Poems from a retirement village: Helen Jacobs

Book beside a full bath: "A Habit of Writing" by Helen Jacobs.

Today I read this book in the bath with coffee and calm. A Habit of Writing by Helen Jacobs, 91.

Saturday morning bath is a time to listen, dream or read in morning sunshine. Today I was reading with pleasure Helen Jacobs’ seventh collection of poems, A Habit of Writing (Cuba Press).

Helen Jacobs is a veteran poet in two ways. First, she’s been publishing since 1984, so she does have a habit of writing. Projecting, I imagine that by now she can’t help writing, it’s in her bones and daily life.

Second, Helen is a veteran human: she is 91 and writing her poems from a retirement village in Christchurch. Given my fascination with the aging process, I’m naturally enthralled by poems that reflect life from her point of view.

The first two poems complete each other. She had me on page one, with the poem “Dance”. This one went boom! ting! and whoosh! with me, an avid amateur dancer in my 80s. In ten simple  lines the poet has crammed joyous memories of moving freely and the poignancy of being relegated to observer status. (But what an acute observer!)

Photo of a cup of pens on a poetry book.

Dance, one of Helen Jacobs’ poems from a retirement village. Scroll or waltz down for the text.

“Dance” is sobering, but the next poem is “Flying”— and away she soars on a journey of the mind. Prompted by a word. Words are very good things. Writing liberates the writer, reading liberates the reader, reading and writing can give your walker wings. That’s why these poems from a retirement village pack a punch.

I totally recommend this book.

Two poems by Helen Jacobs


My eyes say, ‘Dance to the world,
the world where the cranes dip and bow,
the world where the diggers drum
and the sun plays timpani to the cloud.’
And ever the hills call, ‘Run,
come to the tops,’
and ever the wind cries,
‘Ride my trapeze,’
and ever the rivers beckon with their flow,
and ever I sit in the stalls.

(c) Helen Jacobs


I am being ordinary
and flying on a word
as the mist of the morning
I am being ordinary
in a community
where all are old and ordinary
and I am flying on a word
to meet the sun.

(c) Helen Jacobs


5 thoughts on “Poems from a retirement village: Helen Jacobs

  1. Nyla Carroll says:

    Fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing this.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So glad you enjoyed the poems.

  2. Robyn Haynes says:

    I love Helen’s poems Rachel. Thanks for introducing me to her habit of writing. While she may sit in the stalls, her imagination takes flight with her words.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Her poems are encouraging to me and again show that the inner life in old age is paramount.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Lovely combination of longing and satisfaction both present around dancing.