Poets House Launches New Poetry Project At Five Major Zoos Across America

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Lions, Tigers, Bears and Haiku Come Together to Raise Awareness of Environmental Issues

Poets House is delighted to bring the transformative power of poetry to environmental conservation - one of the most pressing concerns of our day.” said Lee Briccetti, Poets House Executive Director.

Poets House, the national literary center and poetry library headquartered in New York City, today announced the nationwide opening of the Language of Conservation, a new poetry project designed to deepen public awareness of environmental issues. With the support of a $1 million National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Poets House has partnered with five zoos to create approximately 200 unique poetry installations in New Orleans, Milwaukee, Little Rock, Jacksonville, and Chicago. The selected zoos have seamlessly woven poems into the habitats of animals such as polar bears, snakes and flamingos to inspire millions of zoo visitors to become better stewards of the environment. In the words of William Wordsworth, "What we have loved, Others will love, and we will teach them how."

Celebrated poets selected to serve as poets-in-residence have combed through centuries of poems --- from the ancient Kenyan proverbs, Mohawk blessings and haikus of Basho to the more modern works of Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Galway Kinnell and even J.R.R. Tolkien -- to find the right verse. Each poet-in-residence collaborated with wildlife biologists and exhibit designers to curate the zoo installations.

The Language of Conservation begins on April 17 at the Little Rock Zoo; the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens installation opens on May 14; the installation at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans opens on May 15; the Brookfield Zoo installation opens on May 22; and the installation at Milwaukee County Zoo opens on June 19.

The Poets-in-Residence are Sandra Alcosser (Brookfield, outside of Chicago), Joseph Bruchac (Little Rock), Alison Hawthorne Deming (Jacksonville, FL), Mark Doty (New Orleans), and Pattiann Rogers (Milwaukee). Under the guidance of Poets House, public libraries are providing literary resources and programs to enhance the installations and expand the knowledge, urgency, and spirit of conservation.

This partnership between poetry and science began as a successful program developed by Poets House and the Wildlife Conservation Society that incorporated poetry into wildlife exhibits at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Through the Central Park Zoo project, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers discovered that the use of poetry installations made zoo visitors dramatically more aware of the impact humans have on ecosystems.

The Language of Conservation leadership team includes Poets House Executive Director Lee Briccetti and the original Central Park Zoo partners: Dr. John Fraser, conservation psychologist and New York Director of the Institute for Learning Innovation, Dr. Dan Wharton, Executive Editor of Zoo Biology and Senior Vice-President of Animal Programs for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, and Sandra Alcosser, the new Poet-in-Residence at the Brookfield Zoo and the advisor for the Poets-in-Residence in the other host cities.

"Poetry is a universal language - and many of the world's best poets have written movingly about the beauty of the natural world," said Lee Briccetti, Poets House Executive Director. "Visitors to the zoo will have the opportunity to discover these incredible poems as they experience the wonder of the bears, reptiles and birds. Poets House is delighted to bring the transformative power of poetry to environmental conservation - one of the most pressing concerns of our day."

Alcosser has been the Poet-in-Residence for Glacier and Yosemite National Parks, Montana's first Poet Laureate, and the Poet-in-Residence of Poets House's Central Park Zoo project. She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Except by Nature, selected for the National Poetry Series and the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin Award.

"Poetry calls into question what it means to be human; it expands the imagination of a culture and suggests ways to become more humane and deeply engaged with the world," said Sandra Alcosser, Poet-in-Residence at Brookfield Zoo. "To be working on a project that uses poetry to aid in cultivating the spirit of conservation among the public is incredibly meaningful for me and my fellow poets."

Zoos and aquariums represent some of the most popular cultural institutions in cities across the United States, attracting more than 150 million visitors each year. During recent decades they have become one of the most important forces in environmental education, conservation of biodiversity, animal welfare, and global sustainability.

In addition to the Language of Conservation installations across the country, Poets House has launched a new series of events in New York City to examine poetry and the environment at its new eco-friendly home in Lower Manhattan. The series, called Ecopoetic Futures, features former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass; bestselling author (A Natural History of the Senses) Diane Ackerman; writing workshops; public seminars; programs for children and more.

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Jocelyn Aframe