Many ways to speak about these things

What remains in my mind is one short conversation. 

I’m writing in the evening after this workshop at Manna House, on a day that was packed with many complex encounters. But the exchange that keeps replaying in my head was with someone who took me to one side towards the end, as our little poetry group was packing up.

Here’s the conversation, pretty much word for word. It keeps looping around my head.

“So Wordsworth and Coleridge— you said they met a lot of homeless people?”

“That’s right.”

“When they were writing this book, Lyrical Ballads?”

“Yes, William and Dorothy especially met up with lots of people on the road. Those conversations became the poems.”

“And you said we could write about being homeless too?”

“You’d be welcome.”

It happened to me, y’know. I was homeless, don’t really talk about it. Had a very big effect, still does. On who I am.” 

There’s a pause here.

“I want to write about it. It’s why I’m here.”

And I felt that the people who inhabit this book that we are re-making were in the room too. Just for a moment, there were the people of right now, the people in this busy canteen, but beyond them stretched a long line of folk who’ve remained forever unheeded — the ghosts of the ghosts of Lyrical Ballads, maybe. 

“Next week,” I said. “We’ll do just that. But I want to tread a bit carefully.”

There are many ways to speak about these things.

After that, the day became a busy blur once more and the loud voices and the chatter of the kitchen and the bustle and the bright laughter took over. I packed the bags up and set off homeward, thankful I have one. 

By Philip Davenport. Manna House, February 2022

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.