What is Closing Time at the Kings Head and how did it come to be?
During lockdown a colleague saw some merit in my reams of writing, which to that point were only my way to cope with life as an unpaid carer. The consequence is Closing Time at the Kings Head, a collection of poems that speak of the feelings experienced by both carer and cared for when living with dementia. These poems are complemented by evocative illustrations generously made and freely given by Australian designer Shelagh Atkinson.
Read the companion piece, Closing Time by Ross Fiddes, which spotlights a composed song cycle inspired by these poems.
Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia?
I cared for my husband at home; we lived with vascular dementia for 6 years. During this time, I got involved with a number of artistic initiatives to sustain his creativity. Arts4Dementia in the UK was particularly helpful in both signposting and providing opportunities.
I would describe my husband as a “renaissance man” with an ability to turn his hand to a wide range of arts with huge talent. He should have been an opera singer but took the “sensible” route with a career in finance. He played saxophone (self taught) in a swing band, stripped and re-assembled classic cars, designed and made items around the home, and then decided to paint portraits. Our family and indeed others benefitted hugely from this talent. When dementia entered our home, the losses were numerous and great.
How has working on dementia-related art changed you?
I am a lockdown poet. I could say that my husband’s condition and our consequent life experiences together provided the trigger for expressing the creativity that lay dormant within.
My personal interest and professional background has always been in communication and mental health. Living with dementia, apart from the challenges, was also a kind of gift. I have always written and continue to write poems about what affects me. Through readings at Memory Cafes and care facilities I continue to connect with those who are living with dementia, and my writing includes themes relevant to such life experiences.
I’m continuing to work in the area of publishing surrounding dementia, writing a handbook, which will provide a range of activities for care professionals and support persons. Using poetry as a springboard for sometimes difficult conversations is pivotal.
Thanks to Zoom, I can connect with unpaid carers wherever they are, facilitating reading and sharing sessions for carer support groups online. Choose your poem or theme and we go from there. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
How has Closing Time at The Kings Head been received?
When reading to the public, I notice how quickly people want to share their own stories, with audience members starting conversations about feelings less often shared.
Some poems are difficult to hear; I am careful to normalize the experiences of dementia without losing respect for the particular idiosyncrasies the condition creates.
We all get confused, we all forget; we do it in different ways. And of course, there is always music. Singing together is part of my reading and goes down very well.
This work is dedicated to: Closing Time at the Kings Head is dedicated to my late husband and to unpaid carers everywhere.
Closing Time at the Kings Head is available on Amazon.