“I have dementia and I write poetry”

1 September 2022 Related Tags
By Ron Coleman Writer

I had a meeting with Jon MacLeod at An Lanntair in Stornoway. I was going to discuss the possibility of putting up an installation in the arts centre later in the year….but wait a minute, I had better tell you who I am. My name is Ron Coleman though I am often called The Demented Poet, mainly because I have dementia and I write poetry. I live in a small village on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, and six years ago I was diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment; more recently this diagnosis was changed to vascular dementia. 

When I received my first diagnosis I was angry, frightened, and sad. You might say I was a total mess. I was given the contact number of Paula Brown who worked on the dementia inclusive arts programme at An Lanntair, the arts centre in Stornoway.  Meeting with Paula was the start of a change in how I lived my life with my diagnosis.  Along with Paula and my wife, Karen, I went on a trip to Aberdeen to join a DEEP gathering – a network of groups of people with dementia across the UK. There was a part of me that was not looking forward to this, as I had always visualised people with dementia as a silent group sitting in a circle with nothing happening. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The group of people I met with that day were creative, active and full of life, and that was the day I changed my opinion about what dementia could mean to me. 

During this time I had started to write poetry to express my emotions, and I also started using Alexa as a virtual personal assistant. It was these two things that became central in developing the ideas I had about creating an installation. I had this idea of a Person (me) lying in a bed in darkness, who would suddenly sit up, recite a piece of poetry and then lie down again. This would be followed by some sleep music, a clock striking 6am, and Alexa setting off an alarm and some glam rock.  After a short period of time the person in the bed would say “Alexa, stop” and then proceed to have a conversation with Alexa. At the end of the conversation the lights would dim and the person would lie back down and fall back to sleep; this in effect would be my installation.   

So, back to my meeting with Jon. Jon is an artist who is in charge of the dementia programme at An Lanntair, and I must confess I was extremely nervous as I wondered what he thought of this idea I had just presented to him. He asked me a few questions, then said, “Ron, you should turn this into a play”. I had never thought about this before, and I thought: “Turn this into a play? I wouldn’t know where to start.”  But Jon did know where to start, and he gave me a few tips about how to proceed.   

Tentatively I started writing a script (I say “script” – in actual fact my first attempt was more like just a story). I was put in touch with other people who could help me develop my writing skills, and over a three month period my first play – Caught in This Moment of Time – started to take shape. 

Paula was one of the first people to read my play, and she thought it was really good and asked me what I wanted to do with it. I told her I would love to see it performed, and she said to leave it with her and she would let a few people see it. Not long after this Paula told me about Colin and Jill Thompson who have been involved in the performing arts for many years. Colin really liked the script and, to cut a long story short, we all met up and had a long conversation at the end of which Colin and Jill agreed to play Ron and Karen in the play, and Colin would direct. Karen played Alexa, and Louise Marie Davidson created two beautiful dances. On the 9th September 2019 Caught in This Moment of Time had its final dress rehearsal. Sandra Kennedy was our stage manger and Mike Atkins was our sound and light technician, creating an amazing spectacle of colour for the dance sequences. The following evening the play was seen by an almost full house at An Lanntair, and for the first time in my life I believed that perhaps, maybe there was a possibility that I was now an artist.  

I am currently working on a musical supported by Luminate which will be performed in the Spring of 2023. 

for the first time in my life I believed that perhaps, maybe there was a possibility that I was now an artist ...