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The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Chris Lynn, has chosen this week’s Featured Poem, My House, I Say by Robert Louis Stevenson

For this week’s featured poem, we’re looking at ‘My House, I say’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. Let’s get stuck in.

This poems speaks to me about our deep human instinct to ‘possess’ and our relationship with this internal force. I’m struck by the strong assertion at the start of the poem ‘My House, I say’ – it makes me ask myself, what or where is this house? Are there any translations we have for ourselves? It boldly articulates something – is it a desire for territorial order, domestic boundaries, a defending of selfhood? However, this thought is followed, and interrupted, immediately with a ‘But’….

A softening of outlook ensues, as we consider the other natural wonders that share this space. Other presences make it ‘Our House’. However ‘mine’ is still caught up in all this

Our house, they say; and mine, the cat declares
And spreads his golden fleece upon the chairs;

What do we learn from the dog in the poem? The italics appear as the internal monologue of the dog to defend his patch, or his family to any end. Who’s that! Go away! Why do some dogs react that way? Do we want them to react this way or not? ‘profane’ holds a lot here:

And mine the dog, and rises stiff with wrath
If any alien foot profane the path

I’m also thinking of the journey that children (as well as adults!), go through when we try to nurture and encourage children to ‘share’ with others. Is this a betrayal of a primal instinct to accumulate resources, or an opportunity for us to project our aspirational ideals of co-operation on to our mouldable little ones? I have been present when a child has experienced the injustice of sharing their very own supremely loved object – felt as an incomprehensible betrayal! Whilst the feeling may have dulled as we grow older, or become entangled in our layered adult minds, I can certainly recognise that feeling in my internal world – ‘but that’s mine!’ ‘When does that thought appear in us?’

As we move through the poem, the scope widens:

So, too, the buck that trimmed my terraces,
Our whilom gardener, called the garden his;
Who now, deposed, surveys my plain abode
And his late kingdom, only from the road.

We end on a minor key, ‘only from the road’ the gardener’s detachment and loss of his beloved garden he has dedicated time and care to building. Are we being called to recognise that care and ownerships that exists amongst all things in our shared mutual lives? Or does the gardener need to ‘let go’ of his attachment to his creation? I think I need to read it a few more times…

It feels as though we are being asked to consider ourselves in relation to beings and think through our wider ideas of ownership – where does it begin and end? We seem to end on a breakthrough moment for the voice of the poem, an awakening of empathy that calls into question how we negotiate the complex paths of our shared world.

My House, I Say

My house, I say. But hark to the sunny doves

That make my roof the arena of their loves,

That gyre about the gable all day long

And fill the chimneys with their murmurous song:

Our house, they say; and mine, the cat declares

And spreads his golden fleece upon the chairs;

And mine the dog, and rises stiff with wrath

If any alien foot profane the path.

So, too, the buck that trimmed my terraces,

Our whilom gardener, called the garden his;

Who now, deposed, surveys my plain abode

And his late kingdom, only from the road.

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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The Reader is inviting people to ‘bring a friend’ or ‘make a friend’ this year for Mental Health Awareness week in Sefton.

The Reader is collaborating with Sefton Public Health and local organisations on a series of Shared Reading events, tying together Mental Health Awareness Week with Sefton’s Year of Friendship.

From 13 to 17 May, special Shared Reading Tasters sessions will run alongside regular Shared Reading groups – weekly read-aloud groups that bring people together and books to life.

Come along and enjoy a cup of tea, a biscuit and a chat over friendship-themed stories and poems.

TUESDAY 14 MAY

10am – 12noon – Strand By Me Shared Reading Taster

10.30am – 12noon – Kindfulness Coffee Club Weekly Shared Reading Group

12.15pm – 12.45pm – Feelgood Factory Weekly Shared Reading Group

1.30pm – 3.30pm – Crosby Library Weekly Shared Reading Group

WEDNESDAY 15 MAY

2pm – 3pm – Southport Liferooms Shared Reading Taster

THURSDAY 16 MAY

10.30am – 11.30am – Writeblend Shared Reading Taster

12noon – 1pm – Crosby Library Shared Reading Taster

1.30pm – 3pm – Crosby Library Weekly Shared Reading Group

FRIDAY 17 MAY

10am – 12noon – Bootle Library Shared Reading Taster

The Reader will also be popping up at Y Kids homework club on Monday 4pm – 6pm with a Taster session to help improve wellbeing alongside studying.

