The Language of Conservation

Flamingo poem
Photo by Rick Heinlein


Animals and nature have inspired poets for centuries. Now you can view animals along with poems about them at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Officially opening June 19, 2010, are installations throughout the park of excerpts from nearly 60 poems. They’re all about wildlife or nature. It’s all part of a new project called The Language of Conservation, presented in partnership by the Zoo and the Milwaukee Public Library. They were among five zoos and four libraries across the U.S. chosen to join this project that promotes poetry and nature.

The poems are displayed permanently throughout the Zoo in places where you might least expect to find them. Look for poetry sandblasted on rocks, projected with lights and displayed on the Peck Welcome Center boardwalk ceiling. Go here for a tour of all the poems and their locations. Pattiann Rogers, a published poet, essayist and college professor from Castle Rock, Colo., is serving as the Zoo’s honorary poet and curator for the project. The Zoological Society of Milwaukee is contributing the graphic design.

The poems range from Walt Whitman’s verses to international poetry translated from Spanish and Hebrew. Two Wisconsin-based poets are featured in the exhibit.  Near the African Waterhole, you can read “In Tanzania,” a poem by Marilyn Taylor of Milwaukee. She is Wisconsin’s poet laureate, and has served as the city’s poet laureate 2004-2006. Another selection, near the giraffe yard, is “Dancers” by Robin Chapman, a poet from Madison, Wis. Here are some other examples of poems that are displayed:

Amur tiger
Photo by Richard Brodzeller

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (England, 1844 –1889),
from “Inversnaid”


Those translucent blue-veined
bells, upside-down bowls,

parachutes that never finish falling,
without brain or bone, spine or heart,

yet moving like they had taught the ocean how...

 Alison Apotheker (USA,  b. 1964),
from  “Why I Said Jellyfish”

moon jellies
Photo by Richard Brodzeller


For more on poetry at the Zoo, please see the links below.

The Language of Conservation is an initiative of Poets House (a national literary center), in partnership with the Milwaukee County Zoo and Milwaukee Public Library. The program is funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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