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Monday, June 14, 2010

A Poetry Menagerie at Milwaukee County Zoo

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How wonderful when ways can be found to get the under-appreciated art of poetry across to the general public.In past years, poems have appeared among the ads that ran along the insides of buses.And now, poems have been put on permanent display at Milwaukee County Zoo as part of the “Language of Conservation” project.

Our zoo is one of five across the nation chosen for this project, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.Each of the five zoos was assigned a nationally known poet to select zoo-appropriate poems and assist in placing them within the zoo grounds.Milwaukee was lucky to get the outstanding Colorado-based nature poet Pattiann Rogers.And it was lucky to have a chief zookeeper who appreciates poetry. “When the offer came, I jumped at it,” says Milwaukee County Zoo Director Charles Wikenhauser.

The zoo’s creative director, Marcia Sinner, collaborated with Rogers in selecting the 60 specific spots at the zoo where the lines of poetry are displayed in various imaginative ways. Some poems, like Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” are given in entirety.Others are represented by brief excerpts. Lines by Pablo Neruda about the anaconda are etched on the glass window of that formidable serpent’s enclosure. Theodore Roethke’s poem “Bat” graces the bat wing of the small mammals building.

Lines by Lucille Clifton appear on a metal banner beside a gleaming ebony Earth globe that revolves on a current of water. Lines by American-Indian poet Linda Hogan, pointing out that the earth comes in all the colors humans come in, bless a children’s playground area.Walt Whitman’s majestic line “Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full dazzling” crowns an expansive view of sunset over the zoo’s lake.

Pattiann Rogers will speak at the grand opening of this marvelous poetry project at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 19, on the zoo’s Lake Evinrude deck.She will also give a reading/discussion on Monday, June 21, in the Rare Books Room at the Central Library, reception to begin at 6:30 p.m., program at 7.

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