It’s fair to say words are the most powerful medium available to humanity, especially in their written form. For the senior residents of Bridgeport at Los Altos, a Kisco Senior Living community, it’s the healing power of poetry that has enabled creativity and purpose in their lives. Each week on Sunday afternoon, the community’s poetry circle comes together to share their experiences, hopes, griefs, troubles and triumphs through their own written poetry. These seniors have plenty to say and having the ability to write down and express their feelings and memories is incredibly important. The group was started by resident Anita Holzberg, a lifelong poet who hoped to share her passion for the written art with her fellow residents. What started as an outlet to simply learn more about poetry has transformed into a springboard for group members to share their innermost thoughts and emotions in a deeply moving and personal form. The poetry circle is co-lead by Holzberg and Barbara Kulle. Kulle is a poetry therapist, whose mother was a longtime resident at the senior living community. As she felt grateful for the care and kindness provided to her mother, Kulle wanted to give something back to the community. It was this desire that led to her volunteering to join the poetry circle and introducing the art of poetry as medicine.
“This isn’t just a group that discusses poetry,” said Holzberg. “While we certainly do that, this is a safe place where group members have the ability to express themselves and encourage healing. Poetry provides an outlet they can use to share their lives and celebrate the everyday through both positive and negative experiences. My aim is for those who participate to feel empowered to share their story and not bottle it up inside. Even if they don’t write, it’s important to encourage them to speak and experience the same level of freedom. We have members who are 90 years old, embracing poetry and self-expression for the first time and it’s very powerful to witness.”
Both Holzberg and Kulle have studied what one calls Poetic Medicine, an idea founded by John Fox which uses poetry as a resource for healing, much like art therapy. The idea behind the concept is to allow people the freedom to choose words that open the locks on their thoughts to express themselves. During the meetings, the residents discuss pieces of poetry that have particularly touched them, mirroring how the poem connects to their own lives. Additionally, they even will write their own pieces and collaborate. The majority of members are now writing their own original poems to bring to the group, offering opportunities for self-reflection and discussion with the other members.
“It’s very powerful and interesting to hear the stories and emotions of the residents,” said Kulle. “The poetry group provides each member the ability to be in the moment, and it’s wonderful to see how each of the residents interact during the discussion. This has become a safe place that allows them to share without fear of judgement or misunderstanding. Community is a valuable concept, and it’s good to know that there are people willing to be there for you and listen. This group offers members permission to open up and not judge their own work or others, each story is one to be shared and applauded for strength and honestly.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the group is its connection with the team members of Bridgeport at Los Altos. Fidel Soria-Gaytan, a team member at the community, helps the group prepare each week and actively participates in the exercises by writing his own poetry. It’s support like this that further encourages the residents and bolsters their response.
“We’re very grateful for the support from the team members here at the community,” said Kulle. “The residents respond well to the interactions with Fidel, and it’s empowering for them to see how poetry touches people of all ages and stages of life. The poems he shares may look and sound different than those of the residents, but they share the same passion for life and the power of healing.”
“The residents who call our community home are well-educated, intelligent individuals who regularly seek access to programs that are mentally and emotionally engaging,” said Sondra Brakeville, executive director of BridgePoint at Los Altos. “Through activities like the poetry circle, we provide a place where participants can strengthen their knowledge of the world around them while also building strong relationships with their peers. We are inspired to have a group of residents within our community who open themselves up and to try something new in the hopes of not only better understand themselves but also others.”