Thursday, July 07, 2022

Seven notes on Hope

A few weeks ago, I was invited to contribute to the Hope Project by the University of York. This is a series of conversations with writers and scholars, those looking for a way forward despite all the bad news. In the midst of intense climate change, illness, a pandemic, cultural and physical destruction in various parts of the world, how do we hold onto hope? 

I responded with a long prose-poem, taking off from the famous Emily Dickinson poem where hope is compared to a bird. As a starting note, I wondered what kind of bird this might be. Surely, not a fragile thing for it must withstand hard times. This turned into a reflection that become the first note on hope (shared below). Then I began to draw images and ideas from two major books: Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope: Ethics in the face of cultural devastation (2006) and Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark: Untold histories, Wild Possibilities (2016). I have also sought refuge from despair in the works of several Urdu poets, including the work of my own grandfather, Ali Jawad Zaidi. All of these ideas add up to seven 'notes' or one long prose poem. 

The first part of this text is below and the full version is linked to, and can be read on the York website. I also share a link below to the talk with Claire Chambers where I discuss the work and its images and my attempt to engage with hope. 


If it is a thing with feathers calling through chill lands, perhaps it has a curved beak and talons

It cannot be a snowflake. A bird of prey, surely. Sharp-eyed hawk looking far into the distance, swooping when the moment is right, swallowing little mice

A scavenging thing perhaps, living off that which cannot weather the sore storm. On land, it seeks small mammals. On strange seas, fish. A feathered thing that can poach from bears and mountain lions. Strong, STRONG. Fierce in the knowledge that every desert has snakes and lizards, every lake has toads. Every posh enclave has a garden where lunching ladies eat ham and cucumber sandwiches. The magpie ability to grab, to sneak into alien nests to conserve her future. A crow is also a bird after all.
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