Poetry dances at the bedside of the sick

The cat opened his eyes, the sun entered them. The cat closed its eyes, the sun stayed there. (…) The words of Maurice Carême float in silence for a few moments. Hélène tilts her head slightly. Fama looks at her, lets scroll for a few seconds then suggests: ” I read you a second poem? “. Fama wears a white blouse and under his arm a file of about forty pages, the ” Poetic vidal »Which she composed with the texts which are dear to her. Like her, every Wednesday since December 2020, the artists of the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, come to meet the residents of the Long-Term Care Unit of the Charles-Foix-AP-HP hospital (USLD), d’Ivry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne) for rather unexpected consultations.

That day, Fama is with Hélène. ” Not long, eh? “ worries the octogenarian, happy all the same, to find an attentive ear to his memories. Her beginnings as a worker for a fur manufacturer in Paris – “All the beasts you had to kill to make a single coat, it was awful!” “; then her entry into Printemps as a saleswoman but above all, previously, “ the war of 40 Which comes back to the bend of each sentence. ” Hope you don’t know this, she says. But hey, unfortunately, as long as there are men, there will be wars!

Fama listens patiently and gently, asks a few questions: “ you like animals ? Have you had any before? “Hélène cannot say how long she has been living at USLD but the animals, yes, she remembers:” cats, dogs … About twenty minutes later, Fama closes Helene’s door. ” I choose the poems according to what I feel about the person, what they say to me, she says. With Maurice Carême, I wanted to bring a little lightness to this lady.

Communicative energy

Fama has been an actress for twenty years, and deprived of the stage for many months, for the first time in her career. At the Charles-Foix hospital, paid by the Théâtre de la Ville, she explores hitherto unknown facets of her art. “This face to face with sick people is quite another thing than going on stage and hiding behind a character, she confides. Poetry opens the field of possibilities … I think it has the power to give people hope.

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On the way to the room of her next patient, Fama stops, caught up in the rhythm of the Ngoma drum, which warms the common room. Standing, Ludovic sounds this percussion, traditionally used in Kongo musical therapy in Central Africa, while Claire whirls between tables and wheelchairs. They both wear the City Theater blouse and the regulatory mask.

Poetry dances at the bedside of the sick

Before embarking on her choreographic improvisation, Claire spoke with the people seated in the large room. Raised on her agile legs, she dances for them, who are condemned to the chair, and offers them, without counting, a communicative energy.

Joy remains

One foot beats time, two hands clap into each other. A huge smile illuminates the features of Simone who gets up in her wheelchair. Her arms respond to the waves drawn in the air by Claire’s. Their duet, simple and beautiful, lasts several minutes.

Long after the music has died down, joy remains on Simone’s face. She knows her date of birth, somewhere around the turn of the 1920s, but has long since stopped counting the years. A quick calculation is enough to understand that Simone is familiar with the century. This very old age has robbed her of part of her mobility and sometimes hinders her diction, but in her blue eyes, life still burns, with a flame enlivened by the experience she has just had.

Poetry dances at the bedside of the sick

It did me so good, she articulates. I love dance, it allows you to express so many things… When you dance, the whole being is there. And Simone, a former journalist, to remember, in a distant time, her happiness to go to the ball, to waltz with young people and to sing with her friends.

Non-drug treatments

Eyes sparkling above the mask, Professor Amina Lahlou has not lost a crumb of this scene which reinforces his convictions. At the head of this 82-bed service, she applied to host Poetic Consultations as soon as the collaboration project between the Théâtre de la ville and the AP-HP saw the light of day in June 2020.

Our very elderly patients suffer from incurable progressive pathologies, she specifies. Here, medicine must recognize that it can only play a modest role: we cure, we do not cure. I am convinced that we need to develop non-drug treatments, which can really help our patients. Culture, through words, music, the body, brings them comfort and strong emotions that bring them back to the meaning of their life. As we see, these aesthetic experiences have positive effects on anxiety and behavioral disorders.

Élodie Toussaint, occupational therapist in the neighboring unit, also observes these benefits. Its department, where twelve people, aged 27 to 72, suffering from progressive neurological pathologies, are hospitalized, has also included in its treatment program, twice a week, the visit of artists from the City Theater. ” These patients undergo heavy and invasive care, she indicates. Poetry and dance help them to shift their focus from pain, to push the walls of the hospital to experience something other than their difficult daily life as patients. This loophole is good for them but also for their loved ones and caregivers.

Artists also transformed

Amina Lahlou meets her colleagues from the AP-HP and the Théâtre de la Ville team for regular meetings. “We are progressively evaluating the effects of these interventions, she explains. We also make sure to answer the artists’ questions. Confronting particular fragile people with serious pathologies is not easy.

During consultations, emotion often runs from one interlocutor to another. ” It’s a circular empathy ”, says Claire, leaving a patient’s room, tears in the corners of the eyelids. The lady, bedridden and aphasic, straightened up as much as her body, hampered by the disease allowed her, to resume, mirroring, Claire’s choreography. ” All our discussion went through the gaze ”, tells the latter.

Poetry dances at the bedside of the sick

In these places where life seems entrenched beyond suffering, art, more than ever and perhaps more than elsewhere, forges saving links. ” It’s a magnificent exercise, rich in interior colors, comments Ludovic, actor and musician, who assures us: ” this experience transforms me “.

The afternoon ends. Fama takes off her blouse, puts away her collection of poems and with it, all the confidences received as so many concentrates of humanity. Faces, stories like that of Lucienne who, in her youth, loved the countryside so much. Fama chose to read to him Sensation by Arthur Rimbaud: ” On blue summer evenings, I will go on the paths / Pecked by the wheat, tread the thin grass (…)


Booming poetic consultations

The concept of “poetic consultation” was invented in the 2000s by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Fabrice Melquiot.

During the containment of March 2020, the idea was taken up for the general public, via the telephone. Since then, more than 15,000 free consultations have been carried out in 22 languages, by a hundred actors paid by the Théâtre de la Ville.

From June 2020, a partnership has been established between the Théâtre de la Ville de la Ville de Paris and the Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris to involve artists, specifically trained, with patients and caregivers. The first consultations take place by telephone with the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital.

Currently, the Charles-Foix hospital in Ivry-sur-Seine is a pilot for face-to-face consultations, extended to dance and music. Several other AP-HP establishments could soon put them in place in their turn.


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