Poets bloom in workshop, publish anthology

Class becomes pilot program for National Center for Creative Aging

Created date

June 25th, 2013

We recognize that established poets have emotions and thoughts, and we have those too, says Diana Siskind, poet and contributor to Voices in Bloom, an anthology of poems and stories by people who live at Seabrook, an Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J. One of nearly 40 people who contributed to the anthology, Diana joined three of her fellow poets at a roundtable May 7, the day of the anthology s unveiling and a public reading. Diana, along with Estelle Kraemer, Bella Weintraub, and Rosalind Van Bloem, discussed poetry and the workshop that led to the anthology with workshop leader and teaching artist Shelley Benaroya.

Creativity and aging

The workshop, which began in February 2012, gathers around two dozen experienced and novice poets every Friday morning. While teaching poetry writing and appreciation, Benaroya also opens creative outlets in her students, which research has shown to be incredibly beneficial for seniors. Studies have found that creativity helps older Americans stay both cognitively and physically fit, Benaroya says. Creativity is really a healthy thing. How true: some of the world s most reknowned poets have done their best work in older age. I m inspired by [Shelley Benaroya], but also by our work and the work we can create, Bella shares during the roundtable. Bella has been a musician all her life but only recently discovered poetry. She feels the new medium gives her another creative outlet. We may be over the hill physically, but we can still create, she jokes. However, Bella says, one mustn t experience to create. Our mind is active all the time regardless of whether something is happening. We can write about feelings, she says. For example, she wrote a poem about writer s block, which is kind of contradictory, she admits. That particular poem did not make the anthology, but three others did:Holidays, Play, and How to Lift Spirits.

Inspiration opens creativity

Poems in the anthology range in topics from hands to weather to wisdom. The topics reflect themes of each class during the poetry workshop with Benaroya. Themes have included essentials of poetry, the wisdom we all have inside, heroes in your life, humorous poetry, and nature. We ve covered a lot of different styles and forms of poetry, Benaroya says, mentioning their studies of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, among others. Each class begins with a deep breathing exercise. Then participants share work from previous weeks. A lot of discussion comes from that, Benaroya says. She then introduces the week s theme and gives participants a ten-minute writing exercise based on that theme. It s really amazing how much comes out in that ten minutes, Benaroya says. Rosalind gives Benaroya credit, saying, Shelley just seems to get the poetry out of us, and I don t know how she does it. She s inspirational. Estelle s sentiments mirror those of Rosalind: Something opened up in me. It s like Aladdin s lamp, and Shelley rubbed it the right way. I was 95 when I started writing poetry, and I can t stop. I think great teachers have that characteristic, Diana says, the ability to open us up to our own possibilities. Benaroya, a teaching artist and published writer, founded The Writing Center for Creative Aging. She has also served the past eight years as an artist-in-education for the New Jersey Writers Project, sponsored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey. She has taught poetry and other styles of composition, but she says the group at Seabrook is most unique and engaging. This class has been different because they are so rich with life experiences, and they are worth sharing, Benaroya says. It has been a real joy.

Unique opportunities

Several of the workshop participants are relatively new to poetry, but for many, it has become a centerpiece in their lives. Most wouldn t have this particular opportunity if they didn t live here at Seabrook, says Program Manager Valerie Geller. Geller championed the group and has been a vital player in publishing the anthology. Our department provides residents with opportunities to engage and enrich their lives, Geller says. No one knew the depth and breadth that this [workshop] would become. It morphed into this amazing program. So amazing, in fact, that the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) selected the group to participate in the 2012 NCCA Arts & Aging Core Training for Teaching Arts, a national pilot project supported by the National Education Association. As part of a training program run by the NCCA and hosted by the Arts Council of Princeton, residents at Seabrook have been taking part in poetry writing classes that incorporate their personal stories, the NCCA says in a press release. The classes are being led by Shelley Benaroya, a teaching artist who has learned techniques to engage older adults in sharing life stories to use in making art. The press release continues to say that Benaroya is one of 29 artists from throughout the state who participated in the training. Find more information about the NCCA at creativeaging.org.