The winning and commended poets from our 2019 Dementia together magazine poetry competition.
Thank you everyone who took part in our poetry competition – you sent us over 120 poems full of feeling and insight, and it was a privilege to include each and every entry.
Heartfelt thanks also to our shortlisting panel, including four people affected by dementia from the Forget Me Nots in Kent – Chris and Rachael Norris, and Keith and Rosemary Oliver.
Our 2017 competition winners – Susan Benton in West Yorkshire, Vivienne Ward in Dorset and Karen Riddick in Dumfries and Galloway – joined the panel, as did Helen Helmer, who leads our Publishing team.
We’re extremely grateful to resident poets from Rhymes with Orange – London’s best spoken word night – who also took part in the shortlisting, and especially to Ellie Dawes and Athos Athanasiou, who made this possible.
Our guest judge was Colette Bryce, the award-winning poet from Derry who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her latest collection of poems, The M pages, is due out next year and we’re delighted she was able to take time to select winners.
Colette says, ‘Reading the shortlisted poems, with their images from so many lives, was a rich experience; at times moving, at others uplifting. Always I felt the charge of connection that poetry sparks between the writer and the reader. I have no doubt the winning poems will resonate with many people.’
Category one: Change
‘Tenderly’ by Miranda Overett, in London, won in the Change category.
Colette says, ‘This concerns itself with parts of speech we often edit out in poetry: not the action, but the adverb, “how” something is done.
‘This is key to what the poem communicates about the woman interacting with her father, “tenderly”, “reverently” and “gently” are rejected in favour of “quickly” and a manner that is “cheerful, uncompromising”, in effect – unchanged.’
‘I wrote “Tenderly” about my mother. Every time we go to visit my grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, I’m struck by her compassion,’ says Miranda.
Colette says, ‘I was drawn to the line in the centre of the poem where she “does not tread gently”, bringing echoes simultaneously of Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” and Yeats’s “tread softly because you tread upon my dreams”.’
‘I wrote “Tenderly” about my mother,’ says Miranda. ‘Every time we go to visit my grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, I’m struck by her compassion. She accepts him completely as he is, even though she now acts more as parent than child to him.
‘Her ability to balance caring for his practical needs with always being open to finding new ways to emotionally connect with him is so strong and full of love that I wanted to capture it.’
Colette adds, ‘A special mention goes to “Time of sands” by Mark Cowan in County Durham, with its “time traveller” speaker.’
Mark says, ‘I have recently seen a number of examples of the challenges of dementia for everyone concerned. Better exposure of these and how people can be supported, through fantastic organisations such as Alzheimer's Society, is crucial.
‘There are so many examples of small things making a positive difference to people affected by dementia. I hope the poem strikes a chord – the more exposure and support that can be provided for families, the better.’
Category two: Celebrate
Looking at the Celebrate category, Colette says, ‘There were several poems about the importance of music for people living with dementia; not only its power to evoke memories, but also to suffuse us momentarily with pleasure and calm.
‘I liked the chiselled economy of “Bobby’s Girl” by Ruth Foy in County Down, the song title repeated through the three stanzas as a refrain, at first signifying the woman’s transportation back to “when she sang” and later, movingly, as the song is played to celebrate her.’
‘I wrote this in celebration and memory of my aunt, Belle Johnston. She loved her holidays in Spain, where she would take the stage and sing before the days of karaoke,’ says Ruth.
‘The poem is almost entirely without punctuation,’ says Colette, ‘the writer instead making rhythmic use of the short lines and choppy line breaks to pull us forward three times to the refrain.’
Ruth says, ‘I wrote this in celebration and memory of my aunt, Belle Johnston. She loved her holidays in Spain, where she would take the stage and sing before the days of karaoke.
‘When Alzheimer's hindered her memory of a lot of things, we would start singing the first line of Bobby's Girl and she would take over and sing her heart out. It brought her and her family so much comfort to hear. Music has a deep place in our memories.
‘Winning this category means so much, as it is a way of keeping the happy memories of Belle alive.’
‘A special mention goes to “My little big mum” by Christian Oliver in Devon,’ says Colette, ‘a poem that enacts a heart-breaking turn in the centre lines, creating an inverse reflection of the bright personality we met in the first half.’
Christian says, ‘I was halfway through the creative writing section of the Open University English Literature degree in April. We were tasked with writing a story or poem for a publication of our choice.
‘My mother died in April 2013 so around Easter every year, my thoughts turn to her and the terrible circumstances of her death. She suffered from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s for years before her death, so it was natural for me to consider a celebration of her life or a record of her struggle for my piece.
‘It's wonderful to find out that my poem was commended – my mum would have liked that!’
Category three: Share
Damon Young, in Berkshire, wrote ‘Rice paper’, the winning poem in the Share category.
Colette says, ‘This conversational poem shifts gear in the second half as “delight” gives way to “the bodily buzz of loss”.
‘Images are what we most remember from poems, and after reading this I held in my mind the grandmother’s “tumbleweed hair”, her “lovebeam of a greeting”, and her gold wedding band, snipped with pliers to relieve its “unsustainable pressure”.’
‘I hope I have done my nan justice. I hope also that I have contributed to a greater understanding of the lived reality of dementia,’ says Damon.
Damon says, ‘I was inspired to write the poem by the experiences of my grandmother: both my sense of her as my nan and my reflections on the last months of her life.
‘I hope I have done my nan justice. I hope also that I have contributed to a greater understanding of the lived reality of dementia.’
Colette adds, ‘A special mention goes to “Beautiful full moon” by Jan Smithies in West Yorkshire, which enacts a scenario familiar to many, when a shared experience can be embraced despite the facts.’
Jan says, ‘The poem was inspired by a real experience with my mum, in the last month of her life (she died in March). As her dementia progressed, her physical, mental and emotional worlds condensed.
‘Up to autumn 2018, I was still able, with great effort on both our parts, to get Mum ready, heave her into the car and go for drives together. We both often pointed out lovely light on a field, an interesting shaped cloud, a beautiful tree.
‘Her seeing the “moon” in her bedroom window was an emotional reminder of all we had both lost over the last five years, but also what limited, but still precious, connections we could still make when sharing something beautiful with each other.’
Other shortlisted poems
The other poems shortlisted by our panel were:
- Demet Yesiltepe – A hand or a clue (Change)
- William Thomas – My life (Change)
- Tracie Heard – Dementia (Change) and Forgive me (Share)
- Andy McFarlane – Do not open until I’ve lost my mind (Share)
- Nick Hook – Eyes of glass (Share)
- Ann Thomasson – Love transcends it all (Share)
- Pen Kease – The visitor (Celebrate)
- Sarah Veness – They speak another language (Celebrate)
- Sarah Mills – The golden store (Celebrate)