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You’re Never Too Old for a New Creative Pursuit

How the small act of joining a poetry group fostered big creativity and connection

spinner image illustration of woman at table writing in book; mug next to her; flowers in vase on table; window behind table
Illustration: Chris Lyons

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began, my friend Julia asked if I’d like to be part of a weekly poetry group. Julia is 59, and her friend Martha is 95. They were chatting by phone once a week to share poems they’d written and discuss a writing prompt for the following week. Would I join them?

At age 60, I had my 20-something daughter, her boyfriend and my husband all living and working at my house. I was also caring for my elderly mother who lived close by and juggling my own workload as a teacher and journalist. Adding a weekly poetry commitment felt like overload, but for some reason that is still a mystery to me, I said “yes.”

“Whether you’re learning a piece of music, a genre of fiction or a dance step — all of it pushes you and your brain outside your comfort zone in the best possible way.”

I hadn’t written a poem since middle school, but this weekly small act of creation — of trying something new and doing it with others — provided community, sanity and a sense of productivity at a time when much of my life was in upheaval. It’s been an intellectual and artistic challenge, has taught me new ways of looking at the world (and myself), has helped me forge friendships and connections, expanded my education and helped me process feelings I didn’t even know I had.

For Martha, a former college professor and mother of four who at the time was on lockdown in her room in an assisted living facility in Asheville, North Carolina, our poetry group was a lifeline. It was the same for Julia, a devoted extrovert, who had to adapt to life without the regular travel and constant stream of houseguests that characterized her pre-pandemic days.

Writing a poem every week was a small, doable thing that reminded the three of us that our creative brains still worked. I’ve even shared a few of my poems on social media, which has led to new connections and renewed friendships. Julia and I have taken several online poetry courses together, including a MasterClass taught by former poet laureate Billy Collins.

spinner image kathleen mccleary resting face on hand in front of bookcase
Joining a poetry group taught McCleary new ways of looking at the world and herself.
Courtesy: McCleary

Based on our small group experience, I highly recommend finding one small creative act to do each week. It doesn’t need to be poetry — find what you enjoy. Julia had tried pottery, which didn’t excite her, and several other creative pursuits before settling on poetry, a lifelong love. “It’s finding the right thing that sings to your heart,” she says. With poetry, “we do it as a group, so there’s the benefits you get from interacting with others, but then there’s this really deep sense of creating something, whether it’s a poem or painting or something else. There’s such a fulfilling feeling that happens when you create something that wasn’t there before.”

A recent Dutch study examined the value of active engagement in the arts — choir, theater, band, dance, visual arts — on older adults. Results showed that participants felt deep connections to those doing the activity with them, and the authors wrote that “active art engagement increases older people’s emotional state. Having fun and laughing have a direct effect on the body and state of mind.”


Some ideas to help get you started on your own creative endeavor:

You don’t have to be invested in the outcome. I don’t think of myself as a poet; I don’t plan to publish my poems or show them to anyone (except Julia and Martha and occasionally my small world of social media friends). If I write a bad poem, it doesn’t bother me; if I write a good poem, I’m pleasantly surprised. It is a joy to write without any thought as to what will happen next. It’s creating for the pure pleasure of creating.

You can challenge your brain. The assignments we’ve given ourselves in our little poetry-writing group have included sestinas, villanelles and tankas (look them up; I had to). In another assignment, we made a list of things that can get broken (your phone, your heart, a teacup) and the ways things get fixed (a repairman, time, glue), then we wrote a poem mixing them all up. It was challenging to find brand-new metaphors and to think about other ways of looking at things. Whether you’re learning a piece of music, a genre of fiction or a dance step — all of it pushes you and your brain outside your comfort zone in the best possible way.

You can expand your creative world. Over the past two years, I’ve read dozens of poems out of curiosity or looking for inspiration. I’ve encountered poets and poems and poetic forms I’d never read before. The incredible power and beauty of the language has opened my mind to all kinds of ways of using words. Getting involved in any creative endeavor often leads to similar exploration.

You can get something done. I may not have started a novel, finished editing an essay or deep-cleaned the kitchen. But I did write a poem this week. And it feels good.




A lot of things are spilled here — coffee, soup, secrets.

A lot of things are wiped clean here — pawprints, crumbs, souls.

When you say “Let’s sit at the kitchen table”

I know you mean, let’s drink tea and talk and laugh

until the world rights itself again.


Sometimes I don’t believe in redemption, forgiveness, grace.

Sometimes my heart lurches like a lost drunk in an alley.

Sometimes my soul forgets who it is, what it loves,

like a bird lying stunned on the pavement.


I am telling you this because for a minute I forgot

that the holiest thing I did this year

was to sit at the kitchen table, with you.


— Kathleen McCleary


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