Poetics of Aging

AgeSong Institute, in collaboration with leading Bay Area universities and organizations, organized a four-day get-together for people interested in exploring the beauty and depth of life at any stage and age. The conference mission is to counter the mainstream understanding of aging as decline and/or disease with a more expansive, humanistic, and creative vision and approach (see article).

Inaugural Conference 2011

Photos by: Nader Shabahangi, Denise Bondy, Marilyn Harryman


  • Nader ShabahangiNader Shabahangi

    "We talk about the prime of life. What is that? When is that?... We continue to mature and develop, especially emotionally and spiritually, until we die. Imagine if we could not wait to get old, like a child can't wait to be an adult? Imagine if we looked at each day as another opportunity to deepen, mature, grow, develop, become an elder? How stunningly shortsighted, then, to view aging as decline! Aging allows us to keep writing the poem we call our life."

  • Ilene SerlinIlene Serlin

    "The decline of the body in aging often brings depression and grief over loss of function, expression, and sense of self. Leading a structured movement group for the elderly that uses rhythm, imagination, simple movements and props can aid dialogue, interaction, support, expression of feelings, and dealing with existential issues of mortality, control, aloneness and meaning."

  • John GrayJohn Gray

    "How do we learn to listen to our inner elder? By properly learning to cope with stress effectively, then we have access to our inner elder, our inner wisdom, our knowing on how to meet our partner's needs, as well as our own needs."

  • John KrumboltzJohn Krumboltz

    "Try it, you might like it. Throughout our whole lives we should be experimenting with ways to increase our happiness and satisfaction."

  • Norm AmundsonNorm Amundson

    "Life is a story with many chapters, the most exciting segments usually come toward the end of the book. Our challenge is to make every moment count and live life to the full."

  • Patrick FoxPatrick Fox

    "Our society has a set of blinders on that negates our individual and collective ability to see the deeper meaning of what is called dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and the deeper meaning behind the aging process.  We urgently need to expand the horizons of what forgetfulness can mean beyond loss, to challenge our normative conceptions of forgetfulness, dementia, memory, personhood, aging, and time."

  • Dick BollesDick Bolles

    "The traditiional view of aging thinks of it in terms of work: measured by whether work is present or absent. I prefer instead to think of Aging in terms of music: life has four Ages, Stages, or movements, just as a symphony does. So, of course, Aging as music, Aging as poetics, is long overdue for discussion."

  • Rush RehmRush Rehm

    "Poetics of Aging offers the opportunity to look at aging through creative works (in my case, scenes from Shakespeare, Didion, and Beckett) and also on its own terms, as a creative force to be reckoned with."

  • Josiah PolhemusJosiah Polhemus

    "Life begins breathing in outside air. As I grow older, the outer world of appearance, prestige and perfection, all influences from outside sources, lessen; the inner world of imagination, gratitude and tolerance strengthen and keep me seeking wisdom and more breath."

  • Martha BoesingMartha Boesing

    Presents SONG OF THE MAGPIE, a deeply moving play about a 69-year-old woman who goes out to experience the world as a homeless person. The play portrays the dangers, hardships and unexpected humanity found in the streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin district.

  • Sumyyah BilalSumyyah Bilal

    "Live each day as if it were your last. Do your best by your work, your family, your friends. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?"

  • Faith WinthropFaith Winthrop

    ...Well, you can sign up for cryogenics
    Where they’ll freeze you in neat little queues
    Pump you full of biogenics
    But who says they’ll never blow a fuse?


    [from New Age, Old Age Blues, ©2005 Faith Winthrop/It’s Never To Late To Sing Music (ASCAP)]

  • Rev. Sue Ann YarbroughRev. Sue Ann Yarbrough

    "I had a dream where I was asked to do some research about elders among a particular group of people. I agreed, and took a bus to visit with those folks. I was greeted by warm, friendly people. Much food, laughter, and conversation was shared and in this dream I was having a wonderful time. Then, I was reminded that it was time to go. Suddenly, I was flustered. I expressed the concern that I had not actually met any elders and that I had most assuredly not done my job. One of my hosts smiled and replied that I had been sitting among elders the whole time. He then commented, 'I am not surprised you did not notice. Elders are so much a part of us that we see no difference.'

    We are at a time when we both need to acknowledge our elders, but also to simply make room for them to live among us."

  • Jeanette AmundsonJeanette Amundson

    the young call it old-timers, having had no experience with doctors, neurologists and specialists, and seniors who know that not all old-timers suffer from alzheimer’s.
    his wife calls it a living death, and grieves in her loss and his, remembering old times now more precious than the rings on her hands that he can’t always recognize.
    his children see a sudden new frailty that lends them strength, awakens love, sometimes anger, pain, regrets, and they wonder about their own future as old-timers.
    and the grandfather, father, husband, old-timer cries, and says if it’s alzheimer’s, it’s terminal and I’m sorry even though there is no need to feel responsible and he still wants to share his hospital/hotel/office dinner and pay his bills, and thank the workers, and get to this meetings on time, and laugh at the jokes, and visit with friends and strangers and have a picture of his wife and children and grandchildren to help him hold on to old times.

