The ‘Positive Words’ Event, Saturday October 11, 2014

On Saturday, the Reading Room in the Jerwood Centre came to life once again and it became powerfully apparent just how poetry, writing, and reading out loud can improve health and happiness.

Surrounded by hundreds of books, none published after 1850, and many first editions, one of our visitors read  the famous Daffodils poem (‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’) beautifully, from a first edition. Annette was almost shaking with anticipation and pleasure – she is a self-confessed convert to poetry since coming to our Kendal In The Moment group just ten days ago. For her, the experience of reading poetry aloud, and working as a group to create poems, has been unexpectedly delightful.

There followed many moments of laughter and pride and openness as visitors shared their own poems. Most of the visitors had attended groups we run in West Cumbria and the South Lakes for people who have physical or mental health issues or dementia. The groups provide a chance to be social, step out of isolation, have tea and cakes, and enjoy creating poetry and artwork as individuals and as a group. For carers, the groups are important as they provide a chance to learn something new and feel a sense of respite, without separation.

The atmosphere in the reading room was electric and our meeting (as with many of the weekly sessions) went on longer than we’d planned – no one wanted to leave! After a presentation of a couple of videos of the groups in action, and a selection of poetry written and read by members of the group, Jeff Cowton (the Wordsworth Trust’s curator) added to the magic by bringing out a copy of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that Wordsworth had owned, and written in. One of our visitors read from it, clearly moved by the thought that she was holding a book Wordsworth himself held.

Jeff then laid out original illustrations that were drawn to accompany the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Before we came up to the Reading Room, Alison Gittens, one of the Trust’s trainees, gave a spine-tingling resume of the story, with it’s slain albatross, fierce storms and eerie half-dead crew, setting the scene for the images to come. 

Of course we couldn’t have had a poetry afternoon without tea and cake – Susan Allen and Harriet Fraser, who lead the groups and travel across Cumbria in their outreach role with the Trust, set out two themes last year and draw on these wherever possible: Pop-up Poetry Cafes, and Eat Your Words. Adding cake always helps, but the true power of the day was the striking joy and pride shared by everyone there. Words can be positive, and everyone left the event with a smile.