The Reader runs more than 200 Shared Reading groups across the North West; in its home at Calderstones Park, in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, Skelmersdale and Lancashire, St Helens and Warrington, Wigan and Wirral. You can find your closest one here.

There are currently 17 Shared Reading groups happening in Sefton, funded by Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Sefton Public Health and The Limbourne Trust – nine of which are open for the public to drop in.

People who are keen to find out how they can get more involved with The Reader, including running a group locally, or starting one specifically to help reduce social isolation and strengthen their community, should email
volunteer@thereader.org.uk .

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The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Katie Clark, has chosen this week’s Featured Poem, To Daffodils by Robert Herrick.

The park near my house has the most glorious display of daffodils that could rival any scene in the Lake District, they stretch out as far as the eye can see, attracting lots of attention from young and old each year. And yet there always comes that moment each year where the first couple of lines of this poem suddenly spring to mind.

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon; 

The early vibrancy begins to fade.  The bright hope of spring on the horizon seems so rapidly replaced by the next stage, rushing us along and I’m suddenly aware of the temporary nature of things. After a long winter, it seems the year begins to speed up. Why does that feel so unsettling?  I’m interested in the line ‘We have short time to stay, as you,/We have as short a spring’ That mirroring of our own life-spans with the daffodils. I wonder if that is where the ‘weeping’ in the first line comes from, that deeper sense of our own mortality?

I’m drawn to the plea to the daffodils.

Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.

What difference does it make to be able to wait until ‘even-song’? Or is the more important thing being able to ‘go with you along’?

The last three lines are interesting too, likening our short lives to

Like to the Summer’s Rain

Like the daffodils, each of these has its own purpose and time, and its passing on feels natural. There is also something beautiful in the descriptions. They feel precious, and that last line –

Ne’er to be found again

-feels like a plea to pay close attention to them and their beauty, before the opportunity slips away.

To Daffodils

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see 
You haste away so soon; 
As yet the early-rising sun 
Has not attain’d his noon. 
Stay, stay, 
Until the hasting day 
Has run 
But to the even-song; 
And, having pray’d together, we 
Will go with you along. 

We have short time to stay, as you, 
We have as short a spring; 
As quick a growth to meet decay, 
As you, or anything. 
We die 
As your hours do, and dry 
Away, 
Like to the summer’s rain; 
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew, 
Ne’er to be found again.

by Robert Herrick

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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By Chris Lynn, Learning and Quality Leader

Olá Readers!

Last month, I represented The Reader at a new social intervention event at the University of São Paulo, as well as supporting The Danish Reading Society Laeseforeningen on a course for new Readers in Brazil.

On arrival, I was made to feel very welcome by Sonia from the university who helped me negotiate the vast cityscape to get to my hotel.

There I met with our Danish contingent Mette (Laeseforeningen), Line (anthropologist), Helena (Laeseforeningen), Mai (interpreter) and later Nicolai (Laeseforeningen) who were an incredibly friendly, welcoming team.

I was thoroughly impressed with the passion and commitment of the Shared Reading trainees, who were all determined to use this practice to help people in real need in São Paulo.

They were psychologists, social workers, librarians, people who worked in community libraries to help combat domestic violence, and people who wanted to establish and spread new representations of Afro-Brazilian culture through literature.

They were a thoroughly thoughtful group who did brilliantly in developing their practice and were committed to using Shared Reading to do good in their communities.

Mai, our interpreter, did an unbelievable job translating everything on the course from Portuguese to English – and vice versa!

I was surprised how well the Shared Reading experience translated, and I soon felt a sense of familiarity when we began to read and talk about the Danish classic The Ring by Isak Dinesen.

I delivered a number of sessions during the course, including the one below on group dynamics – can you crack the translation?!

The week culminated with me speaking to a room of around 150 people at the University of São Paulo at an event on ‘using literature as a social intervention’.

I had an hour to speak about The Reader and Shared Reading, equipped with a pep talk from our founder Jane Davis and my very own translator.

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak, despite it feeling quite out of my comfort zone. It was a good lesson in trusting yourself and the great work The Reader does, which often speaks for itself.

I knew I was among friends as I soon learned about local projects that aimed to embed reading in their communities.

They included reading and mediation groups dealing with the very real barriers of poverty and literacy, volunteer-led community libraries being run in rural areas and a project building mini-libraries at bus stops.

One of the projects working with families, schools and children, called Vaga Lume, felt very much like The Reader Storybarn back at our HQ in Liverpool. It was a storytelling experience for children – but in the jungle!

