COVID poetics
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COVID poetics

18 — Hope is drawn in lines

Warm Data reflections #5

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

“This is a fairy tale” begins Ursula LeGuin’s beautiful short story, ‘Unlocking the Air’, “People stand in the lightly falling snow. Something is shining, trembling, making a silvery sound. Voices sing. People laugh and weep, clasp each one another’s hands, embrace”. It is set in a troubled land and is about the ways that people act together from love and solidarity and courage to bring political change in a world of trouble and a history of oppression and cruelty.

We live in difficult times. We face big trouble and flail around for solutions. Activism. Polarisation. Information. New visions and big plans. But we can’t always get there via a ‘direct corrective’ (as Nora Bateson tells us). The stories, scripts, habits and ways of seeing hold a myriad of actions — some small and accumulative; some networked and unpredictable; some mythical, symbolic and archetypal.

Hope is always drawn in lines, these days — but the lines cannot be drawn; we cannot plan our way from A — B. As one of LeGuin’s characters says as the student rebels in her story debate tactics: “When the dam breaks? You have to shoot the rapids! All at once!”

We cannot always choose our direction. We cannot always know what activism really means, nor be sure which actions will unlock change. The Warm Data is in the unknown and unexpected — and in the love and in the endless meetings between the people and the land and the story and the information and the moment.

“This is a love story”, writes LeGuin, and, as the crowds meet day-after-day outside the Palace to quietly turn their troubled land towards hope: “This is the truth. They stood on the stones in the lightly falling snow and listened to the silvery trembled sounds of thousands of keys, being shaken, unlocking the air, once upon a time”.

hope is drawn in lines

hope is drawn in lines


as if there were some predictable way we could use

the forces of nature to take us

precisely to the place we want to be

as if to believe that there is a way we could

engineer our lives, like a tractor is built –

piece by piece –

rumbling off the production line, rolling down the lanes,

ploughing up the soil in lines

behind our shed is a yard where tractors go to

rust over and die and they are buried beneath layers

of bramble and hedge and seedlings that weave through doors

and wheels — in and out the rusty windows —

through the arches seizing up workings

that no longer work, have not worked for years,

and this says something about ageing and dying and relying

on engines and measures and lines that run

from here to there while the true direction is unknown

until the storm winds hurl against the shore or

when the dam breaks and you have to shoot the rapids. All at once.

There is no line, no circle, no intention, no determination,

just the following of smoke or the instinctual negotation of

the perilous flows that threaten to tip you into raging waters –

the point is that you can become the change

and you can learn the change, but until you’re in the change,

you will not know if your edge is going to hold.

You might ride the wave

or find yourself lost in the deep home of a forest

or rust and die in a yard somewhere.

This is a love story. Life is mycelial — the way trees make love

and fruiting bodies are born and

a shadowed memory from a moment long ago

is found and lost in another moment, as the impulse is gone

fast travelling through the forest and the stream

at impossible speeds in waves and rushes of impression

and facilitated diffusion

that are experienced in humans as exhilaration

and love and improbable impossible connections

and so we learn hope is never drawn, but surges forth.

*The quotes above (including the two italicised lines in the poem) come from the story, ‘Unlocking the Air’, which is collected in ‘The Unreal & The Real, Selected Stories Volume 1: Where on Earth’ by Ursula K LeGuin.




We will not return to normal. Or we may come to redefine it…

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Steve Thorp

Steve Thorp

Integral counsellor & poet. Soul maker. Warm Data host. Edits Unpsychology Magazine & COVID Poetics on Medium.

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