Featured Writer: Mary Thomson

We are delighted to welcome Mary Thomson as our Featured Writer. Mary was one of the applicants selected to take part in the My Time project, working with a voluntary arts community group, in her case a dementia-friendly community singing group,Local Vocals of Helensburgh.  Here is a brief report on her experience of the project and the inspiring result; the poem she wrought out of it is below.

Ten years ago Mary Thomsonwas a freelance arts writer, critic and curator living in the Yorkshire Dales. Love and marriage brought her to Scotland in 2006, and now she writes in her study overlooking Glasgow Green in the East End of the city. Three of her six pamphlet collections, Some Consequences of SayingYes, East End and Behind the Idyllwere short-listed for the Callum Macdonald Pamphlet Poetry Award.Her poems have been published in Gutterand as Poems of the Dayin The Herald, including her poem for the My Time project, Singing Into Being(see underMembers’ News below).

You can read more about Mary at www.facebook.com/marythomsonpoet

The My Time Project by Mary Thomson

Usually my poems are responses to life and its rich array of experiences. Nothing is too mundane, everything can be reflected upon to tease out a personal meaning, and writing a poem is a process of gaining understanding. Finally, a poem is for sharing, so that the personal takes on a universality that the reader can explore; to my mind only then does a poem ‘work’. Finding the words is only half the battle, finding the form can take even longer, and I work slowly.

However, the recent opportunity offered by the My Timeproject gave me a ready-made subject: to respond to the experience of visiting a dementia-friendly community singing group, Local Vocals of Helensburgh.  I sing in a choir and have done all my life.  I am also of an age when I know people suffering with dementia themselves or with close family affected; two good reasons to accept the challenge. There was also a deadline, which concentrates the mind.

I joined Local Vocals twice as they prepared a programme of familiar Christmas songs in a room at Alzheimer Scotland’s premises on Helensburgh’s main street. Printed sheets were passed out and the pianist-conductor began, teaching as she went, asking for more volume, suggesting when to breathe. I watched a withdrawn, silent, woman sing without looking at the words. I watched a man smile and nod, sway a little. One or two just listened, I think. Family, staff and carers sang lustily and there was much laughter.

Several ideas rushed in when I got home. The Australian Aboriginal myths about the gods singing the world into being; how some linguists and anthropologist believe that early man gestured, made sounds, then sang before proper speech began; how joyful, inclusive and creative an act singing together is; how every voice matters.  Above all I was moved by briefly singing as a Local Vocal.

But how to bring this together, what form could possibly serve the ideas? By chance a fellow poet had recently brought a Pantoum to our reading group. The Pantoum is an ancient form written in rhyming couplets in which lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza appear as lines 1 and 3 in the second, and so on, until the last stanza when lines 2 and 4 of the last stanza are the same as lines 1 and 3 of the first. Repetition and rhyme are the earliest ways we learn language and sometimes the last things we remember. For a poem about memory-impaired singers it was ideal.A few weeks later and I was satisfied that I had served the brief and my fellow singers as well as I was able. It reads like a song.

Singing Into Being

Ancient gods sang the world into being
There is always a before and after
Before speech there was signing and singing
Music speaks of living and laughter

There is always a before and after
A choir makes friends and singers of strangers
Music speaks of living and laughter
Even the silent vibrate to quavers

A choir makes friends and singers of strangers
Singing together makes the timid strong
Even the silent vibrate to quavers
The goddess of Memory gave man Song

Singing together makes the timid strong
A chorus weaves sound into harmony
The goddess of Memory gave man Song
When speaking is hard singing is easy

A chorus weaves sound into harmony
Soft, loud, high, low, generously merge
When speaking is hard singing is easy
Each voice a bird of a different plumage

Soft, loud, high, low, generously merge
Before speech there was signing and singing
Each voice a bird of a different plumage
Ancient gods sang the world into being

© Mary Thomson 2018

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