Wednesday, 15 February 2012

POETRY: Joseph Rowntree Foundation Shows Nobody's Too Old

This geriatric ‘timebomb’ calls for poetry in motion

By Mark Cantrell

SAY what you like about poetry, it’s certainly versatile, more so than our society as it struggles to cope with the growing population of elderly people.

The old ways of dealing with the issues of senescence no longer quite cut it, according to a lot of people involved in the business of worrying about such things, so the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has opted to call on the power of poetry to challenge tired old thought-streams.

So look away from the blue skies, scrunch up the envelope and chuck it in the box; there’s brain juice to burn and some original thought to inspire. Specifically, the organisation wants to make us all think – about growing old and what it all means. All very metaphysical, but this being the JRF, there’s plenty of more down-to-earth concerns at the root of it all.

As part of its research programme, ‘A Better Life’, the organisation commissioned the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion to create the new poem. Inspired by thoughts, experiences and stories of older people drawn from more marginalized groups, Motion’s works aims to offer an insight into the elders’ world by encouraging us to listen to them.

 “I created this poem as a collage – it’s made of scraps taken from interviews, things I’ve overheard, things I have invented,” said Motion. “The idea was to create a portrait of age which is at once fragmentary (because everyone’s experience is unique to themselves) and unified (because ageing involve sharing certain things in common). I hope the result is realistic about the difficulties posed by time and the passing of time, and yet also celebratory of certain experiences that time allows – the richness of memory, the sense of narrative shape within life.”

Motion’s poem forms the centrepiece of a new website commissioned by the JRF to – as the organisation puts it – “offer glimpses into what life is like for older people with high support needs”.

The site celebrates old age, using photography by the award-winning photographer Jo Hanley to illustrate the oldsters’ stories shared on the site, as well as portraits of centenarians by the photographer by the UK photographer Chris Steele-Perkins. The people telling their stories on the site include older people with learning disabilities, older lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, South Asian elders, people living with dementia, and Gypsy elders.

“We hope our programme of work looking at what makes life better for older, frailer people will inform debate, without stereotypes or prejudice, about how we adapt to our ageing society. Old age is not about ‘them’ – it is about all of us. And the sooner we start listening to those with the experience, the sooner we can all start planning for a better life in old age,” said the JRF’s chief executive Julia Unwin.

Catch the website and the poetry here at Better Life.


Category: SOCIETY



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