Trinity College Dublin: Pandemic experiences of older people brought to life through Poemathon

The collaborative poem features 355 contributors from across the island of Ireland and is an initiative organised by Poetry Ireland with the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) at Trinity and Neuroscience Ireland. From mid-January to mid-February 2021, the project invited older people across the island of Ireland to write a line of poetry for the collaboration.

Dr Francesca Farina, Atlantic Fellow at GBHI, whose research focusses on dementia at GBHI, is the collaborator on the project.

She said:

Arts and creativity are crucial for promoting brain health as we age, particularly during times of stress. The Poemathon with Older People provides a unique opportunity for people to creatively come together in shared expressions of kindness, frustration, tragedy, humour, and ultimately, hope for the future.

John Sheahan, renowned musician and member of The Dubliners, penned the opening and closing lines of the poem and said the completed work shows how people can truly come together.

Herd instinct is part of our nature – we feel bonded when sharing a common experience. Whether it be the joy of a theatrical production or the anxiety of a pandemic, we have a natural inclination to share our feelings and responses.

In this regard, the Poemathon has been a unique platform, enabling us to verbalise our pandemic experiences over the past year. Like the blend of individual voices in a choir, the poetic offerings received have coalesced into the collective voice of our nation.

Seamus Cashman, who curated and edited the poem, said the work was full of surprise, of keen perception, of kindness, of tragedy, pain and disappointment. But that it also sparkled with life, joy, honesty and hope.

During the five-week submission period from 12 January to 19 February, an extraordinary moment arose for me as I read through the final hundred or so entries that had come in.

The tone and spirit of these entries was new, brighter; something almost intangible came through in the words used and thoughts expressed. There seemed to be an awakening to joy, hope, expectation and even humour. And I suspect, this undoubtedly came directly from the new reality to hand, vaccination.

And while these have found their place scattered through the poem now, many grace the final section and reflect the spirit of the verse quoted on the title page of the poem, including these two awesome statements: ‘I am not defined by my age, I am defined by what I do to heal the planet’ and ‘We are not broken, just bent’.

The Poemathon was created as an opportunity to express reflections, reactions and responses to what is currently happening in society including the great number of changes to our lives, particularly to the lives of older people, due to the Covid-19 restrictions. At a time when many may have felt forgotten and vulnerable, it was a way to remember and acknowledge peoples’ experiences and, ultimately, help us to feel more connected as a society.

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