The Danish team also spoke about the brilliant work they are doing with Laeseforeningen. Mette, Helena, Line and Nicolai all spoke deftly about the power and impact of Shared Reading there, especially among young adults with mental-health problems.

I couldn’t take a trip to Brazil without reporting on what I saw there. São Paulo is incredibly vast – the biggest city in Latin America – an endless sea of skyscrapers, but with a mellow, casual air in the streets. It wasn’t as chaotic as you might expect.

On the day I arrived, Sonia invited me to a demonstration – complete with poetry recitals and music. There’s a real sense of everything being politically charged in São Paulo, including our Shared Reading trainees.

It’s an incredibly visual places with colour and art lining the streets. Below is an example of some street art speaking to an emergent political threat posed to indigenous people.

São Paulo has the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, so there’s lots of sushi on offer.

Incredible buffets were a staple – simply weigh your plate and pay by the kilo – and there was a real culture of sharing food at the communal meals we enjoyed together.

The cream-coloured spike in the centre of my plate is the heart of a certain type of palm tree and it was delicious.

Acai is an Amazonia purple fruit, crushed and frozen, served with nuts, and was a welcome coolant in the 40-degree heat! Unlike anything I’ve tasted before.

Before my return, I took a visit to Rio de Janeiro. It’s a vibrant, tropical city surrounded by jungle and sea, full of music and art.

Beach culture is huge here and it was great to see all generations enjoying the beach together. Of course, I visited the Christ the Redeemer statue, and on a very early misty morning, the clouds temporarily cleared to that and the rest of Rio below.

There was something undeniably striking about the whole experience.

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The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Amanda Boston, shares her thoughts on this week’s Featured Poem, Love and Solitude by John Clare.

“I need to hear this again.” Everyone in my reading group nodded in agreement, some people leaned forward and I could sense the connection which this Clare poem had already made. “ I love the last two lines. We all need a quiet place. What’s a kingcup?  What does troublous mean?” The responses and questions came unprompted after the second reading. Some of the responses had been in my head when I first read the poem, alone, at home others made me think again…

I hate the very noise of troublous man
Who did and does me all the harm he can.

Settling on the opening two lines we thought about the difference between troubled and troublesome. Most of us thought we had been both at some point in our lives and that we had listened to the anxieties of a troubled person. Thinking about all the harm and what that might feel like led us to consider the pain suffered by people who are perhaps alone or made separate from life for some reason. The intensity of feeling suggested by I hate the very noise felt like an electric charge in the room. It’s tricky to decide where to put the emphasis when reading these lines. We experimented with a couple of different ways.

“I was a prisoner in my own head” is how someone described an extended stay in an isolation ward in hospital; allowed no visitors a friend would flash car headlights at the hospital window every evening.

Where kingcups grow most beauteous to behold
And shut up green and open into gold.

I love this image. How wonderful to actually witness the very moment when the buds open on a Spring morning and the gold is revealed. The promise of light from darkness.

I’ll leave you to think about the final lines yourself. Whether in a reading group or on your own I do urge you to hold yourself suspended after reading still, take a breath before experiencing the joyous upbeat of the rejoicing heart.

Take all the world away – and leave me still
The mirth and music of a woman’s voice,
That bids the heart be happy and rejoice.

Love And Solitude

I hate the very noise of troublous man
Who did and does me all the harm he can.
Free from the world I would a prisoner be
And my own shadow all my company;
And lonely see the shooting stars appear,
Worlds rushing into judgment all the year.
O lead me onward to the loneliest shade,
The darkest place that quiet ever made,
Where kingcups grow most beauteous to behold
And shut up green and open into gold.
Farewell to poesy–and leave the will;
Take all the world away–and leave me still
The mirth and music of a woman’s voice,
That bids the heart be happy and rejoice.

by Thomas Hardy

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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The Reader’s Head of Learning and Quality, Clare Ellis, shares her thoughts on this week’s Featured Poem, Proud Songsters by Thomas Hardy.

People talk about the beauty of the dawn chorus, and for a long time when thinking about birdsong I had mainly associated it with morning. I often feel frustrated that – living in a ground floor flat – I am not quite confident enough to go to sleep with my window open as we enter Spring, to be woken up by the birds rather than my cold alarm clock. But what I particularly like about Proud Songsters is its drawing attention to the birdsong that happens in the evening; how

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,

how the birds have the energy and will to throw themselves out there into the world just as many of us humans may be too work weary come five in the evening to do anything other than get home and get tea on!

