Poetry Under the Canopy

Arts Canopy Poetry Groups – Facilitators’ Statement

Through Fall 2016 and Winter 2017, we facilitated poetry workshops in two long-term care homes in Antigonish for participants experiencing mild to moderate dementia. These were small groups composed mostly of seniors who met once a week for ten weeks. Most participants had not written poetry before, but a bond formed as we “dove in” together. There was a lot of laughter, play with words, fascinating recollections of life in the local area from decades past, and some personal sharing and insights about life. Something about folks putting stories and reflections into words as they accessed deep memories is particularly profound and moving to witness. We learned much from the participants. They told us: “each day is what you make it,” and “when I laugh it’s red—it’s like flying,” and “memories are little gems of silver.”  One of the participants said that her poem about joy made her think of someone who lived in the clouds, a child who had no problems. That imaginative leap is the kind of thing that took us by surprise. It also revealed something lovely and poignant about this participant. And this didn’t just happen once. It happened over and over—our participants took us into the place of possibility. They made unexpected magic out of the ordinary. They made us see the beauty and power of their words. Most of all, they showed us the extent of their creativity and vitality, despite their disease, making it clear that the door to poetry is open to everyone.

Janette Fecteau & Anne Simpson


Poetry Sessions, R.K. MacDonald Guest Home, Winter 2017

It was a new experience for me to facilitate a weekly poetry workshop for people with dementia, as well as other folks who live at R.K. MacDonald Guest House. What a wonderful experience it was! Full of interesting discussions, laughter and sharing. We were joined by recreation staff at the R.K., occasional participants from the community of Antigonish, and StFX University students doing Service Learning placements. From late January 2017 to late April 2017, we met weekly at the warm and welcoming “Rhubarb Patch” at the R.K. Of the poems that follow, the first three (“Deeper Meanings”, “Acceptance”, and “Healing”) are my own reflections on the experience, and the rest are our group’s favourite poems, written by individual participants or co-written by the group.

Janette Fecteau, Writer and Facilitator


Deeper Meanings

Not a poet. More memoirist, philosopher. Essayist, social

commentator. She listened keenly, gave every poet the respect

only keen listening can give. She picked up on deep ideas:

life after death, the nature of cats and dogs, men

and women. What companionship means. “Open

a door. See a face, that’s important.” She wanted more

“afternoons like this, nice and easy-going” a place

where people gathered to talk about more

than just the weather.



Did I offend you? I hope not. Sometimes I say anything

that comes to my mind. I don’t mean to hurt

anyone. I just don’t remember things. Isn’t that

awful? Look at this mess, I can’t read what I wrote.

You won’t be able to read it. My handwriting

just got so bad all of a sudden, don’t understand how

it happened. I used to be so good at it. I was a teacher for forty years.

Yes, I guess there are worse things than bad penmanship.

I don’t write poems. Did I write that? That’s good!

I wrote that: Life is eternal. Well you could just about

knock me over with a feather.



Loathe to begin, she joined

week three, with a poem in her, ready.

About her father, his passing before Christmas.

She held us rapt, and then we could only

applaud. Hooked after that, she was faithful

every session. The sweet, the bitter, the saucy.

She brought her authentic self every week,

working it through, energy growing

in her. Staunch in defense of the vulnerable,

generous in praise of fellow poets. She lifted

us, buoyed us, held us solid.


Noise and Quiet

A jack hammer. Trains and trucks. A generator.

The rooster at six in the morning. When you stub

your toe, a little bit of cursing and swearing.

Evening after the sun is down. The trickling

of a brook. Dawn, the birds start to sing.

Grandfather clock in a quiet house

where I went to buy eggs.




little gems of silver twinkling in

the world around us

shimmering in the dawn

to disappear forever

as the world ends.

 or do we find them?



maybe jewellery

maybe ideas

ideas floating in space

waiting to be caught and used by people.

people who are not with us yet


The Clydes

Big horses with white faces and feet,

quiet and docile. Trotting through the woods,

freezing rain covering the trees.

