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Image: Stuart Spray

the song of ryebank fields

This is a poem specially written in spring 2023 to support the Save Ryebank Fields campaign in Manchester. In a wider way, it's a call to rewild our cities and ourselves; reconnecting with the memory of soil in our bones. Please feel welcome to share the poem, whether the whole thing or words from it, but not to attack any individual or organisation - this is a poem to inspire.

The Song of Ryebank Fields

By Ali Davenport

 

It’s a small plot

in the scheme of things.

Unremarkable on old maps;

unnamed. Ordinary history;

field, claypit, recreational ground,

then left for nature to reclaim.

Ryebank Fields.

Shadowed by city towers;

new born, gleaming wealth.

Cranes pointing arms to sky,

proclaiming growth.

This is prosperity, they cry.

Raze that shabby scrub.

What counts is how things look.

Wildness tamed, nature contained 

in municipal squares.

What serves is how things seem.

Fake grass preferred.

Developers dipping plans in green;

washing them through

to rinse out the heart.

*

The city chokes

under brick; reaches, dazed;

tries to remember a time

when it breathed

before mill & factory,

before its forging

as an altar to industry;

its story of souls yoked in smoke.

The memory of soil jolts its bones.

*

It starts here. This scruffy grass.

Lay down your hands.

Listen

to the Aspen Grove;

one tree, all clones. Baby to Pando

but see its shape, a shield

like its name in Greek.

It has diamonds on its bark.

Look, The Fairy Tree!

Magical hawthorn,

rooted in folklore;

spinning a glittery yarn or three.

Can you see the glimmering?

The flickering in the brambles?

Those tangles hide gems;

small birds

seeking treasure in the brush,

a bounty of insects in the mud,

unfurling worms

in this flood-absorbing ground.

Old willow’s mossy limbs

divine the gift.

You too can mine this land;

tap the acorn trove

& tell a tale of potential.

These fields hold so much.

Give to their embrace. Look up,

where crows cross wide

above the Nico Ditch.

There’s history in this place.

This earth.

Breathe

this blessing of being

away from rooves.

Remember how it was.

*

It starts here.

Each patch in the city round

from north to south: verges left,

lawns mown less, weeds

welcomed in the beds.

It’s not the look that counts,

it’s the wilder-ness

& the tending,

oh, the tending,

not with manufactured love

but the care of re-connected hands

feeling their way

through leaf & stem

through root

unearthing ancient hymns

awakening the quickening

the rush

through every road & street

a honey kiss

from north to south

the city round

lit up

with hum

the shimmering hive

the Manchester Bee reborn

in new abundance

& where Manchester leads,

the Chorus re-sounds

*

& when we’re done

- & that time will come -

when nature reclaims the land,

cracks the city's concrete

into crumbs,

when we’re long gone,

what song will Ryebank Fields sing?

It was a small plot

in the scheme of things

but worth a city,

worth the world,

these fields of gold

that shone

               & shone

                           & shone

the poem in different formats

The poem on this webpage is deliberately narrow so that it looks better on your mobile phone. The Word version is how it's supposed to look. You can also download a pdf.

This audio is part of a radio interview with Ruth O'Reilly from ALL FM where the poem had its premiere on 5th March 2023. The clip is 8.30 minutes with the poem from 2.26 to 6.18.

The Song of Ryebank Fields Ali Davenport
00:00 / 08:36

Facebook Live of the poem was filmed at June's Fridays For The Future protest at St Peter's Square, Manchester City Centre in 2023.

Here's a video of the Lantern Parade on the fields in 2023, organised by Mez from MAD Sustainable Design for Chorlton Arts Festival.

In March 2024, the poem was published in Cultureword's digital anthology, 'How Green is our City?' sharing new ideas and enthusiasm for greening our futures. 

If you use the whole poem or large chunks of it, I'd appreciate an acknowledgement.

No need if it's just a few words or a couple of lines.

support nature in the city

If you would like to support the campaign, whether that's by writing a letter, talking about it, or creating your own artwork or poetry, here are some things to think about: 

  • The activism at Ryebank Fields comes from the heart of the community; from love for that small plot of land. This is exactly what the city's Biodiversity Strategy calls for.

  • People talk about the city's housing crisis. What about the bigger housing crisis we're all in, along with the wonderful multi-forms of life on this planet?

  • There's lots of great growing and gardening activity in Manchester but there can be so much more. There needs to be a shift - not just in the city but across this land. Manchester can lead the re-wilding way. It's within our gift. 

You're invited to draw inspiration from 'The Song of Ryebank Fields', using its words, but please keep it positive. This is a call to the city to light the way. 

If you do create anything, please feel welcome to share it with me through my Contact page. You can also post on Facebook in Friends of Ryebank Fields and Chorlton Craftivists. Find me on Twitter at Ali Davenport @soulsurvivalali.

find out more

If you want to find out more, see the Save Ryebank Fields website.

 

It's worth taking a look at the Biodiversity Strategy 2022-2030 - The City of Manchester's Nature Recovery. If you're thinking of writing a letter, this gives you an idea of who the partners are in the strategy. Let's encourage them to make the words real! 

2023

Premiered on ALL FM with Ruth O'Reilly, Sunday 5th March / 

ALL FM with Sile Martin, Thursday 16th March / Ryebank Fields, Saturday 18th March /

Word Central, Central Library, Tuesday 21st March /

Friends of Os Pocket Park, Chorlton, Saturday 15th April / 

Fell Foot Woods, Lake Windermere, Saturday 27th May / 

Ryebank Fields, Bee Together, Chorlton Arts Festival, Saturday 20th May /

Ryebank Fields, Lantern Walk, Chorlton Arts Festival, Sunday 28th May /

Celebrate Festival, Whalley Range, Saturday 10th June /

Fridays for the Future, St Peter's Square, City Centre, Friday 16th June /

Didsbury Arts Festival Opening Event, Saturday 24th June /

My Poet's Boots, Didsbury Arts Festival, Wednesday 28th June /

Rhyme Time, The Carlton Club, Whalley Range, Sunday 9th July / 

Ryebank Fields Fundraiser, The Carlton Club, Thursday 24th August / 

Wirral Earth Fest, Saturday 16th September / 

The Cloud & Bridestones, Congleton, Wednesday 17th September

2024

World Poetry Day event, Manchester, Thursday 21st March /

How Green is our City? Cultureword digital anthology, March /

Ryebank Fields, Saturday 13th April /

Wild exhibition launch, Manchester Museum, Wednesday 5th June /

ryebank fields - inspiring creativity

 

The Chorlton Craftivists 

 

The wonderful heart photograph is by Environmental Filmaker & Journalist Stuart Spray - Twitter @StuartSpray

Me in fields.jpg

& the tending,

oh, the tending,

not with manufactured love

but the care of re-connected hands

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