RIP Pat Summitt

She was the winningest coach in basketball history. A few years ago she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Here is a story by her good friend and writer Sally Jenkins on using poetry with Pat.

Jenkins gets the idea from an unnamed Alzheimer’s guide that suggests using poetry with people living with memory loss and the Longfellow poem that opens, “I shot an arrow into the air.”


That is my story and the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project is the unnamed guide. Jenkins writes, “After she was forced to retire, reading to her became harder as the disease progressed. One afternoon I followed the advice in the Alzheimer’s guide and tried a short poem. I read about Longfellow’s arrow, streaking through the air and coming down he knew not where, ‘For who has sight so keen and strong that it can follow the flight of song.’” Jenkins goes on to use Mary Karr’s amazing poem, “Loony Bin Basketball.”

That I had any small part in these two friends connecting through poetry is an honor. Much love to the family, friends and fans of Coach Summitt.

Good Afternoon

Natalie Rose

One of the pleasures of doing this work is the people you get to meet. Natalie Rose is part of the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) team, I had the honor of training in creative aging. Located in New Smyrna Beach, in Florida, ACA is a well known nonprofit interdisciplinary artists' community featuring community programming and residencies led by distinguished contemporary artists.

ACA was founded in in 1977 by Doris Leeper, an internationally known sculptor and painter and visionary environmentalist. Among the Master Artists who have led residencies are visual artist Robert Rauschenberg; jazz composer Cecil Taylor; choreographer Merce Cunningham, and poet Robert Creeley. 

Under the leadership of Nancy Lowden Norman, and Jim Frost, Co-Executive Directors, ACA is where much of the planning and development of the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© took place.

It is wonderful ACA is extending their work and vision to the creative aging field. Rose writes about the training experience, "I felt uplifted and transcended in our time together at Ocean View nursing home last week. Afterwards I went to the ocean to write and capture the experience into a poem." You can find out more about Roes's work on her meetup page: Yoga in Nature

A Unique Look at the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide©

To work as a lead artist on the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA), Creative Caregiving Guide© project, for the past three years, has been an honor.

To inspire you try the guide, I want to take an unusual path and look at the guide, through Rebecca Solnit’s writing on her caregiving experience. In the opening chapter of her book, “The Faraway Nearby,” she introduces her mother, who is the first stages of memory loss. Solnit’s writing on dementia through the lens of her relationship with a loved one is among the best I have read.

Describing early morning walks, to help curb her mother’s wandering, she writes,  “When the rest of my conversations with her were chaotic or perilous, I talk to her mostly about the colors of the houses and about irises, honey-suckle, nasturtiums, passionflowers, sunflowers, morning glories, and the other plants we passed on those walks.” You feel the daughter and mother at ease in warm fragrance of the spring air, ablaze with color.

In that passage Solnit touches on two things at the core the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© and using arts with a person living with memory loss:

1.     She stays in the moment, by focusing the discussion and attention on what is in front of her and her mother.
2.     She steps outside of their normal routine to spend time together on the walk.

A main focus of the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© is being in the moment and carving out a little time away from the things we have to do to get through each day.

As the founder and Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, I was thrilled when I read: “As I was writing this I went to see my mother, and a little way into trying to be with her in the era past when she would murmur more than an occasional word and I would only rarely understand it, I remembered that I had a copy of Rilke’s Dunino Elegies with me and read three of them to her. In one of them were the words,

‘what we’re now striving for was once
nearer and truer and attached to us
with infinite tenderness. Here all is distance
There it was breath…’

It was a good way to keep talking and I listened too, and the familiar lines became more fiercely elegiac, more stern and wild spoken aloud.”

Solnit gets to the benefits of creative aging, when she writes that using poetry is a good way to keep talking and how she also listened deeply to the words.

The arts and the lessons in the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© may serve us, as communication tools and as ways to be together, for us to see and listen deeply to each other.

Like many people touched by caregiving, Solnit experiences a profound shift, as she goes through this experience. She finds her relationship with her mother in some ways improves and even with all the negative of dementia, there can be positive.

Capturing the essence of caregiving she writes, “Another thing to come to terms with was that there was no preventing or changing the course of events, the disease was a road she was going down no matter what. All we could do was help her travel it as gracefully as possible and locate what pleasures and comforts were available along the way.”

We designed the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© to be a map to those pleasures and comforts, laughs and smiles, dance, song stories.

The creative aging movement is grounded in the concept of person-centered care, that Solnit finds her way to as well, “I learned a lot in witnessing her travel steadily into the unknowns and unknowables and in contemplating a self beyond possession of skills and facts, and the value of the self beyond functionality.”

Finding that self, through the spark of being creative together, can be joyful.

"Taking care of the elderly," Solnit writes, "comes without the vast literature of advice and encouragement that accompanies other kinds of commitment, notably romantic love and childbearing."

We all need advice and encouragement, especially when navigating memory loss. I am proud to a part of the team that developed the NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© and hope it contributes to the culture of caregiving, along with the kindred spirit of “The Faraway Nearby.”

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!”

Brain Map


Neuroscientists create ‘atlas’ showing how words are organised in the brain

The headline from the Guardian announcing an amazing discovery of how our brain processes words. This amazing discovery has so many implications for using poetry with people living with dementia.

Click here to check out the Brain Word Map

The map itself is gorgeous and fun to experiment with!

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