National Public Radio – April 11, 2004

In The News

National Public Radio
Weekend Edition Sunday
April 11, 2004
Profile: Poetry program for Alzheimer’s patients by Gary Glazner
Edition: 1:00-2:00 PM
Estimated printed pages: 3

To listen to the radio interview, click here .

Article Text:
Poets around the country are celebrating April as National Poetry Month. In New Mexico, reporter Paul Ingles recently went along with poet Gary “Mex” Glazner to visit people with Alzheimer’s disease at the Sierra Vista Assisted Living Center in Santa Fe, and to read them some well-known poems.

PAUL INGLES reporting:
At precisely 10:30 on a recent brilliant spring Santa Fe morning, poet Gary Glazner walks into Sierra Vista’s community room with a book of poems in one hand and a bunch of yellow daffodils in the other.

Mr. GARY GLAZNER (Poet): So how you guys doing?

INGLES: Although he’s been here twice before in the last two months, most of the 20 senior Alzheimer’s patients seated in a circle don’t remember him.

Mr. GLAZNER: Hi, Imogene. Want a daffodil?

INGLES: Imogene takes the flower with wide eyes and a smile. Glazner offers flowers to all, but one woman keeps her arms fol! ded and refuses him. She stares deeply into his face, looking for something familiar. Glazner just grins, lays a flower on her chair, takes his seat on the circle and opens his poems.

Mr. GLAZNER: To celebrate spring coming on, I’m going to read “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth. (Reading) I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats over high, over vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils…

INGLES: A moment later, Glazner jumps up and dances around the circle, trying to make eye contact with each resident.

Mr. GLAZNER: (Reading) And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.

INGLES: One man in a cardigan appears startled, as if awakened from a dream. Some, though, giggle and pick up on his rhythm, bouncing their flowers up and down in time. A few keep their eyes closed and scowl. Glazner says he uses rhythm and movement in his poetry readings in coffeehouses or theaters, too, but it’s ! especially useful with this audience.

Mr. GLAZNER: You’re movi ng closer to them, you’re touching them, you’re engaging with them. You know, you have them fading in and out of consciousness, and so you have to work that much harder.

INGLES: When he was living in California in 1997, Glazner first won a grant to try out poetry readings in senior centers.

Mr. GLAZNER: And I got hooked on it when one day I was reading Longfellow’s poem and there was a guy in the class who pretty much was out of it–he wasn’t able to participate; head was down–and I said, `I shot an arrow in the air,’ and he looked up and said, `And where it lands I know not where.’ And it was just a marvelous moment for me and for the whole group. (Reading) Yankee Doodle went to town, a-riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his cap and called it…

Unidentified Woman #1: Macaroni.

Mr. GLAZNER: Yeah.

Ms. RUTH DENNIS (Recreation Director): Right!

He called me kind of out of the blue.

INGLES: Ruth Dennis is the re! creation director at Sierra Vista who says Glazner’s proposal for regular poetry readings made sense to her for Alzheimer’s care.

Ms. DENNIS: One simple reason. It makes a moment in time really enjoyable. Time kind of blurs with Alzheimer’s. Time sort of becomes this really ambiguous thing. Alzheimer’s treatment, if it’s good treatment, is a Zen kind of experience. It’s very much being really focused on just being present.

Mr. GLAZNER: This one is by that very famous poet, Anonymous.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oooh.

Mr. GLAZNER: Yeah, Anonymous.

Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah.

Mr. GLAZNER: (Reading) Do you `carrot’ all for me? My heart beats for you with your `turnip’ nose and your `radish’ face. You’re a peach. If we `cantaloupe,’ `lettuce’ marry. We’d make a swell `pear.’

(Soundbite of laughter; harmonica music)

Mr. GLAZNER: Whoo!

INGLES: Almost apologetically, Glazner says he might be getting as much! good feeling out of these encounters as the patients themselves, but he’s seen enough positive response to want to pitch his program to other centers and communities. He also has in mind developing a book of poems that Alzheimer’s families and caregivers can use to reach this special audience of poetry fans.

Ms. DENNIS: Lillian, what’cha think?

LILLIAN: Oh, my. I liked listening to all of them.

Ms. DENNIS: All of them.

INGLES: For NPR News, I’m Paul Ingles in Santa Fe.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You’re listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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Record Number: 200404111306