Yoram Barak is a judge for the poetry competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found, organised by the Dunedin Public Libraries and the Neurological Foundation of NZ. Find details on how to enter here.
I became aware of the importance of poetry through American poet Sharon Old’s poem, “Back Rub”. Originally published in her 1992 collection, The Father, the poem was reprinted in a special edition of The Lancet focused on Literature and Ageing. The poem chronicles the poet’s father’s dying, as well as her own process of acceptance and healing as she moves with him to his death and beyond.
In my work as a psychogeriatrician I often witness patients, caregivers, families and communities struggling through the journey of dementia as they are faced with the daunting loss of memory. Can poetry help us along that journey?
The loss of memories is experienced as the loss of “I”, of the core element of “self.” We grasp our sense of individual self and, in most Western cultures, push away the true meaning of impermanence. As dementia takes its toll we experience the impermanence of our memories and for most of us this is a horrifying insight. Poetry as a truly heroic attempt to capture the human condition is a major art form that can help transform the horrifying into the empathic.