Small Bodies of Water, by Nina Mingya Powles

Sophie Putze

“Where is the place your body is anchored? Which body of water is yours?” It is this central theme of identity and belonging that is broadly considered in Nina Mingya Powles’ latest collection of essays.

From the moment I first read Nina’s words amidst a starry, constellation adorned folder*, I have been enamoured with her work. The ways she wrote of colour, Katherine Mansfield, ballerinas lost to the natural archives of time. Her work is enchanting and mesmerising.

To read Nina’s work is like diving into a bath. The familiarity and the comfort encase you in what is quite simply one of the most relaxing reading experiences you will ever have.

It is no exaggeration to say that I was incredibly excited to read Small Bodies of Water. When it arrived, I turned it over and admired the vibrant cover artwork by Gill Heeley. The oh-so-familiar buttery yellow of our native New Zealand Kowhai flower in full splendour.

“Fallen petals scatter in the grass next to the lemon tree, where lemons tremble and drop, creating a carpet in varying shades of yellow and gold.” Gold, blue, vibrant green, lilac, pink cherry blossom. Colour is everywhere in these two hundred and fifty pages. It is in the yellow kowhai flower, pressed between Nina’s copy of one of her treasured books, rediscovered during a reread. It is in the vibrant pink of the cherry blossoms found in Shanghai gardens. While nature is everywhere, so too is a fantastical array of natural hues, all of which Nina carefully documents.

These essays cover a lot of ground, both literally and metaphorically. Nina takes us with her as she plunges into the hidden depths of the Hampstead Heath Ladies Pond. We are with her as she and her cousin experience an earthquake in Wellington. As she studies language in Shanghai. Nina has spent her life in a variety of cities and it is these threads of identity and language that are most prevalent in her work. 

Reading Small Bodies of Water was invigorating and calming, much like I’d imagine wild swimming to be. Sadly I am yet to partake in that myself but this Summer may be the time for it. To read words that are so intricately woven and visual, exploring every facet of identity and exploration is such a blessing. For me personally, reading this at a particularly tedious point of lockdown, rounding out each of my days with two essays was the best way to quench my literary thirst. The pages of my copy are peppered with blue, translucent post-it notes, like waves in a body of water. A body of water I intend to plunge into again and again. 

*Luminescent, published by Seraph Press: https://www.seraphpress.co.nz/luminescent.html  

Small Bodies of Water is available now (affiliate link)


Sophie is an aspiring essayist from Auckland, New Zealand. When she isn’t writing, she can be found reading multiple books at once or re-watching Fleabag for the umpteenth time. She also writes the blog, States Of Sophie.