Words of dementia sufferers woven into poetry by Susanna Howard


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The Independent Culture

A poet is working with dementia patients to weave their words into poetry. Susanna Howard, sits with them, often in silence, jotting down whatever words they utter, and then uses only these utterances to put a poem together for her collections, Living Words.

The results are poignant and profoundly emotional. At times, they also hint at the failings in our care system. “So many people are saying they want to be cared for and how to be cared for, that they are not listened to, that they are not heard. They are saying ‘this is what I want. This is what I need’,” says Howard.

She works with the terminal patients as well as the elderly, and says healing through words can’t be underestimated. Her refreshing approach exposes the lie behind the cliche of dementia as the “silent” living death. “I think we have a wealth of words inside us throughout our lives and when you have dementia, they are still inside you”, she says.

Howard, whose work has been funded by the Arts Council in the past, has created an innovative collection of poetry books in collaboration with dementia suffers, even though with advanced states of the degenerative illness.

Poems from a recent residency, staged in collaboration with EnglishPEN, can be viewed on 9 April at Europe House, in London.

Poetry by Susanna Howard:


All embers

Old fashioned in’t they                      

Sitting there

She wants to get up

They don’t wanna do that do they

Some round here are all embers

That one’s not thinking

He wants to remember it

Can he?

Now, see:

They’ve got habits


Number 65

This chair – it’s so dirty feeling                     

I’m not in a running order

Where do you go to when you

Go out?

I keep out of walking mode

With the mainframe

In the convoy – don’t go around much

I wish

Wish I could drive in a big car

Drive away in a car, oh

Oh I, I wish, wish I could

Fly just fly right away

To number 65 – Not

Drifting along at nothing

How I am


It’s funny how you can go to a room

And leave yourself

I feel like I’m going a bit mental


I can’t even remember me own people

When I’m talking to them

That’s how I am

Nice to be able to talk


Some people have machines


Some people have machines –                      

They don’t run on.

Others don’t.


Sometimes it is overused

Sometimes doesn’t even need reminding

You think it lies with one person

But discover it lies with others:

Some people have machines

Sometimes overused

Others don’t.


Some people


Omm imm imm                                             

When stuff comes out all


It all comes out

Doo doo doo

Very very very nice:

You can go up in the world

Get it, get it, get it

Some people are different




The back doorstep


Two or three clever things                            

In the back of my mind


They seem to stick

To the back of my mind -

You don’t do them.

That expression ‘back of my mind’

Really rather significant:

You forget it’s a phrase

And doesn’t state that you

Are scrubbing the back doorstep