The Art of Coping

How to address the behavioral changes in patients with Alzheimer’s disease

photo of mother and daughter
The formal definition of a caregiver is “a person providing direct care to an individual (adult or child)”—Webster’s Dictionary. Read more

December Poem of the Month: “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W.B. Yeats

Selected for the UCSF Memory and Aging Center by Hellman Visiting Artist Jane Hirshfield

John Singer Sargent Portrait of William Butler Yeats, 1908

John Singer Sargent Portrait of William Butler Yeats, 1908

For the final of this year-long series of poems that touch on aging, memory, and the gathering-up of a life as it enters its final turnings, I can think of no poem more richly apt than “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” by W.B. Yeats (1865–1939).

Ralph Waldo Emerson described a poem as “not meter, but a meter-making argument.” Yeats himself said that an argument with others is merely rhetoric: a poem is an argument the poet is having with himself. The central argument of this poem is not, as it first may appear, about inspiration’s diminishment in age, or writer’s block. It is an artist’s—and art’s—own self-questioning: Does a life given over to imagination’s workings feel, in the end, one that has been worthy? “Players and painted stage took all my love,/ And not those things that they were emblems of”—the admission is not dishonest. Yet this poem, a wrestling with rhyme and memory, with history and this moment’s clear-seeing, proves its own statement false. Yeats’s final, much-quoted lines return us to a realm in which art’s aspirations and the unembellished, unbeautied world (“the rag and bone shop of the heart”) are recognized for what they truly are: inseparable. However difficult, at times impossible, the heart-mysteries’ unfolding, the task of expansion and expression is not vain.

I thank the Memory and Aging Center and Hellman family’s generosity for the privilege of having been the Hellman Artist in Residence this past year. Read more

November Poems of the Month

Selected for the UCSF Memory and Aging Center by Hellman Visiting Artist Jane Hirshfield

Margaret Gibson

Margaret Gibson

The three November poems of the month come from an extraordinary forthcoming book, The Broken Cup, by Margaret Gibson. The poems were written in response to what Gibson has called “traveling The Way of Alzheimer’s” with her poet-husband David McKain. After David’s initial, tentative diagnosis in 2007, Gibson wrote no poems for two years; but then, as she has described it, poetry returned, and writing became for her a kind of grounding lightning rod that allowed both moving forward and transformation. “Poetry,” Gibson writes, “is an animate form—it breathes, it discovers and restores voice. A poem is another way of being present.” The poems below, and the full book they are drawn from (to be published by Louisiana State University Press in fall 2014), bring a breathtaking eloquence to the witnessed, lived through, resilient, and necessary intertwining of full presence and love.

Margaret Gibson is the author of a memoir and ten books of poems, most recently One Body and Second Nature. Her numerous honors include awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Society of America, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her husband David McKain is the author of three books of poems and a memoir. Both taught for many years in the English Department of University of Connecticut. Read more