Philip Davenport and Julia Grime, editors

From 'Refuge from the Ravens: New Lyrical Ballads for the 21st Century'

Drawing by Keiron, Back on Track, Manchester.
Drawing by Keiron, Back on Track, Manchester.

With an afterword by Jeffrey Robinson

[Refuge from the Ravens: Wordsworth rewritten by homeless Britain is a project by Zwiebelfish CIC to rewrite the 1798 Lyrical Ballads, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Based in Manchester, UK, Zwiebelfish CIC is a new arts organization set up in 2021 to work in collaboration with marginalized people, especially people affected by homelessness. Their self-description reads: “Our projects communicate life experiences that are sometimes ignored, or hidden, like homelessness. The wide variety of artforms we offer helps people to access their own creativity and can help to explore and release difficult memories, or simply find enjoyment in making.”                                                                                                                


Now a forthcoming exhibition at Wordsworth Grasmere museum throughout autumn 2022 and published as a book by Zwiebelfish CIC in partnership with Oystercatcher Pressthe excerpts below are selected from the book’s generous offerings of poems, along with the preface by Philip Davenport and Julia Grime and the afterword by Jeffrey Robinson. That they open the demographics of poetry in a vital new direction is surely worth noting — a keystone for a new omnipoetics, still in the making. (J.R.)] 



Philip Davenport and Julia Grime


William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge walked uncounted miles, often at night. The people they met on the road were usually on the move. Nowadays, you’d maybe say “homeless.” Soldiers returning from war, wounded in body or mind, people struggling with their mental health, people who’d lost jobs or been evicted, others just too old to work or caught in money traps, the spiral of daily living. Many of them traumatized, all of them looking for a reason. And a voice.

200 years ago, in 1798, deeply concerned about social justice as much as shaking up the conventions of poetry, the two poets represented this voice as the Lyrical Ballads. Poetry took a radical turn, but we wondered what Wordsworth and Coleridge would think about the people in today’s Britain, as inequality becomes more extreme and poverty is on the rise. So, we asked vulnerable people, many of whom are currently homeless, to make the Lyrical Ballads anew.


We are Zwiebelfish, a community interest company bringing artists and vulnerable people together, exploring their creativity to make collaborative art. This project, Refuge from the Ravens, includes poems, songs, drawings, calligraphy — an exhibition and a CD as well as this book. A collection of people working together — writing, speaking, demanding their voice. Observations illuminated by beauty, but also by fear.


Time travelling, we all met with William, Dorothy and Coleridge in the archives of Wordsworth Grasmere, entering their lives and their world through their notebooks. We touched what they had touched, wrote with dip pens like they did, made oak gall ink like they did. And we met the people in their book — talked to them, told them all about us. We reached out from our moment, back to them and now we reach out to our own future, asking, “When will it ever change?”


These responses to the original Lyrical Ballads are not intended merely to be straight replies, but also a document of homelessness, showing its symptoms and causes. So today, Wordsworth’s vagabond woman suffering from PTSD becomes an ex-soldier with the same symptoms. Now, the Foster Mother becomes a tree offering much-needed shelter, while the Convict, no longer physically locked up, is still imprisoned by social expectation. Goody Blake still struggles to stay warm, even as she suffers the humiliation of a judgmental benefits system.


Together we walked into the light of things, meeting people from the past in the people of the present. And we turned the tables — these voices speaking to you directly in their own words, their very graininess adding to their intensity. Through extreme life experiences, they are both damaged and wise.


Open this book and you’ll meet your fellow humans here, the people you share this world with. Slow down to the pace of an old man bumping from lamppost to lamppost. Slow down even more to the doldrums of a military drum. Somewhere deep inside, we are all slow-worms. Listen — listen to your human neighbours — after all, it could be the story of yourself. And, when you read these poems, perhaps you’ll find, as Wordsworth did, that “we have all of us one human heart.”






[“A whirl-blast of broken glass”]


Ulcer in my leg won’t heal

It’s cold inside my bones
A mass of knotted joints I feel

It’s cold inside my bones


(I’ve got) Old bones and old brain

Peeling skin, rotting frame
I couldn’t do another year by the thorn.


I’m not as wicked as I was

It’s cold inside my bones

Staying in’s my only job

It’s cold inside my bones.


(I’ve got) Old bones and old brain

Peeling skin, rotting frame.

Keep away from certain types
It’s cold inside my bones

Cut to pieces by the Winter Whites

It’s cold inside my bones.

The thorn it pricks me through my skin

Its needle lets the winter enter in

And I am known to every star
And every wind blowing me apart.

