Here are two inspiring books on absolutely brilliant projects that celebrate both words and nature. The Language of Nature : Poetry in Library and Zoo Collaborations sprang from a project conceived by the Poets House of New York City. In select cities across the country poetry installations were discreetly added to local zoos — all in the hopes of raising people’s awareness of the natural world.
In Beauty May I Walk — Navajo
Or, in other words, poetry was being used as a catalyst for building vital communities, to borrow Sandra Alcosser’s phrase. Along with Alcosser, The Language of Conservation features essays from poets such as Joseph Bruchac, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Mark Doty, and Pattiann Rogers, along with many practical hints on how to launch similar projects in your own community.
Elk Song — Linda Hogan
Lee Briccetti, Executive Director of Poets House, captured the true genius of this project:
“Millions of people throughout the country encountered the poems at zoos — fragments; full texts; poems in translation from all over the world, often from the place of origin of the animals. In exit interviews, we learned that visitors could remember many of the lines of poetry and that their conservation IQ was actually raised….but that they did not always know that what they liked was poetry.
This confirmed what Poets House had learned from years of work with public libraries and their communities: when people experience poetry, they are often surprised and delighted. But if you tell them that it is coming, they get nervous.” — from Lee Briccetti’s foreword to The Poetic Species : A Conversation with Edward O. Wilson and Robert Hass
“The arts somehow remind us of our kinship with all other life, and with the mortality of other life — the ephemeral, precious nature of every other form of life.” — W.S. Merwin, foreword to The Language of Conservation
Back in 2012, a kindred project began in England’s Pennine Mountains. Poet Simon Armitage was commissioned by the Ilkley Literary Festival to write six poems based on his Pennine walks. Simon didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the start of what would become the Stanza Stones Poetry Trail.
Inspired by the ancient landscape, Simon Armitage (pictured above) would eventually collaborate with a master letter carver, Pip Hall, to create a trail of poems sited across the moors, and carved into existing or introduced stones. As Armitage explains, people have visited this region for many thousands of years “to offer their prayers and express their desires in the form of carved stones and man-made formations.” If done right, the chiseled poems should fit in to this storied landscape.
“The stones could be thought of as sites in their own right, literal landmarks, places to visit. Or they could be marker posts along the invisible route of the watershed.” — Simon Armitage
At first, the subject of the poems alluded Simon Armitage, but then the project gained a real focus. Armitage writes: “After another visit to the hills, this time in lashing rain, I came back with a different idea and a single purpose. To let water be the overall subject: the water that sculpted the valleys, the water that powered the industries, the water we take for granted.” And so, the Stanza Stones Poetry Trail is made up of six poems, and six sites spread over 47 miles of the Pennine highlands: Snow, Rain, Mist, Dew, Puddle, Beck (a mountain stream).
“Streams, reservoirs and waterfalls punctuate the journey, reminding the walker of how water shapes and animates the whole South Pennines.” — Tom Lonsdale, landscape architect, and adviser to the Stanza Stones project
“Especially surprising and delightful to me is the colour of the cut rock, and its contrast with the weathered surface, which varies from pale honey in peaty chocolate, and silver in mottled blue-grey, to a glowing rufous gold in purple umber.” — Pip Hall, master letter carver
For more on the Stanza Stones Project, and to read all six of Simon Armitage’s poems, look for a copy of Stanza Stones (pictured at the top of this post). And, not to be missed, we hope you enjoy this short film clip!