Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

On Tuesday 18 July a special event took place in the upstairs room of a pub in Oxford.

© Nasir Hamid

A cappella singing, a lone rower in the Pacific Ocean, fungal spores, clairvoyance and a baby’s cries…what could possibly tie these things together? The surprising answer is breath and poetry.

It was standing room only in the Oxford Retreat pub for an evening exploring breathing and breathlessness through poetry and song. Entitled 'To breathe ourselves into some other lungs', the purpose of the evening was to provoke deeper thought and discussion around the lived experience of breathing. 

 The session started with a choral ensemble led by writer and music therapist Kate Binnie. 'Breaths', originally recorded by the a cappella group Sweet Honey on the Rocks, is based on a poem about ancestors by Senegalese poet Birago Diop.

Then award-winning travel writer Elsa Hammond drew everyone into her experiences of her solo rowing trip across the Pacific Ocean, describing how often she only had her breath to accompany her.

Poet Gregory Leadbetter read from his new book 'The Fetch', in which breath is a recurring motif. In ‘Dendrites and Axons’, a poem about his father’s death, he poignantly realises 'I will not breathe with you again when I leave'.

 Scientist turned poet Sarah Watkinson shared her experiences of living with asthma. ‘Rescue Medication’ was a humorous hymn to the tetrad of drugs that help to keep her asthma at bay.

The floor was opened up and audience members shared their choice of poems including ‘Oxygen’ by Mary Oliver, ‘Vanishing Lung Syndrome’ by Miroslav Holub and the lyrics to ‘Breathing’ by Kate Bush.

To finish the evening Kate Binnie played her moving soundscape 'First and Last Breath' which is a compilation of breath sounds recorded at various life stages from a baby to her own father’s final days.

The event was organised by Breathe Oxford, a research group led by Kyle Pattinson within the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. The group teamed up with Life of Breath, based at the Universities of Bristol and Durham. Listen Here to a recording of the evening! 

The inspiring and thought-provoking evening began a conversation about breathing and breathlessness that both Breathe Oxford and Life of Breath are keen to continue.

Similar stories

New Public Engagement Ambassadors 2023

We're delighted to introduce our new cohort of public engagement ambassadors for 2023.

The Symphony of the Brain - new video about brain waves

Scientists in our Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit have been working with Oxford Sparks to produce this engaging video about their research.

Jaideep Pandit honoured with RCoA Gold Medal

Congratulations are in order for Professor Jaideep Pandit, Professor of Anaesthesia and consultant anaesthetist, who has received the rarely awarded prestigious Gold Medal of the Royal College of Anaesthetists. Professor Pandit was a student and research fellow at DPAG and is now an Academic Visitor in the department; he is also a Fellow and Tutor in Medicine at St John's College.

Study reveals association between diagnosis of a neuropsychiatric condition and severe outcome from COVID-19 infection, and other severe acute respiratory infections

New research from the University of Oxford has shown an increased risk of severe illness and death from both COVID-19 and other severe respiratory infections, such as influenza and pneumonia, among people with a pre-existing mental health condition.

Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship

Dr Rezvan Farahibozorg has received one of 17 Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowships for 2022.