Everybody’s talking at me

The value of poetry in medical contexts
Aug 2012
Karen Hayes

I am a poet and librettist specialising in work with marginalised groups. I am currently under commission to write a short opera film for Welsh National Opera and a one act opera and song cycle for the Three Choirs Festival 2013 on the subject of dementia. This article is about words, specifically poetry. I want to demonstrate that what people say, the commonplace as well as the profound, has a poetic resonance and that by allowing their words to exist in the realm of the poetic we are able to hear the greater human significance behind the individual detail.The making of a piece of poetry within a health context is a collaborative act and involves us listening to what people are really saying about themselves.


This article discusses the uses of poetic writing within health contexts and poetry as a potent form which enables the individual to give voice to personal feelings and experiences.
It considers why someone marginalised by health or circumstance might benefit from such an opportunity and argues that practitioners should listen to particularities of speech and view every word as important. I examine poetry within dementia care as an area of interest and dementing language as an expressive insight into the condition and include extracts of poetry created collaboratively with participants.

First Paragraph

I spend all my time these days Dreaming. Dreaming,
Not for any reason or decision. It is not meditation,
That involves something deeper. I drift through thoughts.
James Solar with Karen Hayes
In our society words, more than any other medium of communication, are used to establish who we are. We fill in forms and answer questions, follow instructions, appeal for justice, digest information and offer explanations. We are a society which has been built on the power of words and, over the centuries since the invention of the printing press, specifically the written word. We believe in the word and although we may have a reasonable grasp of the power of propaganda or even of falsehood, mostly we believe what we read.