On Wednesday, June 25, the History Museum happily welcomed the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and 29 participants for a 90-minute workshop that was, in a word, wonderful. Or perhaps it was frabjous, an appropriate word given the Lewis Carroll overtone the day took on.
Gary Glazner (at left), a Brooklyn-based poet with strong New Mexico ranching roots, directs the project, which helps people with memory illnesses, their caregivers and family members find a moment of respite through the literary arts. He’s brought the project to the museum before, but this was the first time he had the psychedelic images and cameras of Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography to work with.
Joined by Palace Press Director Tom Leech, Glazner began in the museum’s main lobby, leading participants through a museum-ish poem, calling out a line then encouraging them to repeat it. Then repeating it again. Then adding a rhythm section. Then encouraging a hip bump. Then a dance move. And laughter all the way.
The poem, “The Museum Heart,” is by Alberto Ríos, and it begins like this:
We, each of us, keep what we remember in our hearts.
We, all of us, keep what we remember in museums.
In this way, museums beat inside us. …
Then the group moved upstairs to the Poetics of Light exhibit. After a few exercises in the exhibit, participants gathered around Bethany de Forest’s Rosetvliders, an imagined landscape of impossible flowers and lighter-than-air butterflies:
Glazner asked folk what the painting looked like, felt like, smelled like, sounded like. A cacophany of answers followed. Honey. Oranges. Morning rain. Bzzzzz-bzzzzz-bzzzzz. One woman spied a rabbit and hopped up, scrambling around the group in imitation of a bunny. Another flapped her arms as elegantly as a ballet dancer. Alice in Wonderland came to one man’s mind.
Finally, Chimayo poet Michelle Holland, who had kept careful track of the answers, turned them into a call-and-repeat poem that ended with a lengthy (if slightly amateur) version of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Here it is:
Go Ask Alice
and a rabbit eating it, a rabbit running.
The colors make it real, like Alice in Wonderland –
go ask Alice, go ask Alice, go ask Alice B. Toklas,
“What does one pill make you?”
Where the flowers taste like cotton candy, oranges, and honey in a magical museum.
Where the flowers smell like whoa…! and rain and wet green morning and leaves,
and leaves wet as the rain clouds.
Hear a slight rustle, laughter, busy like bees. Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Whoosh. Whoosh. Flap. Flap. Bzzzz. Whoosh. Flap. Flap.
Feels warm, soft, and floaty.
Feels cushy. Shout, “Cushy!”
There’s no sense. There’s only nonsense.
Whirling dervishes – a living community —
We could go forever and ever in them. Amen. Forever and ever. Forever. Halleluiah!
Later in the week, Glazner gathered with staffers and others involved in the arts as well as aging issues to plan a Dementia Arts Conference for Oct. 25 at the museum. (Stay tuned for frabjous details.) In the meantime, consider the woman who brought her father to the event and left beaming at the joy she had witnessed. “It was just wonderful,” she sighed, although, her father added, “It would help to have a fiddle.” To which we say: Callooh! Callay!