  • Stuart KandellStuart Kandell

    “The past is not a prologue. We need to be asking new questions for a new age.”

  • Janine CananJanine Canan

    "Old is gold, chants the ancient Crone."

  • Kavan PetersonKavan Peterson

    "I think aging is integral to human development and growth, yet much feared and little understood. By nearly every measurement, the second half of life brings more happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction than the "glory days" of youth. Instead of embracing the many virtues of aging, society teaches us to value only the most superficial dimensions -- our ability to look and act youthful. The consequences of this outlook are stupendously wasteful and harmful to both individuals and society at large."

  • Barbara Rose BrookerBarbara Rose Brooker

    "I'm 75 and I want to be a movie star. How we age is who we are. Age is not about a number. It is about living life to the fullest, asking new questions and always forming new goals."

  • Linda Hawes CleverLinda Hawes Clever, MD

    As a physician, I say, "Taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is self preservation. This is true at any age. The sooner the better and it's never too late. Think about it: if you don’t take care of yourself, who will?"

  • Betsy Best MartiniBetsy Best Martini

    "People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning to life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive." Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth[1]

  • Marion RosenMarion Rosen

    "Aging isn't for sissies, it isn't something I would choose. It is limiting in a way. There are many things you no longer can do that you used to like to do. And yet you can feel very happy and very fulfilled with your life."

  • Julie Rogers and David MeltzerDavid Meltzer

    Roland Barthes write in his diary written after his mother's death: "The self never grows old."

    Julie Rogers

    "For myself, to embrace aging means learning to be open to each moment, to learn how to live without taking time for granted."

  • Jarmine Christine YehJarmine Christine Yeh

    "Aging is a process that we all experience over the course of our lives in our own important ways. Because people are living longer and living healthier, the spectrum of aging is expanding. Illuminating the unique and varied experiences of aging which affirms the perspectives of older people, and especially the view points of marginalized older adults, will help us construct richer discourses on aging, improve our knowledges of what it means to grow older, and help us identify people's needs and assets to improve the programs and policies that foster healthful aging."

  • Anna HalprinAnna Halprin

    "Aging is enlightenment at gunpoint."

  • Janice BlanchardJanice Blanchard

    The benefits of creativity in later life are numerous (Cohen, 2000). First, it improves mental and emotional health — creativity produces a fresh perspective, strengthens our morale, improves our sense of well-being, and makes us more emotionally resilient to life’s adversities and losses. Second, creativity enhances our physical health. Creative expression makes us feel better and improves our outlook, which in turn provides a beneficial effect to our immune systems and general physical health. Third, creativity enriches relationships with family and friends. Finally, creativity provides a legacy. The example you set to stay intellectually active, socially involved and creatively engaged will have a positive affect on the younger people around you.

  • Carol VecchioCarol Vecchio

    Adults at mid-life are pausing to renew themselves, reflect on their values and passions, find the balance they need, and move forward on the road ahead. They seek a path to purpose-filled lives; using a lifetime of experiences to solve challenges facing our community, our nation, and our world.
  • Lynn WoolseyRepresentative Lynn Woolsey

    Creative aging means the freedom to reconnect with oneself and others, to embrace new avenues of fulfillment and to rediscover old ones, all with the benefit of acquired wisdom over the years. I look forward to a new period of renewal, wellness and empowerment when I retire from Congress at the end of next year.

  • When that love of words
    Overtakes the taste for food
    A poet is born

    Shann, An Itinerant Poet

  • Denise BondyDenise Bondy

    "The most potent muse of all is our own inner child ; she reemerges at mid-life and embellishes our lives forever more."

  • Norman MoleskoNorman Molesko


    I’m one of those who relishes
    joys of being older and still able to create.
    My mind produces sparks of innovation,
    as I outreach to other empathetic souls.

    I’m a ‘goody-goody’ poet people say.
    Good activities bring on good feelings.
    Good feelings make for good days. Good things also make for good days.

    In my head my thoughts envision
    I’ll remain awhile to perform and smile,
    since good days lead to more good days.
    You call me an optimist and that’s okay.

    © Norman Molesko, 2011


News Bulletin

New Interview Series on Working Quinquagenarians on Up — Sally Gelardin | December 9,  2011

For Baby Boomers, Aging Is The Next Frontier Laura Paull, Huffington Post | November 27, 2011

S.F. conference finds poetry, art, music in aging processSteven Friedman, Jweekly.com | November 23, 2011