guest edited by Steve Mentz
In June 2018, I spent a glorious week in Bristol as a Visiting Fellow, hosted by the University of Bristol and the Brigstow and Cabot Institutes. I talked and thought and swam with a thriving community of local writers and thinkers whose work engaged with cities, oceans, poetry, and the relationships between all those things. Among the many pleasures of that trip, Underwater Bristol floats at the center.
Inspired by the riches of Underwater New York and multiple communities of water-writers and water-artists in and around New York City, Underwater Bristol gathers together writers, teachers, and hydro-citizens of Bristol to think about what that city’s waters offer, what they conceal, and how they shape the lives of visitors and residents. This cluster of poems, prose-poems, and images represents the outpouring of that engagement. These works splash into the spontaneous overflow of Bristol’s waters, recollected in tranquility and crafted into words.
Like many #bluehumanities scholars, writers, and artists, I wrestle in my own work with the real and imaginary shorelines between City and Ocean. Bristol’s history as one of the United Kingdom’s major West Country industrial ports and gateways to the British Empire and the transatlantic slave trade faces into the World Ocean at a slightly different angle from my home waters in New York and Connecticut. The writing in this cluster opens paths into Bristol’s maritime and tidal spaces.
The writings flow into three intermingling currents: Sea History, Hydro-Citizenship, and Wet Living. These three gatherings emphasize different aspects of Bristol’s watery entanglements, from its long maritime history to the present states of City and Water to the squishy feel of moist ground underfoot.
We offer these works as responses to the lure of living with water, to its disorientations and dislocations, and to its pleasures and beauties.
First Flood: Sea History
We all know that the “sea is history,” but the historical ebb and surge of the oceanic past means different things in different locations. This flood of poems engages with a series of famous figures in Bristol’s history, from Daniel Defoe to Martin Frobisher to Samuel Plimsoll. These works combine dreams, unheard conversations, and the now-ubiquitous kayaks in Bristol Harbor, which made their debut appearance in the sixteenth century.
WHEN DANIEL DEFOE MET ALEXANDER SELKIRK
by STEVE MENTZ
MARTIN FROBISHER by LAURENCE PUBLICOVER
A DREAM OF SHIPS by DAVID PUNTER
SAFE DRAFT / BREACH OF ORDER by JACK THACKER
Second Flood: Hydro-Citizenship
Walking along Bristol’s streets, bridges, and culverts reminds new and old Bristolians that the city has wet feet. These poems engage the city’s waterscapes and tributaries, from paths along the water to the working lives dedicated to making order out of the encounter between City and Water.
5 NARROWAYS by RALPH PITE
TRIBUTARY: THE CHEW RIVER by MIMI THEBO
THE BATH-BRISTOL RAILWAY PATH (CROSSING THE AVON)
by SAMANTHA WALTON
WATER UNDER BRISTOL by REGINA HATHOUT
AVONSIDE by STEVE MENTZ
THE HARBOR-MASTER’S TALE by DAVID PUNTER
TIDES, HYDROCITIZENSHIPS, AND HIDDEN ECOLOGIES
by OWAIN JONES and ANTONY LYONS
Third Flood: Wet Living
To live in a Water City like Bristol means feeling things squish beneath your toes. At the turn of a streetcorner or glimpse of a bridge, water rushes into view. These poems explore Bristol locations by bringing wet places from picturesque background into moist and muddy foregrounds.
OF WHEELS AND WATER by TAMSIN BADCOE
AFT by HOLLY CORFIELD CARR
HOME IS A RIVER by MARIANNA DUDLEY
JELLYFISH by DAVID PUNTER
BRISTOL ACCOMPANIED by STEVE MENTZ