Majesty: oak tree ghost

Tom Harrison House - Jonathan & Karl. Photo: Julia Grime

By Julia Grime

Our first workshop with Tom Harrison House in Liverpool – a glorious sunny day in the shadow of the Anfield football ground. In a bright room with a floor as blue as the sky outside, a group of people overcoming seemingly insurmountable life experiences – substance addiction, PTSD, heartbreak, loss, several of them veterans of the British Army. We’ve come together to consider Wordsworth’s poem, The Discharged Soldier.

But first, think of a tree, what it means to you, its associations, the symbolism you can identify with, find a connection and write some words, prose, a poem, whatever flows. A forest emerges as people write. How will it thrive, what does it need to grow?

Cedar, offering healing protection – Silver Birch, new beginnings – a Cherry tree, regeneration. And… a Christmas tree, the pain of childhood incomprehension of alcoholic parents only understood with later adult hindsight. The words grow into poems, perhaps songs – “the pips are profound”. “Evergreen is believing in my nature, who I was before, before the broken love…”. “Silver skin… peeling away like a third-degree burn”, and simply, “I, tree”.

Strip it back further, challenging the lines, making the words work, going deeper to reflect something more. The trees slip into the background as the cycles of life and human experience surge to the fore – connecting everyone in common ground, a place where we can all grow, believing in each other. A connection so often ignored or taken for granted like the trees of the forest linking to each other through the ground that roots and nourishes them. “We breathe in what they breathe out and they breathe in what we breathe out” – a circle of interdependence, mutual support.

Eight people, eight nascent poems. Working together, the generosity, openess and lively interchange bouncing around the group, bringing those eight separate worlds together to conjure a whole forest…

Later at the Liverpool Tate, I see Tacita Dean’s ‘Majesty’ – a huge monochrome photograph mounted on a gallery wall, the print done the old way with paper, light and human touch. An ancient oak tree so mighty it’s acquired a name, a place in human folklore, reaching beyond the mere confines of the room, colour and foliage stripped away, strong and clear, sure of itself. I think back to this morning’s indomitable forest and the parallel strength of those trees – the ash “growing through adversity”, the silver birch, “cut me down and I return”.

“Foal-ee-age.” Martin’s draft poem notes

By Julia Grime. Tom Harrison House, June 2022

Photos. Julia Grime

Refuge from the Ravens is supported by the Heritage Fund. In 1798, Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge sparked a literary revolution — poems in everyday language, telling of people on the margins of society. 200 years later, homelessness and social inequality are still with us and even on the rise. This project invited people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people to meet Wordsworth across time, replying in poetry, art and song in a Lyrical Ballads for the 21st Century. 

Tom Harrison House helps people (often those who’ve been in the Armed Services) recover from substance abuse.