Now that’s what I call flash poetry: keeping nimble at ‘How Old Is Old’, Hampshire County Council’s Wellbeing in Age event

This is going to be the fastest blog post in (my) history, which is appropriate, because it’s about the fastest poem I’ve ever written. Last Friday I went in my Hampshire Poet capacity to ‘How Old Is Old’, an event put on by Hampshire County Council’s Older People’s Well-Being team. The idea was to tell organisations working with older people about resources and support that’s available: a vital issue in an ageing society.

I went for two reasons: to promote the use of creative writing as a tool for positive ageing, and to write a poem. Perhaps I’ll write at length about creative writing and ageing another day, but now I’ll just say that I think creative writing can do a lot to keep brains active, provide a positive way of responding to difficulties such as loss or illness, and combat loneliness through writers’ groups. I said as much at the event, and I hope to be able to run some writing classes with older people as a result. (See end of post).

On to the poem. During the event, I cornered everyone I could and asked them to give me their view of positive ageing, or an answer to the question ‘How Old Is Old?’ Then I took their words away, and started work on a poem which would respond to the ideas and use some of the words. I thought I had three-quarters of an hour to write it, before I was to read it out at the end of the event. After a few minutes of scribbling, transcribing the words I’d received, I popped back into the hall, and Mandy, the chief organiser, said, ‘Can you get it done sooner? I think we’ll finish early.’ I had 15 minutes.

I’ve been terrified few times in my life, but this was new: write a poem in 15 minutes, from other people’s words and thoughts, then perform it. After a moment of blank panic, it was a fantastic stimulus: I’ve never thought so fast. I managed to keep my handwriting legible (which is never easy), and I trembled back into the hall with something competent. And luckily, I had some extra time then to do a little revision – though I was surprised how little it needed.

It went down well, and the Well-Being team tell me that several people have requested copies of it since then. It will be used throughout the year to help promote positive ageing, and available soon on the Wellbeing website – I’ll put a link here when it is.

Please email me if you’d like more details of workshops I could do with older people. In particular, I’m looking for groups (of all ages) I can work with on my ‘Writing Hampshire’ project,  where I want to get the people of Hampshire writing poems about the places that matter to them.  If you know of an organisation that might like to consider getting involved, please get in touch.