There are several different types of birds making themselves heard in this poem, each adding its own note and linking to a particular part of the evening rhythm, but it is the nightingale that stands out to me. The nightgales who are ‘loud’ rather than quiet ‘as it gets dark’, who

Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all Time were theirs.

I’d like to be one of these nightingales for a time, to feel in possession of time, to be wholeheartedly alive in the moment, rather than feeling myself forever playing catch up or regretting time lost or running out.

The second stanza makes me think of the word miracle – the amazing wonder of life being in full flow when only twelve months previously it may never have existed, or rather, was not yet formed into an animate being but in the offing somewhere mysteriously, waiting in the elements.

We have ‘brand new birds’ here who are already in full swing, at home in life, claiming and making the most of it. I think the speed of life in nature, how quickly things come into being and grow up, is something that always amazes me, and I am grateful for the reminder here that a year before or even less these birds were ‘only particles of grain/ And earth, and air, and rain.’ How much potential there is in life, how waiting to come into being, and how grateful I am for the birds, our proud songsters indeed.

Proud Songsters

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
In bushes
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all Time were theirs.

These are brand-new birds of twelve-months’ growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
Nor thrushes,
But only particles of grain,
And earth, and air, and rain.

by Thomas Hood

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Natalie Kaas Pontoppidan, shares her thoughts on this week’s Featured Poem, Stanzas by Thomas Hood.

What a way to begin a poem:

Farewell, Life! my senses swim
And the world is growing dim;

We’re in it straight away. I wonder who’s speaking here – who’s saying the farewell – and what does ‘Life!’ refer to? Is it one person’s life or does it seem more general than that? Why are the senses swimming, and where might they be swimming to? Furthermore, I am thinking about how I would read out loud: 

Colder, colder, colder still
Upward steals a vapor chill?

What’s the feeling in those two lines? I have quite a strong image in my head of this world that’s growing dim– almost apocalyptic. However, when I read the final lines in the first verse:

Strong the earthy odor grows –
I smell the mould above the rose!

I feel a sense of relief. The ‘I’ is still there, and is still taking in the world and its growing ‘earthy odor’. And then there is the rose…covered, but also still there. It makes me think that change doesn’t necessarily mean that the thing that was completely disappears – perhaps it is just less visible for a while.  

When reading the second verse, I find that I know exactly what that feels like this time of year: 

Welcome, Life! the Spirit Strives!
Strength returns and hope revives!;

In the past few years I’ve become moved by spring in a way I did not used to. Perhaps I’ve had to experience quite a few in order to become familiar with it and to realise that I can count on it as something stable – despite what else might be going on in my life. When I experience ‘O’er the earth there comes a bloom’, I feel so grateful that it’s all coming back!

However, I am curious to know if we all experience it as

Sunny light for sullen gloom
Warm perfume for vapor cold—

Is it necessarily as simple as winter being dim, cloudy and cold while spring is strength, sun and the disappearance of cloudy fears and shadows? I’d be really interesting in reading this poem with a group and take in all these sense impressions while also speaking about what seasons feel like to us.  

Stanzas

Farewell, Life! my senses swim,       
And the world is growing dim;
Thronging shadows cloud the light,   
Like the advent of the night;  
Colder, colder, colder still,             
Upward steals a vapor chill;  
Strong the earthy odor grows—        
I smell the mould above the rose!     

Welcome, Life! the Spirit strives!       
Strength returns and hope revives;           
Cloudy fears and shapes forlorn       
Fly like shadows at the morn;
O’er the earth there comes a bloom; 
Sunny light for sullen gloom, 
Warm perfume for vapor cold—                
I smell the rose above the mould!

by Thomas Hood

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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The Reader’s Learning and Quality Coordinator, Lisa Spurgin, shares her thoughts on this week’s Featured Poem, I So Liked The Spring by Charlotte Mew.

Next to Autumn, Spring is my favourite season – Winter can often seem endless and so it always feels like a second beginning to the year when buds come onto the trees, the sun shines more, the weather gets warmer and there is a general uplifting, hopeful feeling in the air. My own personal fondness for the springtime is what attracted me to this poem – ‘who could fail to like the Spring?’, I thought to myself on considering the title. Getting into the poem itself brought something of a surprise. On my first reading I was struck by a melancholy feeling that I wasn’t expecting, but going back for another reading, and then another, the mood changed as I gave the poem time to settle.

