Poetry and ‘dementia’


I have recently become associated with the research centre ‘Representations of Home in Literatures and Cultures in English’ at the University of Lisbon  – which is a joy as well as an honour. Colleagues have accepted my proposal to undertake a study of great personal interest to me. Through this I am also linked to the medical humanities programme – again, a truly helpful connection.

This is the background to my proposal: in 2021 my life-partner Malcolm Rigg was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and since then I have begun to think about how I might be able to integrate our radically changed lives into my own work, so as to impart some meaning to what sometimes feels an overwhelming re-alignment of our reality, both in our relationship and in the world.

I have also become more aware of the rather limited, negative and medicalised language with which Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative neurological diseases are described and communicated. I am consequently very interested in shedding more light on how ‘dementia’ – the D-word – is portrayed, and in exploring ways of extending and deepening the discourse. As a poet myself, I want to explore these issues with and through the medium of poetry, as I believe it has special affordances for an understanding of ‘dementia’, through its scrupulous and lyrical telling of transitions and borderlands, twilight zones and crossings-over… 

I hope to be writing papers on the work of different individual poets, including Sarah Day, Jane Draycott, Louise Glück, Philip Gross and Janet Sutherland, and to upload draft papers as and when they are ready.

If you have any further suggestions for poets whom you think I should consider, please contact me at lesley@lesleysaunders.org.uk