A thorn there is which like a stone is o

With jagged lychens is overgrown

A thorny that wants is thorny points

A toothless thorn with knotted

joints. [?] is old & grey & wild

enter in



Anonymous LDHAS 

January 2022





Amongst the fields and woods, I see
A man standing still by a cherry tree
He shouts, “Excuse me, please can you see

The moon shine on

this sweet cherry tree?”


His clothes once military
Are raggy.
In desolation, simplicity
Leaning against a Christmas tree

There’s no joy when his gaze meets me.


Amongst the fields and woods, I see
A man moon-lit and eerie
Dancing on his face are shapes of leaves

This man, who has seen

the Disaster tree.


And in th 


“My trust is in the god of heaven

And in the eye of he who passes me.”


Is it my skewed sight
Or is this a man made of moonlight?

Face forlorn
Aura war-torn —
Wobbling on blistered feet
Another victim of history.


Amongst fields and woods, he’s

Camouflaged by a Cedar tree

Awaiting his troops to stand down

By this pretty tree

Or under the ground.


Moonlight projecting the tree that protects him

Casting silhouette, shadow of a being
Complicit in the life that supports him
Earthly and steadfast with age-old boots

Decaying roots grown within him.


Amongst fields and woods, I see

Tall and skinny, uniform like me

Couldn’t believe
Couldn’t believe

It’s the oak tree ghost of me.


Astrid, Jamie, Jonathan, Karl, Martin, Maxine, Richard, Tass

tom harrison house June 2022





It’s a fine line between genius and a mad man,

                        and yes the voices you carry in your
                        head are Angels but be careful she said.
They will lie to you.

My mum used to tell me
What makes us breaks us in three
What breaks us is how we are made
And the tattoo on my hand says
All coppers are fucking bastards in a world

Without end
Give me animal tranquillity.


It’s a fine line between Hitler and his war

Van Gogh and his ear
Both got the world to listen
The general and the genius, but whatever

Cutting off your ear ain’t clever.

What makes us breaks us
And when you’re broken
You finally comprehend what
The five dots on my hand say
All coppers are fucking bastards in a world

Without end

Give me animal tranquillity.


If it’s a demon you know it’s a fly

If it’s an angel it’s an ally                                                                minds






But be careful, they will lie.
Fences, gates, walls — jail them up
Can’t stop them talking to you but
They don’t get through and
In the end
When a bone breaks it mends and so does the mind

All coppers are fuckers in a world doing time
Give me animal tranquillity.


The voices you carry in your head are 

But be careful. They will lie to you, she said.                                                                                         


Anonymous LDHAS

December 2021



From an opening prose piece, “The Honourable Characteristic of Poetry”


You live temporary. But as soon as you go out that door, they change your locks. You have to squat it, stay put, try to get friends or family to bring you food. I knew a guy who used to hand his dog outside the window to a friend so it could go for walks. He couldn’t leave the building, or he’d never get back in. Wonder if he’s still barricaded in there now, passing his dog out of the window every day? …


Under cover of a sentence, repentance. I let go of my past, the friends I made out there decay in solitude in my mind. I have compartments I delve into sometimes, amongst ling cabinets in my head or whatever you call it. The Filofax converges into wilderness. A distant memory now, they’re a piece of thin material not even enough to make a shirt, a coin reminding me of the past depending which way the monarch is facing.


Delyth, Dominic, Jay, Keiron, Kris, Lucy, Roy back on track June 2022





When I came out the Queen’s Army

Someone boldly asked of me

What happened to my shining 

Medals three

Said: I sold ’em all

To feed my family

For want of a pretty, pretty penny.


Let us walk into the light of things

Medals don’t make the man

They’re just metal bling.


When you serve

Your life’s in other hands 

Camaraderie keeps you alive

Orders are how men die.

I did 12 years

Told when to eat, went to get dressed

And when I left


I crashed and disappeared

Into the light of things

Medals don’t make the man

They’re just blinding

So put them pretty pennies on your eyes

And you will see the soldiers every night.


Of a night time I go out and talk

To them —

People I knew from back then

When I was on the streets

They’re at ease talking to me


Let us walk into the light of things

Medals don’t make the man

They’re just metal bling.


I know where I’ve come from

And where I still belong

In the light of things

In the light of things

Medals don’t make the man

We win our own forgetting.


And homeless near 1000 homes I stood

And near 1000 tables starved, and wanted food

Where every eye was blind to me

For want of a pretty, pretty penny.


Danny Collins

Feb 2022





Keep a 24-hour open mind
I’m a time travelling alcoholic
Every day a speedboat, driven blind
I’ve got nothing but I’m not defeated inside

Ever haunted by the kindness of
Had the privilege of love’s goldmine
A daughter and three sons
Each mum a different one, any fault purely mine.


