Poetry News

At the bottom of the pond at the elephant fountain: poems at the New Orleans zoo

By Harriet Staff


From the zoo's entrance all the way to the Louisiana Swamp! Poems! Yes, one more reason to visit: New Orleans' famous Audubon Zoo has a new installation project, as part of the Language of Conservation initiative, which was funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services and led by Poets House in partnership with the New Orleans Public Library. "The innovative partnership between libraries, poets and zoos is designed to increase public awareness and appreciation of environmental issues through poetry," writes the Times-Picayune:

You’ll find poems on banners, on the ceiling of a gazebo, and on logs in the Louisiana Swamp. An excerpt from Kay Ryan’s poem “Flamingo Watching” is etched on the glass in front of the flamingo exhibit, and one from Frank O’Hara’s “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” is sandblasted into the concrete perimeter of the Butterfly Garden, giving the words a pebbly texture.

“My only request was to have a poem at the bottom of the pond at the elephant fountain,” [zoo director of education] Brenda Walkenhorst said. “They picked one that was appropriate for water.”

That poem is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Inversnaid”:

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

On a fence "across from the giraffes in the African Savannah" are lines from the Langston Hughes poem “Mississippi Levee”:

Levee, levee,
How high have you got to be?
Levee, levee,
How high have you got to be
To keep them cold muddy waters
From washin’ over me?

Walkenhorst explains: “I guess I like this one because I’m still affected by Katrina, but not in the negative way I was five years ago....Over time the words will fade, the way our Katrina memories will fade.”

Originally Published: July 13th, 2011