "call and response," using lines from the EE Cumming poem, "I Carry Your Heart."

Sunday, January 17, 2016


I recently visited the Picasso Sculpture exhibit at MoMA, that the NY Times calls “a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition that brings together more than 100 Picasso works, including many never seen in the United States."

Seeing the way he used found objects to create a number of the sculptures, made me think that how we create poems in the Alzheimer's Poetry Project (APP) could be described as "Found Poetry."

Here is a guide to the exhibit that gives examples of how Picasso used found objects.

Wikipedia defines, "Found poetry as a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning."

The main technique we use with APP to create poems is by asking open-ended questions around a theme. For example at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin with a group from the Gathering Place, we created the poem "Ocean." The poem was inspired by Tristin Lowe's artwork of a life-sized whale, "Mocha Dick." We asked what the ocean would smell, taste, look, sound, and feel like. We imagined encounters with whales. We wrote down all the comments from the group, taking care to transcribe as close to the actual words as possible and then we shaped that text into a poem.

We started the session by performing: "Catch a Little Rhyme," by Eve Merriam; "Whopper!" by Jack Prelutsky; "The Whale," by Hilaire Belloc and sections of "The World below the Brine," by Walt Whitman; and "Moby Dick," by Herman Melville. These poems also helped to inspire our original poem.

When we perform the newly created poem with it's "found" text we use a "call and response," technique to perform the poem with the group and improvise, thinking of the lines in a similar way to how jazz musicians interpret a melody, changing among other elements, the tone, rhythm, and speed of the recitation. We are always being open to the group adding new lines, as you see at the end of the poem, with the improvisation on whale, pail and ale.

Another artist we draw inspiration from is Robert Rauschenberg’s work with Combines. This mixing of media and breaking down of boundaries between painting and sculpture also guides our work in partnering with assisted living, adult day care, senior centers and cultural organizations including museums, to provide programming for their clients, we have a group of ready, willing and able people who respond strongly to the opportunity to express their creativity, with the goal of giving voice to people living with memory loss.

Mocha Dick, which appears in the video courtesy of the artist in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop, The West Collection, and Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, PA and John Michael Kohler Art Center. Mocha Dick is the real life whale that Melville based "Moby Dick," on.

Special thanks to Margaret Groff, Education Program Manager at JMKAC and Cindy Musial, past Director at The Gathering Place for setting up the workshop.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

MEMORIES by Anne Keane


It was a year ago,
or was it two,
that she first realized she forgot,
to remember:
Remember to remember,
she was going
to lose
as the first.

shortly ago then
She can't remember.

It is her nightly medicine
or is it the month.
Did she ask you? Or forget to ask, did you
Answer or not
it is no longer always clear,
Though it seems not important to hold
On to forgetting
To remember
at times the sky blue and the clarity,
in a moment.

Monday, July 27, 2015

RIP Richard Taylor...Hello My Name is Richard

Like so many people I considered Dr. Richard Taylor a friend. Richard died on June 25th, 2015. He was the most passionate and outspoken advocate for people living with memory loss. This treasured photo was taken after he testified at the Dementia Arts on Capitol Hill. The project included an exhibit of people living with memory loss participating in the arts in the The Russell Senate Office Building and a panel briefing, which was sponsored by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.

The speakers in addition to Richard and the Senator among others included: Rocco Landesman, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts; the Guest Poet, Stuart Hall who read poems about living with memory loss; Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts; Dr. Anne Basting, Executive Director, Center on Age & Community and founder, TimeSlips; Maria Genné, founder, KAIROS ALIVE! and Margery Pabst, Executive Director, Pabst Charitable Foundation for the Arts and author of “Enrich Your Caregiving Journey."

All of them were well spoken and articulate about memory loss and care-giving but it was Richard who brought the issue to life and who made the standing room crowd of Senate staffers and the public laugh and cry. So many of the people who attended the panel briefing on the state of Dementia Arts Research came up after the event and talked about how moving Richard's talk was.

I first met Richard at an Alzheimer's Foundation of America Conference in Dallas in 2006. It was the first time I had attended a conference on Alzheimer's where a person living with memory loss had spoken at the conference. Richard always pushed for including that voice. When I began organizing Dementia Arts on Capitol Hill, it was my great hope he would be able to attend and I organized the event around him.

When I first contacted Richard about speaking at the event, he knew I would need sponsors and he said, "Are you sure you want me? You know I can be considered quite controversial." As Richard predicted, when I was talking with a marketing person for one of the major Alzheimer's advocacy groups, the person asked about the speakers at the event and said, "You know Richard Taylor called me an angel of death." We talked it through and agreed that if we were living with memory loss, we might also have Richard's sense of urgency and frustration, at how most if not all the resources and funds raised around Alzheimer's, are put to use for a distant cure and not towards helping people today.

In the end, the Alzheimer's advocacy group, did help us to promote and get the word out about the event. I believe that although was difficult, that it helped the person to talk out how it felt to be described that way. The conversation was frank and honest and Richard loved hearing the story. I think this person's anger came in part from the guilt of knowing we really don't do enough. I know for myself that when I heard Richard speak, it always pushed me to work harder for people living with memory loss.

Below are a few of the remarks he made that day, shaped into a poem. Like so many people I am missing my friend Richard today, but take heart in his words and send to his family and all his friends thoughts of love.

Hello, My Name is Richard Taylor

It’s not complicated
understanding who I am
once you get past the stigmas.
I am Richard,
a whole human being
living with the disabilities
associated with the symptoms
of Dementia.

Please do not give up on me
when I do not voluntarily
communicate as you.

Assume the best
for me, and in me.
Speak to me
as if I am all here.

It is a moral imperative
to support those who
for no reason
of their own cannot
meet their own needs.

A clean bed, a warm meal,
surroundings that mimic a hotel-
these are the basic needs.

It is the higher level needs
you all best support.

The needs that bring a smile
to my face, a bounce to my step,
and a handshake, a hug, or a kiss
for you when you leave.

Hello, my name is Richard Taylor;
I am a retired psychologist
living with the symptoms
and diagnosis of Dementia,
probably of the Alzheimer’s type.

Why is it everyone
is so amazed when we
dance, sing, and write?
Could it be we have been
hitherto written off as being fully human?

As our symptoms increase
do our needs for happiness,
connectedness, friendship,
self-esteem decrease?
Of course not.

I will be a complete
human being until
about two minutes
after I have drawn
my last breath.

Read More of Richard's Work Here.