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The Language of Conservation (Poetry in the Zoos)

The Language of Conservation documents a Poets House program designed to deepen public awareness of environmental issues through poetry. By creating poetry installations in zoos, complemented by public programs as well as poetry at partnering public libraries, the Language of Conservation project sought to assist zoos to better communicate the urgency of conservation to preserve wildlife diversity. The six-city project resulted in a replicable model detailed in a full-length volume, The Language of Conservation.

Professional evaluation demonstrated conclusively that incorporating poetry into the zoos increased visitors’ awareness and understanding of conservation issues, often engaging a personal sense of responsibility and stewardship.

After a pilot at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, the project was expanded to New Orleans, LA; Milwaukee, WI; Little Rock, AR; Jacksonville, FL; and Brookfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago.


Language of Conservation Poets-in-Residence

Poets-in-Residence collaborated with wildlife biologists and exhibit designers to curate the poetry paths in the zoos. The poems selected celebrate the natural world and the connection between species.

The Poets-in-Residence were Mark Doty in New Orleans, LA; Joseph Bruchac in Little Rock, AR; Alison Hawthorne Deming in Jacksonville, FL; Pattiann Rogers in Milwaukee, WI; and Project Leader Sandra Alcosser in Brookfield, IL (just outside of Chicago) as well as in the pilot project in New York City.


The Program

The Language of Conservation program increases individual’s sense of responsibility to wildlife and the interconnectedness of humans and animals, according to professional evaluations of the five-city project. This dynamic program demonstrated that when poetry and zoo exhibits reinforce each other, they bring together powerful emotional experience and science learning. Such alignment of learning with feeling, according to naturalist E. O. Wilson, creates a deeper and more enduring conservation ethic.

The Language of Conservation was made possible with funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This partnership between poetry and science began as a successful pilot 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.

Read an article about the program, The Language of Collaboration: Connecting Zoos, Libraries, and Poetry for Environmental Awareness, at ALA’s Programming Librarian website.

The Book

The book The Language of Conservation: Poetry in Library and Zoo Collaborations, edited by Jane Preston, is available for purchase for $35.

Please contact Reggie Harris to buy a copy. It is also available as a free PDF.