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The caring side of poetry

Gyles Brandreth (centre back) with intergenerational poetry readers

Gyles Brandreth, Broadcaster, Author and Founder of Poetry Together

 An exciting new initiative is underway bringing together older people in care homes with school children through the medium of poetry – and I’d like your help.

 I’m trying to encourage as many people as possible to learn a poem by heart and recite it at a tea party, complete with cake, during the fortnight following National Poetry Day on October 3rd.

 I’m hoping care homes across the UK will take part in Poetry Together and that activities co-ordinators will contact their local schools and find a poem that is dear to their heart.

 It can be Shakespeare or Wordsworth, WH Auden or Benjamin Zephaniah, rhyme or rap, ancient or modern, serious or funny – or it could even be something they’ve written themselves.

There are lots of proven benefits when it comes to memory, concentration, speed of learning and even sleep.

For adults, evidence shows learning poetry results in a happier, more successful life. As well as boosting communication skills and strengthening relationships, it perhaps most importantly increases brain capacity and wards off dementia.

 Research also tells us older people have as many cells growing in the part of their brain that helps memory as young people do. So there’s no excuse for me, for example, not learning a poem.

 For children, getting involved with poetry can speed up the rate they learn to write, read and speak, boost academic performances and even get them sleeping better.

 I was lucky when I was a child to perform T S Eliot’s ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’ to the poet himself when he was 70 years old. It really stuck with me as years later, I began my first BBC radio series A Rhyme in Time in 1971, a panel game all about poetry.

 Just last year I was able to launch another radio programme about the importance of reciting poetry, which featured research from the University of Cambridge about how learning and speaking poetry benefits old and young alike. 

I recently launched Poetry Together at the National Army Museum with a group of Chelsea Pensioners – retired army veterans from the Royal Hospital in Chelsea – and pupils from nearby schools.  

Wearing their iconic red coats, the Chelsea Pensioners joined the pupils in verses of AA Milne’s ‘Buckingham Palace’ and recited ‘The Somme Battle’ by Chelsea Pensioner Frank Robbings. They even delved into some fun limericks by Edward Lear.

It’s a very simple idea. One or two older people – or five or six – any number can take part and learn (or relearn) a poem by heart. When they’ve mastered it, they meet up with children from a local primary or secondary school who have learned the same poem, and together they enjoy reciting the poem. That’s it. And having had the satisfaction of speaking their poem they all have tea together. With cake. The cake is the important bit! 

If you’d like to take part, please register on where you can find plenty of resources. You can also share your poems via social media @poetry_together on Instagram and Twitter and @poetrytogetherproject on Facebook


Edel Harris





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