Oct 24, 2019

‘Gran slammers’ using the power of poetry to tell their stories

A project that saw 20 seniors aged 70 to 98 learn to write and perform slam poetry, a style usually associated with the youth culture, has culminated in ‘powerful and passionate’ performances and a new-found confidence for the participants.

Gran Slam, a collaboration between performance producers, Everybody NOW! and aged-care provider, Feros Care, gave Gold Coast and Northern Rivers’ seniors the chance to join the slam poetry revolution under the guidance of expert poet David Stavanger.

After two weekends of workshops, their performances were filmed and screened for the first time at a VIP event at the Byron Writers Festival, followed by some live Gran Slam performances.

Challenging stereotypes

Stavanger said the participant’s passion and powerful performances were inspiring.

“There might be a perception that the only writing older people do is their will and letters to the editor of their local newspaper, but Gran Slam has challenged those tropes, the stereotypes, the ideas, the limitations that people put on older people,” he said.

“I’ve learned that desire is sustained throughout a lifetime – whether it’s to keep moving; to stay on one’s feet; for companionship; to turn and see the back of another’s head on a pillow – the passion that came through the poets writing was palatable.

“These beautiful breaths, these beautiful pauses, and this willingness to push yourself outside your comfort zone at any age, has me totally inspired.”

My head is too full
My heart is empty
My heart is full of junk
My dreams are of finding a partner
I am writing this on a tree truck
I am waiting for love

By Feros Village Byron Bay resident, Hugh Webster – 88 years

My head is a kaleidoscope at circling merry-go-rounds.
My heart is a wire stretched beyond
My Dreams, ready to snap
My Dreams are not pedestrian sitting in a tried chair
I am write this on the tree of my youth
I am writing on a rainbow
I am running a white light on a rainbow.

By Feros Village Byron Bay resident, Alan Harkness – 88 years

Feros Care’s Tarnya Sim said Gran Slam was designed to give seniors a voice.

“One of the things that seniors often comment about is that they feel invisible,” she said.

“We’re hoping this project really puts them on the map and allows their voices, which are so important, to be heard.”

“It was like cleaning a window in your brain”
Aaron Blomeley, 78, said writing the poems had helped him overcome some of his fears.

“A few years ago when I was in high school, I remember the English teaching telling me to sit down and write some poetry. Well I sat down and after a long while I’d come up with four lines and I decided I’d never do poetry again.

“Coming to the slam workshop – and thank you to Feros Care and Everybody Now – it was like cleaning a window in your brain and suddenly you realise, that poetry can work – so thank you, it’s obliterated a lifetime fear of poetry.”

“I can’t stop writing!”

Nina Marzi, who is 98, said she hasn’t been able to put down her pen!

“Since I started doing Gran Slam, I can’t stop writing! I have woken up at 4am the last two days writing, writing, writing. I said to myself “why do I write so much? I need only a few lines!” but it was just so interesting, and the words just kept coming.

“I think challenges are very exciting because it is an important discovery of yourself, who you are, and what you can do.”

Everybody NOW’s Kate Baggerson said Gran Slam aligned with their mission of giving the spotlight to people in the community who are under represented.

“The participants have taken the microphone with both hands and talked about their inner most fears, their reflections on life, but also the kind of joy, strength and resilience they have after a lifetime of experiences,” she said.

“They have expressed their voice in a really poetic, honest and meaningful way.”

Gran Slam participant Wendy Taylor said there weren’t enough opportunities like this for people ‘her age’.

“It’s been an incredible experience and an honor that Feros Care and Everybody Now put on something for people over 70 – usually things are for people from 18 to 35 and now we’ve had a chance to excel at being older,” said the 80-year-old.

This project inspires

Participant Felicity Gordon said projects like Gran Slam became even more important as you age.

“As you get older and illness happens, you can get a bit lazy, this project inspires one to go again,” said the 79-year-old.

“To begin with I resisted participating because it’s away from my comfort zone, but I was inspired and impressed by the marvelous crew from Feros Care and Everybody Now.

“The teaching made me come out of my comfort zone. It stretched me, and I’m very grateful.”

Friendships forged through poetry

Mrs Sim said the friendships formed throughout the project had been a beautiful bonus.

“These people were all strangers and now, at the end of their second weekend together, they all linked arms and headed off to the local pub as a group,” she said.

“Friendships have been formed and you can see a rise in their confidence – they are walking prouder and taller.

“The things that they’ve shared with complete strangers just blew my mind. There was a lot of laughter and there were moments of complete vulnerability where we all shed a tear for each other. It’s been a really unique experience and a one-of-a kind project.”

Main image: Gran Slam participant Eugen Sauter (91), supplied.

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