We here at FIRE lab held our first ‘What is Water’ event on 26 April at Copper Bar in Swansea. We created this event in part to start conversations about water, and to engage with different relationships that people in Swansea and surrounding communities have with water. Engaging with diverse relationships related to water, particularly fresh water, is a major focus of our work in FIRE Lab. This first event was made possible by funding from Swansea University’s College of Science—International Visitor Scheme, which also supported Dr. Emily O’Gorman’s  visit and presentations on water cultures.

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Dr. Emily O’Gorman presenting her research reflections on water cultures in Australia (Credit: Geraint Rhys).

Our focus for this event was on poetry and stories, drawing on a strong legacy and history of poetry and spoken word in Swansea. Over the last few months, Tara and Steph attended local poetry open mic nights and asked different poets to explore their own reflections on the question of ‘What is Water?’ We also widely advertised the event to the public through posters around Swansea and other local communities we walked through on our Tawe River walks in March, as well as through social media.

We also drew on the question, ‘What is Water?’, from Linton (2010). Linton (2010) asks readers to consider the environmental, social, cultural, and political contexts of water issues, asserting, “Water is what we make of it.” For our event, we encouraged people to bring and share their own reflections about water—through poems, songs, stories, and artwork. Our goal was to consider the ways that water has shaped us, and we in turn, shape water. As Linton states, “Water is what we make of it… [and] the opposite is equally true: Indeed, we are what water makes of us” (Linton 2017).

We began the event with an open-mic session where participants could reflect on their own relationships with water through poetry, prose, or song. Iqbal Malik, poet in residence at the Dylan Thomas Birthplace, kicked off the event, by exploring his own sense of belonging in Swansea, asserting “borne by bearings and charts/ I navigate the nocturnal night/ A black space of stars knitted to the sea.” Next, we heard from Giles Turnbull, MA Creative Writing student at Swansea. Giles read a haiku and a longer poem called ‘Pooh Sticks’ about three of the rivers he has lived beside and been shaped by. He spoke: “Panini by the Thames/ broke the hours/and the morning and evening tides/ of London lives at the edge of evening/ but with little time to dive in.” Local poets, Ray and Karen presented their poems and reflections next. Karen weaved a story about the work of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author who claims that human speech or thoughts can have an effect on the molecular structure of water. Ray read three beautiful poems, with one exploring the water inside all of us as humans.

Swansea based poets, Iqbal Malik and Giles Turnbull reflecting on their own relationships with water (Credit: Alex Skinner).

Emily O’Gorman gave three readings, drawn from her research with Indigenous communities in Australia. Her first piece, “Belonging” is published open-access in the Living Lexicon in Environmental Humanities (accessible here). In this piece, Emily unpacks this often-problematic idea of ‘belonging’ arguing, “belonging is never simply a question of biology or culture in isolation, but a terrain of contested biocultural meanings…” (285). Emily followed this thought- provoking reflective piece, with two others: a short except from her co-authored ‘Shadow Waters’ paper (accessible here) and a short piece on “Thinking with Brine Shrimp at the End of the River.”

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A scribble by Rosie Scribblah at the What is Water event (Credit: Rosie Scribblah).  

Attendees noted that the event was exciting in that it mixed academic research stories from Emily, alongside poems and short reflections from participants. Check out Rose Davies’/ Rosie Scribblah’s  blog post about the event here. Some participants were inspired while listening to the open mic to share their own spontaneous reflections on water. We also had an array of creative performances from the Department of Biosciences, including Andreas Norlin’s beautiful reflections, “Water may be fleeting/ Water may be cold/ Soothing it is heating/ Defying it is bold.” Special mention goes to poet/musician ‘Dai Bongos’ who entertained the ‘What is Water’ event with his Welsh bossa nova sounds and his hilarious ‘It’s always bloody Swansea’ prose. Check out Dai Bongos’ post about the event here.

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Dai Bongos performing his piece, ‘It’s always bloody Swansea’ (Credit: Emily O’Gorman).

Thank you for a wonderful night. We hope to see you at the next ‘What is Water’ themed event later this year. Keep watching @FireLabTweets and our FIRE lab blog for more information.


Linton, J. (2017). Social Water. Retrieved from http://voices.uni-koeln.de/2017-3/lintonsocialwater.

Linton, J. (2010). What Is Water? The History of a Modern Abstraction. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Mclean, J., Lonsdale, A., Hammersley, L., Ogorman, E., & Miller, F. (2018). Shadow waters: Making Australian water cultures visible. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,43(4), 615-629. doi:10.1111/tran.12248

O’Gorman, E. (2014). Belonging. Living Lexicon for the Environmental Humanities,5, 283-286. Retrieved from https://read.dukeupress.edu/environmental-humanities/article/5/1/283/8182/Belonging.

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