Water@UW-Madison symposium unites poetry and science

The Water@UW-Madison spring symposium has become an annual ritual, bringing together people investigating water from many different angles. This year’s event, held this morning at Gordon Dining and Event Center on campus, was no different, spanning perspectives both scientific (groundwater radium concentration) and artistic (site-specific “water dances” that celebrate our powerful emotional connection to water).

Sadaf Nasir reads her poetry at the Water@UW-Madison Spring Symposium on May 7. Next to her is Ian Karl, Experiential Program Coordinator at Northwest Passage (Photo: Bonnie Willison)

One presentation at today’s event had special resonance for Wisconsin Sea Grant, since it involved a project Sea Grant has been proud to support: the underwater photography project at Northwest Passage, which we’ve written about here.

One alumna of the program, Sadaf Nasir, closed out the half-day conference by reflecting on her experiences with water and expressing herself through photography and poetry.

A high-school senior headed to Marquette University in the fall, Nasir credits her transformative experiences with water with saving her life. As she told the crowd, she found a “satisfaction that was so complete” while spending time underwater, as well as a newfound sense of autonomy.

About 30 photos taken by Northwest Passage youth like Nasir have been collected into a traveling art exhibit called “Under the Surface: A Photographic Journey of Hope and Healing.” Libraries and other venues that are interested in displaying the photos can contact Anne Moser of the Wisconsin Water Library to borrow them.

It’s always good to stop and think about what water and natural places mean to each of us, how they can refresh and renew our spirits, and Nasir read some of her poetry for the attendees.

In her poem, “Home is Where the Heart Is,” Nasir includes an arresting image of her heart sinking to the bottom of a riverbed with a soft thump, connecting her to that place forever. (You can read the full poem at Agate magazine.)

I left the symposium thinking that Wisconsin is lucky to have so many dedicated people putting their hearts into water work, so to speak—and artists and poets to help us reflect.

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