DEAR BODY OF WATER

GRETCHEN ERNSTER HENDERSON • UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA POETRY CENTER • WICK POETRY CENTER AT KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Dear Body of Water is a poetic water-harvesting project using both digital and mail-art participation to collectively address bodies of water as fellow beings on this Earth and to cultivate care for watersheds. Start your love letter to a body of water below!

READ THE MODEL POEM

DEAR BODY OF WATER,
          to write a love letter to you

is like catching waves. Your waters
          slip through my grasp. Even

in stillness, you move:
          evaporating into the atmosphere.
In this closed basin, with no
          outlets to seas, rain unsettles
sky. Lessening snow melts
          down rivers to your saline body.
Fewer birds flock to marshes
          and habitable shores and islands,
some fossilizing into fragments
          of feather and bone. Microbial
life swims finless, luminous and immune
          to the burning sun. Time is
not a river here, trapped as
          temperatures rise. As your
shores retreat, my sea inside
          melts into watering eyes.
The human body is mostly water.
          The planet is mostly water.
We are all bodies of water.
          Rivers and oceans,
aquifers and bays, streams and tides.
          Dear Great Salt Lake,
dear bodies of water,
          dear you and me: do we
miss perceiving our once-and-future
          interrelation? What happens if
we turn fear to care, lost and found,
          grieving into deeper loving?
Wake our hearts. In the palms
          of our hands, wash over
a few words to share,
          DEAR BODY OF WATER:

GRETCHEN E. HENDERSON


DEAR BODY OF WATER...

What body of water do you love? Locate and address this body of water as a fellow living being. Share qualities of this body of water observed through your five senses and interactions.


YOU LIVE, CHANGE, INTERRELATE...

Reflect on this body of water through interdependent lives. Who relies on this body of water? Who do you notice is present and absent?


LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF THE WATER...

Imagine how this body of water communicates. Listen: what questions do you have for water?


BODY OF WATER, PLEASE...

Share why you care about this body of water. What is your deepest hope for the future of water?

How to Participate

● CREATE A THREAD RESPONSE

Participate by sharing your own Thread response to the model poem. Follow the link below to start creating.

● UPLOAD A THREAD RESPONSE

Download the template below and print it out. Share your voice on the card by writing or creating artwork, then upload it to the gallery using the QR code on the card or the link below.

● VIEW THE GROWING MAP

Read responses from around the globe as they share about water. All postcards that are created digitally or mailed in will be featured on this growing map of water.

● MAIL IN A PHYSICAL POSTCARD

Create your own postcard to mail in. Download the DIY template below, or write on your own blank premade postcards.

● REQUEST A WATER PARTY KIT

Individual postcards and sets are available at the University of Arizona Poetry Center or by request for a water party kit. To request a Water Party Kit (6 postcards for 6 participants), please submit the form below. If you are an educator / “tributary” who can help expand the reach of participation and need more postcards to share, please indicate the number of postcards that you need. 

Postcards are also available for pick-up at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University.

● LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT

Visit the University of Arizona's webpage to learn more about the project.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Dear Body of Water is a poetic water-harvesting project through mail-art to collectively address bodies of water as fellow beings on this Earth to cultivate care for watersheds.

Dear Body of Water invites postcard-sized love letters to recognize beloved rivers, oceans, aquifers, creeks, ponds, and other bodies of water to join a collective poem. Water is treated as an economic resource yet is animate and animating. How does water melt into our histories, memories, dreams, griefs, hopes & presence? What bodies of water are overlooked or neglected? More than water rights, can we consider rights of water? The act of collectively addressing bodies of water as living beings (as in, Dear Body of Water) hopes to reframe water in the climate crisis (beyond floods or droughts, rising sea levels or retreating rivers) less by fear than by care: growing communal interrelations. Help us listen more closely to bodies of water and watersheds that replenish our lives—across the planet—to grow a global chorus. Wherever we are, the chance to hear personally about bodies of water might grow collective care and interrelate us more with our planet’s lifeblood: water.

