Parkview Delivers Alzheimer’s Poetry Project to VA Hospital

Nine members of Parkview Arts/Science Magnet High School’s creative writing class made the lives of about 15 elderly veterans just a little easier recently when they visited the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in North Little Rock and brought the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project with them to liven up their day.

The students worked in conjunction with the Arkansas Arts Council through the Poetry Out Loud project and Gary Glazner, a New York based poet, who is the creator, director and founder of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project.

The patients currently live at the hospital in North Little Rock. Glazner helped the students bring poetry to life through a series of cadences that included clapping beats, stomping feet, dance moves, and hand swinging rhythms, all of which helped to bring back memories of long-ago memorized poems.

Within minutes of their arrival, the veterans, the students, and even the VA staff members were completely engaged and were having fun reciting, learning, and creating poetry.  Although the event lasted only two hours, for that short time, the debilitating disease fell away, and these men who bravely fought for the country were smiling, laughing, and having a good time.

Before wrapping up the session, Glazner led the veterans through an exercise where they wrote their own group poem and in doing so revealed parts of illustrious military careers that included flying all over the world, anthropology and fighting in wars long ago. The group poem was called “If I were a bird.”

As students were leaving, they were given mementos by the volunteer coordinator and were asked to come back, and nurses and doctors thanked them for, “Giving these veterans such a lively and great time that they enjoyed so much.”

“It wasn’t us talking to people with Alzheimer’s. It was just us talking to people and sharing their memories through poetry. I guess I just realized it was just like the kids here. They tell jokes … and some jokes were funnier than others. They were energetic. It wasn’t what I expected. It was joyful, and it was a learning experience,” Diana Tejedor, junior, said.

Top Photo -  From Left: Juniors Jessica Romero, Diana Tejedor, Aleysa Williams, Project Coordinator Gary Glazner, and junior Jasmine Baugh finish the Edgar Allen Poe poem “The Raven,” with a loud and resounding “Caw.” “It was a bit out of my comfort zone, but the further we went into it, the more I forgot about being shy,” Tejedor said.

Bottom Photo – Junior Kalia Hall thanks a veteran at the center for allowing her to come to the center and present the project. Later in the ceremony students helped the veterans to feel the motion of the poems by clasping their hands and moving them to the rhythm of the poem as it was recited.