Those first two lines pack a big emotional punch:

I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here:-

The ‘so’ contributes to that emphatic feeling, but it’s the ‘you’ that really hits the heart. It’s perfectly natural for us as humans with sentimental hearts and an instinctual urge to be constantly making connections and meaning to tie our own personal experience of a season, a place, an object to another person. Things we might not be that fond of can be changed dramatically because someone we love has an affection for them. Perhaps the speaker liked Spring as well as the thrushes beforehand, but their intense liking for the other person has transformed that feeling into something more. It’s a strange phenomenon to think about, in some respects, but one which we can’t avoid as human beings who are designed to connect to others and seek to see the world through another’s eyes.

It’s hard not to think about where this other person has gone to, but their leaving has had an effect, just as their presence had too.

This year’s a different thing,-
I’ll not think of you.

To me, it almost feels like a conscious decision not to think of someone who had meant a lot to you, especially in this case as it has only been a year, or even less, since they had gone away.  Maybe this is because it would be too hard, too sad, bring back too many painful memories that are not only related to the Spring. That ‘I’ll not’ seems to mean something definite rather than being a casual, passing choice, where the speaker might change their mind the next day or week. What do you make of it?

At first those aforementioned lines left me feeling sad – although reading them again I find different nuances of meaning – but the two final lines provide a certain uplift. The reappearance of the thrushes come as a reminder of happier times and an endurance of the spirit to survive. At the moment it may be that the speaker is going through the motions, somewhat, but perhaps as the years go by, Spring keeps arriving and the thrushes continue to sing their song a deeper joy will be found once more. I definitely find comfort in the cyclical pattern of the seasons and so am inclined to look hopefully at the end of this poem. Perhaps you’ll think differently.

I So Liked The Spring

I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here;-
The thrushes too-
Because it was these you so liked to hear-
I so liked you.

This year’s a different thing,-
I’ll not think of you.
But I’ll like Spring because it is simply Spring
As the thrushes do.

by Charlotte Mew

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Chris Lynn, reflects on this week’s Featured Poem, Upon His Picture by Thomas Randolph.

For this week’s Featured Poem, we have the pleasure of considering Thomas Randolph’s ‘Upon His Picture’ – and we’ll come out the other end the better for it!

I come to it in a state of illness! In some ways this feels fitting reading through the poem. Being ill is a rare experience for me, having my health and faculties taken away temporarily is a humbling reminder.

Immediately I’m tripped up by that first sentence. That ‘not’ stubs my toe. ‘When age hath made me what I am not now’ subverts my expectation. We are encouraged to believe that our age and experience accumulates to ‘make us’ what we are. It’s as if this describes a state of misrecognition, or unrecognition. Can ‘age’ do that to us?’. Do we find we become someone we are not?

All the language is of the body and an unfamiliarity at this biological thing we are bound to. At the heart is a search for some sort of ‘self’ to recognise:

Not finding what I am, but what I was,
In doubt which to believe, this or my glass:

There’s a choice or a struggle between two things here. Do I believe the mirror, the ‘glass’ or an enigmatic ‘this’. What is being spoken about here?

I’m drawn to thinking about the thread of our ourselves, or a sense of core ‘selfness’. Even though I look back on myself growing up as a boy and feel very detached from him, I am however connected somehow, a remnant of me that feels like it has always been there and present. Does ‘this’ live in family or family bonds?

Yet though I alter, this remains the same
As it was drawn,

 ‘Yet’ there is something undeniable about this thing which remains the same. ‘As is was drawn’ is interesting here as we are in the moment it is happening – being lengthened? Sketched? Outlined? Who or what draws it?

Behold what frailty we in man may see,
Whose shadow is less given to change than he!

I draw some comfort from these last lines which makes me think of how we are ‘given to change’ in a world of constant motion. Is there an anchor point in ourselves?

Upon His Picture

When age hath made me what I am not now,
And every wrinkle tells me where the plow
Of time hath furrowed; when an ice shall flow
Through every vein, and all my head wear snow;
When death displays his coldness in my cheek,
And I myself in my own picture seek,
Not finding what I am, but what I was,
In doubt which to believe, this or my glass:
Yet though I alter, this remains the same
As it was drawn, retains the primitive frame
And first complexion; here will still be seen
Blood on the cheek, and down upon the chin;
Here the smooth brow will stay, the lively eye,
The ruddy lip, and hair of youthful dye.
Behold what frailty we in man may see,
Whose shadow is less given to change than he!

by Thomas Randolph

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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I started going to the reading group in the autumn last year. Two friends had mentioned it; I was feeling a bit low and they told me to pop down. I thought about it for a few months before I plucked up the courage to come – it was quite a long process for me because I suffer with mild depression and anxiety.