The low soft light of lamps,

shining from a window:

cosy on a cold, dark evening.

Bobsleds, squeaking over the snow,

low to the ground. Cosy, when the boards

are covered with straw.

That’s how we went to Midnight Mass,

on Christmas night. The Clydes, quiet and docile.

Big horses with white faces and feet.


You Are My Sunshine

The sun is mysterious, glorious.

The sun is a yellow globe,

radiant, cheerful.

The moon is cool, shimmering, mysterious.

The moon is a white birthday cake.

A mushroom, a pincushion.

The moon is small in the morning.

The stars are mysterious, unbelievable.

Tiny, raging infernos: the Big Dipper, the North Star.

The stars are tiny jewels.

Tiny fireflies, a sparkly bracelet.

My children are the sun, moon and stars to me.

Life is eternal.


To My Mother

You are the look of cold, pretty snow,

with the moon shining on it.

You are cosy times by the woodstove,

with my little girls around.

You are the red robe I put around me

when I take the sleigh to town.

You are red, red at Christmas, the bells

on the horses’ harness. Hearing them

coming from far off. The horse

looking around to greet me,

hearing my step, knowing it was me.


Hodge-Podge Valentine to Life

You are Sundays home with family.

You are a good hockey game

when the Senators win.

You are a perfect find at a flea market,

a good hot cup of tea.

You are Tim Horton’s coffee:

hot, with cream and sugar.

Kahlua (but not too much). A good book.

You are watching love stories

twenty times over. Listening to Pink.

The look of cold, pretty snow,

moonlight shining on it.

You are cosy times by the woodstove,

with my little girls around.

You are the red robe I put around me

when I take the sleigh to town.

The better bells, kept

for Sundays. The horse who

looks around to greet me,

hearing my step, knowing me.

You are red, red at Christmas, bells

on the horses’ harness. Hearing them

far off. You are children singing

at the Christmas concert. The night ride

to midnight mass, in the moonlight.

You are the feeling of deepest darkest

midnight black. Velvet. The year Cuddles

the dog took all the garlands down:

we found her in a shiny garland nest,

at the foot of the bare green tree!

My sneaky little dog Twiggy.

My dog Patches.

Tanya. Patsy. Nanny. My mother.

You are a visit to a waterfall,

Oak Island gold. God, seeing

a newfound friend.

You are family, grandchildren,

daughter, son-in-law. Sons in Saskatoon

and Fort Mackay. Parents,

brothers and sisters. You are a visit

to my parents’ house, a meal at

Mother Webb’s, or the old

Lobster Treat. You are

cherry cheese cake, and ginger

snaps. A good game of tennis.

You are an afternoon

of cooking, time spent quilting.

You are old time music,

Don Messer and the Islanders.

A busy Saturday at the Market,

selling oatcakes, bread, and pie.

You are a chocolate chip cookie

fresh from the oven.

You are early evening, a new moon.

You are wild strawberries,

and green grass. You are fresh bread,

and you are mac and cheese.

You are a good talk with friends,

The best laugh ever. Tea and company.

You are the colour and scent of lilacs in June.

Lionel Ritchie on the radio, or

plain old love me tender,

love me true. A red sky

at evening, making for a nice day tomorrow.

You are gathering, closeness,

good food. You are memories:

stepping onto the porch

in the evening, hearing

music of the neighbour’s fiddle

drifting across the lawn

in the mild spring air.


Poetry Sessions, Highland-Crest Home, Fall 2016

From October to early December, 2017, I facilitated poetry sessions for people with dementia (along with several others who didn’t have dementia) at Highland-Crest Home in Antigonish. Participants wrote their own poems and we also wrote group poems together. For the group poems, I would frantically try to capture on a flip chart what people were saying, and then I’d go away and use the lines jotted down on the flip chart for a poem. Some wonderful poetry came about this way–almost by lucky chance. We played games involving poetry writing, wrote poems based on photographs, tried our hand at “jazz poems,” as well as haiku and limericks, and chanted sound poems together. Poetry can be a whole lot of fun, as I learned with this group.

