A Poem in Our Eyes: A Collection of Image-inspired Poetry Collaboratively Written by Centre Care Residents Living with Dementia

Schlow's Allen Gallery welcomes "an annual celebration of Ridgelines' semester-long program, “A Poem in Our Eyes,” highlighting the rich intellectual and creative capacities of those living with memory loss." The exhibition will hang in the gallery throughout the month of June.

"A Poem in Our Eyes” consists of poetry written collaboratively by residents of Centre Care Nursing Home’s memory support neighborhood, Stanton, in response to paintings and photographs they are shown in our sessions. I have found that the participants respond best to brightly colored images that include people, animals, or familiar scenes. Abstract art and shadowy pictures don’t resonate as well for these storytellers.

The writers of these poems and stories have met for 10 weeks throughout the spring. It’s been my pleasure to meet weekly with participants to look at, think about, talk about, and laugh about these and many other images, as well as the memories and feelings they evoke.

When we look at an artwork together, we ask: What do you notice? How does it make you feel? What do you think it smells like, or sounds like, there? What do you imagine happens next? As the teaching artist, I let everyone know that we’re here to let our imaginations run loose—there are no right or wrong answers. Whatever people say gets written on a white board for all to see. Although my hand is involved in copying down and lineating the poems, all of the words and titles come directly from participants.

It might sometimes seem, as you look at the poems and artworks displayed here, that the words wander far afield from the images they respond to. And yet in our creative sessions, it was often clear that the artworks had triggered thoughts of people, places, experiences, and feelings. An image of a grassy field might put someone in mind of two people on a date—not really such a stretch. And this is, after all, the logic of poetry: notes the poet C.D. Wright, “The goal is not to make a story but to experience the whole mess.”

The goals of “A Poem in Our Eyes” are these: To provide rich intellectual experiences for those living with memory loss; to foster social inclusion and a sense that their words and imaginings are valued; to provide the satisfaction of making something new; to increase mental and emotional well-being; and to provide a vehicle for communicating with others in creative ways.

The program also aims to challenge the notion that those living with memory loss are not “making sense.” Clearly, they deeply are." --Robyn Rydzy, teaching artist, June 2023