Unexpected: joy

Workshop at Wordsworth Grasmere - Amy and Dom. Photo: Julia Grime

Making the new Lyrical Ballads is a long, painstaking process, punctuated with both light and dark moments. The journey into memory that’s sometimes difficult and beyond the comfort zones of confidence and knowledge have been challenging, but also rewarding. It’s been a moving experience to see and these poems emerge. Here Christine Johnson, who is our trainee songwriter/artist on the project, gathers some responses from the group at Back on Track.

Getting a balance between creating a space for people to feel comfortable in a group, developing and expressing existing talents and challenging them to venture into new territory to perhaps discover unexpected joys and new found talents is exciting, messy, a bit hit and miss but an exhilarating ride. On occasion, someone may be struggling with their mental health and prefer to do the exercises quietly, at other times reading their poetry out to the group; always there is an appreciative response.

Chatting with some of the participants, G told me, “This project has given me a chance to be creative in a space where that creativity is valued. Writing is my strength but I haven’t done group poems before. I’ve found some interesting ideas on the project. I’m not naturally group inclined but it’s been good to stretch myself.”

D said: “When you’ve got self esteem issues you don’t think it’s in you but when you hear the poems transformed into songs you think, ‘I contributed to that’ and it gives you a really nice feeling. Being able to craft a sentence – once you do it it’s a big thing. To couple the poetry with my guitar playing — I feel quite optimistic.”

I asked E if she could relate to any of the poems from Lyrical Ballads? “I only knew the really famous Wordsworth poems before. I hadn’t heard the ones that are much darker. Specifically the one about the old woman collecting firewood still translates to now. I’ve liked doing the group poems – interesting the way our different styles fit together. I’ve never done poems as songs before — I can’t really sing but I like that I’ve done it.”

Everyone has responded to the Lyrical Ballads by pulling something from within the depths of themselves. I have been impressed by the willingness and courage of people to take on new challenges and frequently blown away by the quality of insights, poetry, artwork and musicality. Weaving this all together is creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

By Christine Johnson. Back on Track, June 2022

Images. Back on Track participants

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.