Anne Simpson, Writer and Facilitator

Poems from the Poetry Sessions at Highland-Crest (Fall 2016)  Facilitator: Anne Simpson


I remember the men

Down in the mines, no light

all day, dark when they came up.

My dad worked in the mine.

I remember him coming home.

My dad worked on the Canso Causeway,

driving the big trucks with the gravel.

It took time. It was long and slow.

My father worked the sugar camp,

Walking through the snow on his old snowshoes.

Collecting the sap, keeping the fire going.

I remember the men.

My father was a blacksmith. I remember

the ring of the anvil,

heat of the fire.

My dad was a forest ranger. And my dad too.

He watched for fires.

I remember the men

ploughing fields, up and down,

in the spring. In the summer, cutting hay,

piling it the wagon. I remember

the men cutting firewood,

chunking it, splitting it.

I remember the men.


Water and Weeds

Water, large rock, grass, a fish, gold weeds.

It makes me feel like water.

Water, grass, rock, weeds.


Water, large rock, grass, a fish, gold weeds.



My laughter is morning.

My morning is laughter.

My laughter is red.

My laughter is flying.

Is red.

Is flying.

My laughter is morning.


When You Live in the Country

Skipping rope, hula hoop, hop scotch,

dodgeball, baseball, soccer, swimming

everywhere we could swim, playing in the haylofts,

jumping to the threshing room floor.

Jumping and falling and getting up again.

One time, Bud MacIntyre fell through the trap door upstairs

onto the kitchen table. “Oh God,”

he cried, “it hurts!”

One time, my brother Bernie pushed me on the swing,

shoved the bottom so I slipped off. The swing went up

and came back and knocked

me right out!

One time, I was caught in a wave and thrown under.

I thought I was going to drown,

but I didn’t. I’m still here.

Jumping and falling and getting up again.

When you live in the country,

you have to make your own fun.


Cold Autumn Day

The roof is falling.

Needs fixing.

The bushes are crisp orange.

But the barn needs painting.

No farm animals. The loft, open

for hay, cold autumn day.

Makes me nostalgic.

Cold autumn day.

The roof is falling.


My joy

My joy is clouds.

My joy is clouds.

My joy is white.

My joy is soaring.

White and soaring.

I lie and watch my clouds soar.

My joy is clouds.



Kids with popsicles, ice cream sandwiches,

drumsticks and fudge sticks.

Running, swimming, chasing around and around.

Hiding, closing our eyes and hiding

in the barn, in the shed.

After the game, eating watermelon,

spitting out the seeds.

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.

Kids playing

one potato, two potato, three potato, four—

All around the mulberry bush,

the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.

Fried chicken, homemade rolls,

And a Pepsi or a Lime Ricky pop

on the way to the beach.

My brother used to dive for scallops.

Fried scallops on the beach.

Sea shells by the sea shore—

A bonfire on the beach,

Roasting marshmallows,

eating chips, telling spooky stories. My brother told spooky

ones. We’d be up all night.

Sometimes chasing around and around and around

until we got all tired out.


I Remember the Women

They were cooking and cleaning. They were knitting,

They were baking bread, collecting eggs, hauling pails of water.

Cooking and cleaning.

They were taking care of the babies.

How many babies?

Twelve, sixteen, twenty-one, six, and sometimes just one.

The midwife delivered the babies.

They were taking care of the babies, the women.

Cooking and cleaning, cleaning and cooking.

They were seeding and weeding,

doing the laundry and putting it on the line.

They were bathing and diapering,

digging potatoes, forking up the hay onto wagons, carrying the slop pail,

feeding the animals, helping the cows birth the calves.

Bathing and diapering, feeding and milking.

They held it all together, the women. They held the families together.

Sewing and mending and cooking and cleaning and talking and laughing and going to bed and getting up in the morning at first light. They held it all together, the women.