I remember I arrived at the library and stood outside the room where the group takes place. I saw through the window that the table was full, the room looked packed and I was about to do a U-turn when Mina (the Volunteer Reader Leader) opened the door, smiled and said, ‘Hello, are you coming in?’. So it was inviting; I felt like the door had been opened – literally! – and so I needed to go in. If she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have gone in that day.

I went in and there were lots of smiles, and everyone was saying ‘Come and sit down, have a cup of tea’. It was everything I love about kindness and hospitality. It was very quickly explained that you can participate as much as you want or as little as you want. No pressure, just pleasure – I instantly relaxed.

I’ve had two major bereavements in recent years and I have struggled with my mental health, especially anxiety. My physical health has deteriorated too. My confidence has been knocked and I’ve felt worn out and bruised. I’ve had to give up work: not being able to make that decision well-minded, but instead being forced to stop because you are not so well … that takes something away from you.

Finances are tight too, which only makes me feel more blessed and fortunate to find local activities I can join for free.

I’ve always had a fondness for reading, since I was a child, but the last ten years it’s been harder to read – I just couldn’t get into any books because I was finding it hard to focus and concentrate.

The group is helping me with that. When I’m at home watching the TV, I can rewind if I’ve missed something. But you can’t do that in the group, so it helps me to stay focused. I love the way people jump in with comments, but without interrupting – it’s well-mannered and people are kind, they include each other.

One of the key things to me is the element of surprise – no two weeks are the same and that engages me. Somebody else has prepared the stories and the poem, thought about where to pause and what the discussion points might be, but in a way that is inclusive of everybody there. That makes me feel great because it’s like I’m being given something in a way, like I’m being taken care of.

When you’re already dealing with a lot – loss of financial status, health problems, your own sense of credibility – it’s great that you can go to the group and it’s no questions asked: it’s not a continuum of “Are you ‘better’ yet?” and I love that.

I don’t need to make small talk and it’s not invasive. You can extend a little about yourself if you like, but it’s up to you. No-one talks in depth about their ailments – it’s quite upbeat. I really enjoy the lightness, warmth, laughter and ease of the sessions.

You can engage as much as you want or as little as you want. I’m in control – I could leave early if I wanted, but I don’t want to: I want to keep taking this medicine because it’s having a good effect on me.

I’ve started sitting in different places around the table. I realised when I moved seat it was easier for me to volunteer to read because I was nearer the water. That, for me, was a big thing – reaching out and getting water and saying I would read, it was like, “It’s fine, you are not going to drop it, you are entitled to do that, it’s there for everybody”. I feel like I’m trying to find my voice in a group environment and when I read a bit of the story aloud, butterflies were going in my stomach. But I did it and it felt…powerful.

And this week too I sat down in a slightly different place and had available seats either side of me; and as the seats filled up I thought, “Oh, people do want to sit next to me!”

I made a conscious effort to look at everybody as they walked in, just to smile and say, “Hi, nice to see you” – because that’s all part of the experience, for me, to be a little bit nurturing almost.

I saw this one group member was struggling with her coat and I looked over and said, “Do you want some help?” and she said, “Oh yes please”. Anyway, we sorted it out and she said, “Thanks ever so much” and I thought, “Oh good. . . you were helpful Nim!”

That’s what I mean about it not being about just reading, but about being more active in the group and about my whole wellbeing. It’s not only about making a connection to the stories and the poems, it’s also about making a connection with each other.

It’s about everything that surrounds it – the walk there, listening to other people’s experiences, having a sit down and cup of tea. It’s my natural thing to be a care-giver and the first few weeks I went to the group it was almost like being on the receiving end of care and I really enjoyed that and it was what I needed. But now I find I’m paying it forward – I’ve told a few people about the group now and encourage them to come.

What I see in the group is people showing their worth. People hit a certain age and sometimes illness comes into the picture and you start to think ‘What have I got to offer? Am I still useful?’. The group is about wanting to still keep achieving and not wanting ‘disabilities’ of any kind to hold you back: that one ailment, that one issue or diagnosis, that doesn’t define you. There’s still a brain in there, so don’t judge me, give me an opportunity and recognise that my wellbeing matters.

I really look forward to it. It’s almost like a therapy – because I know what I need right now and the group is ticking lots of boxes for me in that way. It’s my weekly challenge and personal achievement. If I miss it, I feel a little loss, like I didn’t get my treat. So now I put it on my planner as a must do, as if a doctor had given me it as a prescription to be taken for improving my health.

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