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FOR EDUCATORS

If you are an educator and wish to involve your classes in Dear Body of Water, you can participate in many ways, adapting the exercise to fit your pedagogical goals. Individuals and groups can follow the virtual submission options, or you can request premade postcards to receive water party kits. (A water party kit includes 6 postcards; a two-fold field guide with discussion questions also can be printed back-to-back.) Alternatively, downloading the blank template to write love letters to a body of water, students can make their own postcards (adding photography, drawing, collage, mapping, or other art) while conversing about their relationship with water.

Additional activities can include researching local community resources to care for watersheds, learning about water-harvesting, getting involved in local conservation efforts, and more. All languages are welcome; all backgrounds and ages are welcome; all bodies of water are welcome. Thank you for cultivating care for the lifeblood of our planet. Please add your voices to the chorus of water!

ABOUT POETS FOR SCIENCE

Poets for Science started on Earth Day, April 22, 2017, when demonstrators around the world participated in a March for Science in a call to support and safeguard the scientific community, fact-based decision making, basic research, and freedom of speech for scientists.

Since 2017, Poets for Science has traveled as an interactive exhibit and makerspace to universities, museums, and conferences and collaborated with organizations and individuals to further explore the intersection of art and science and bring poetry to the most urgent and evolving needs of our climate crisis through expressive writing interventions, interactive exhibits, and digital platforms. Learn more about Poets for Science here.

BACKGROUND

The idea for Dear Body of Water grew out of drought in the American West from a depleting body of water called Great Salt Lake (the subject of Gretchen E. Henderson’s book, Life in the Tar Seeps: A Spiraling Ecology from a Dying Sea, and film “Toward a Bird’s Eye View”: the backdrop for this website). Great Salt Lake is entangled with watersheds throughout the West, including the Colorado River, whose reach extends into the biodiverse Sonoran Desert. In collaboration with Tyler Meier, Executive Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, they harvested photographs from Gretchen’s book and film to make postcards for the summer launch in downtown Tucson near the seasonally dry Santa Cruz River.

To connect more bodies of water, Tyler reached out to David Hassler from the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, which has been pioneering digital platforms and expressive writing tools and collaborated with poet Jane Hirshfield in 2017 to create a Poets for Science interactive exhibit. As a new Poets for Science collaboration, the Wick Poetry Center’s design and development collaborators Each + Every created the project website that went live in October 2023, in conjunction with the annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education and with an exhibition on “Ways of Knowing, Ways of Being” at the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography, where Gretchen was exhibiting her project.  

This is only the beginning of our poetic water-harvesting effort to grow a communal poem and global chorus on behalf of water. All bodies of water across the planet are welcome; all languages are welcome; all backgrounds and ages are welcome. Take a moment to express gratitude to a body of water in your midst or that has contributed to your life. We need your voice: what body of water do you love? Dear Body of Water will be open for submissions from 2023-2024. If you are interested in participating, please submit a virtual postcard online or use a material postcard. Thank you for being a part of this expanding project to interconnect bodies of water across the globe.

On behalf of water, 
Gretchen Ernster Henderson, Tyler Meier, & David Hassler

Note: We reserve the right to not include material that is harmful.

IN THE NEWS

Life in the Tar Seeps: A Spiraling Ecology from a Dying Sea with Gretchen E. Henderson

August 2023, University of Arizona

Life in the Tar Seeps: Renewable Land Ethics through Land Arts

September 2023, Harwood Museum of Arts

Ways of Knowing, Ways of Being

October 2023, University of Arizona

Water as Muse and Collaborator in Community-Based Arts Practice

October 2023, Planet Texas 2050

Writing with Water: Finding Form in a Thirsty World with Gretchen E. Henderson

October 2023, University of Arizona Poetry Center