Got nothing, but I’ve had everything

Ever-haunted by the Supreme Being
As good a bloke as any of you
Can in my hand since ’72
Ektoplasmic meat rack crucifixion machine


I’m an Optimist Conservative with a clever mind

Ever haunted by the middle-class kind
They talk as much shit as
Me. Arses of baboons, fleas fucking fleas

Can’t give money to the peasants

They’d cheat and lie worse than we

Bring us to ruin, bring us to the sty.


Maybe I am bitter

When it’s bitter

I am bitter

when it’s bitter

you get a clear sky





Duddon Valley; there will I weep

Couldn’t ask for more of a miracle

To see —

last farm before Top Fell

That’s my grandpa’s

go through the gate

Make sure you close it, or the sheep will

End up in the living room, mate.
Top of that mountain
— most beautiful place you’ve ever been

Becoming visible, things previously unseen.

Stars will bring a new morning
Thousands of years this has been going


And we still don’t notice — what was and is

And you make a wish:
“Call my name to the 4 directions.”
On the summit, there will I weep in peace.

We’re not alone, don’t have any sparks or doubt
We don’t know what things are
Put them down to shooting stars
But the fountain of all power flows in the heart.
Put them down to shooting stars but the fountain of all

power flows in the heart

alone the heart

Once seen a comet
You should’ve seen it —
Blazing!                     alone the heart
Going like the clappers, going like fuck

You’ve got to put your heart in it to see a shooting star

And every now and then
When they go

they fuck off across
your whole field of vision 

— like the motion of human blood —

Up through Duddon, towards Torver
through the farm

Through the gate, through all that is and was

Sit there one night, listen and watch
You’ll be fucking mesmerised
Watch them fly across

Honest to God
Who is free-er, the drifter or the driver?


Simon LDHAS January 2022




Jeffrey Robinson


In 1798, Lyrical Ballads injected the voices and language of disenfranchised people deep into British poetry. Reading Refuge from the Ravens: New Lyrical Ballads for the 21st Century, I experience something comparable to the confusing pleasure (Wordsworth’s criterion for poetic success) that the original audience of Lyrical Ballads must have felt. I have encountered writers outside the thresholds of social privilege, and learned their realities and their visions, in what is often a kind of wisdom poetry.


These new poems, while anchored in the tradition of the original book, also break free of it, repurposing and at times wrecking the poems that appeared over two centuries ago, leaving the naked and sensitive voices of the twenty-first-century homeless to their fate.


Consider the update of “The Thorn.” Wordsworth’s thorn bush is a metaphor for Martha Ray, the tragic hero of the poem, who waits next to the grave of her dead child. In the twenty-first-century reworking, the metaphor literally penetrates the speaker and becomes the agent of substance abuse: “The thorn it pricks me through my skin / Its needle lets the winter enter in.” Wordsworth says that Martha Ray “is known to every star, / And every wind that blows.” The anonymous twenty-first-century poet brings these lines home: “And I am known to every star / And every wind that’s blowing me apart.” Wordsworth’s predictable rhyming trimeter blows apart into an unrhymed pentameter — a metrical representation of otherness as vulnerability, wounding, and chaos.


Phil Davenport links poems like this one, and the whole of Refuge from the Ravens, to an “alternate” Lyrical Ballads, not the Lyrical Ballads canonized as part of an establishment lineage of British poetry. Several of the Ravens poems are responses to poems ultimately left out of the 1798 publication — an anti-tradition, a shadow work, analogous to these voices left out of the visible members of society. In this version Dorothy, Christabel, the Discharged Soldier, Kubla Khan, and others have been let in as direct influences.


Insisting that country and city belong to the same people, that one person can struggle between them and can represent both together on a single page, the Ravens’ poems also disrupt the otherwise calm, visible world of unfairly distributed wealth. A person deeply wounded in the city — from broken bones, sleeplessness, shelterlessness, addiction, madness — brings these traumas into the orbit of cosmic otherness: sky, stars, trees, water, and the voices of angels; suddenly the world appears differently, unmoored, freed “in / An upside down sky.”


This alternate world falls with often uncomfortable juxtapositions appearing as hauntings, afloat between the nature imagery of the world of Lyrical Ballads and the urban world in which the twenty-first-century remixers have been living: “I see / A man moon-lit and eerie / Dancing on his face are shapes of leaves / This man who has seen the / Disaster tree.” “A whirl-blast of glass-breaking.” “Ever-haunted by the Supreme Being / As good bloke as any of you / A can in my hand since ’72 / Ektoplasmic meat rack crucifixion machine.”


Such disorienting and terrifying images force another anonymous poet, heroically, to find a hopeful way through: “What makes us breaks us in three / What breaks us is how we are made.” Reading New Lyrical Ballads, we walk into the freedom of making things anew.