In 2020, as we saw borders closing, our work forced into many of our homes, and distance brought between many of us and our friends, families, and communities, there was also opportunity to find ways to stay connected with other humans and non-humans. One way we at FIRE Lab, along with Asha Sahni, thought to do this was through co-created writing about rivers and our underwater environments to raise thoughts, ideas and imagination about these spaces and places to the surface.

Playing in the water: an exquisite corpse and found river and underwater poems is an article published in Cultural Geographies journal (open access), and captures the creative process and some of the words that emerged from Underwater Haiku Exquisite Corpse, which was co-created by 106 people in April 2020. This exquisite corpse was one of our responses and adaptations to creative co-creation during the pandemic as it related to rivers and underwater environments. The Underwater Haiku Exquisite Corpse was a playful approach to writing and enquiry about rivers and their underwater environments adapted from the Surrealist exquisite corpse concept.

In the article, we consider how our approach to exquisite corpse fostered playful co-creation and community via online platforms, including social media, email, and forums, and contributed to better understanding people’s experiences with and intuitive responses to river environments. We blend academic writing and found poems from Underwater Haiku Exquisite Corpse throughout the article, which is in response to calls for more creative and entangled ways to write about the world. We applied this technique, using lines of text by different Underwater Haiku Exquisite Corpse contributors and reordering lines into poems that illustrated how contributors intertwined notions of humans, rivers, and what lies below the surface.

For example, contributors to the Underwater Haiku Exquisite Corpse gave a view into the rich lexicon about fishes (e.g. gobies, blennies, eels, carp, minnows, trout), also reflecting the diversity of geographic locations and experiences from or about which they were writing. Imagery and imagination entangled nonhuman bodies, movements, and interactions above and below water.

pale mayfly rises invite a visit to peck 

trout gapes with rainbow surprise riffles  gobies flow mottleflash flicktail    

eels lurk  water is murky  below, tiny swarming life          

sudden trauma of feathers

Within this third found poem, we give emphasis to the volume and diverse life underwater that contributors linked to human identity and cultures. We invite readers to further attend to the diverse lexica of rivers so as to maintain, build, or restore continuity between spaces and nature that we might consider home (i.e. above water) and that we might frequently ignore (i.e. under water).

We hope that by sharing our experiences with the Underwater Haiku Exquisite Corpse, we encourage more playful approaches to geopoetics and collaborative research, to foster conversations across disciplines, as well as within and outside the academy. If you’d like to keep the river writing flowing and share an underwater haiku of your own (in the language you prefer), we’ve created an upload point on the project page, and we’ll post those as they come in.

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