What do you envision yourself doing at age 85 and onward?
For a group of about 20 older adults at The Shaftesbury Park Retirement Residence in Winnipeg, poetry was not something they imagined as an important part of their later years. That is until one woman introduced them to her love of poetry, and a new chapter of friendship, enjoyment and learning was born.
The Poet’s Society at The Shaftesbury began as an initiative of Winnipegger Joyce Shimoji in January 2017.
“I fell in love with poetry when I was in junior high,” Joyce says. ”I discovered that I have the ability to memorize most verses that I like, after reading them a few times. I also enjoy reciting poems for other’s pleasure.”
After a serious stroke, at age 86, Joyce moved to The Shaftesbury. She wanted to find a way to connect meaningfully with neighbours at her new home, so she recruited her friend, facilitator and writer, Joanne Klassen, to help.
Then she asked the staff of The Shaftesbury about her idea for starting a poetry club. They were supportive and encouraging. This was a new activity they’d never tried.
“When I began, I wondered if anyone would come,” says Joyce. “The club was announced in the weekly Activities Schedule. The location listed a corner of the Games Room. About eight curious new friends appeared for our first session. We agreed to meet every other Sunday morning at 10:30,” Joyce reports.
Most of that original group faithfully attend, with others who have joined at various times. Today, a solid membership of 12 to 15 members gather for each session.
Meetings have moved to the Multipurpose Room, a larger, more private space.
“A common statement from new members is, ‘I am no poet, and I don’t know much about poetry. I was just curious to see what you’re doing,” says Joyce.
What club members do these days has changed from when Joyce Shimoji selected poems to recite, and provided photocopies for each member.
Today members study poets and their work. They also bring four line poems they have written, read them and hear each other’s responses.
‘Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.’ – e.e. cummings
The group has evolved to having minutes prepared and volunteer moderators to help the group move smoothly through an agenda.
Famous poems and poets from Longfellow to Mary Oliver have been studied and discussed. The Society is gathering members’ original poems to publish as a collection in 2018.
© Shona Davidson and Joanne Klassen