As poet in residence at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, working in collaboration with the Desert Museum, which is a world-renowned bioregional zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, and the University of Arizona Poetry Center, I’ve designed a plan to place multiple poetry installations throughout the Desert Museum grounds. The poetry selected includes work from both desert writers as well as internationally known poets and the pieces take various forms that complement the site of the museum, from traditional signage to playful or sculptural forms. The idea, inspired in part by Language of Conservation, a project which placed poets in residence in zoos across the country, is that short excerpts of poetry may help to instill a conservation ethic in the public visiting the museum in ways that traditional signage may not.
We piloted the first installation, a blacklight scorpion poem by Arizona’s Poet Laureate, Alberto Álvaro Ríos, in summer 2014. A second installation, a riparian poem that I wrote including opening lines composted from water policy documents, went up at the Desert Museum’s Cottonwood Café shortly after. The project, called Woven Words: Poetry of the Sonoran Desert, now has over a dozen poems installed in various forms at the museum and has received support from Tucson Pima Arts Council, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, among others. For more on this project, see the Desert Museum’s Woven Words page here.
My essay on the project, “A Poem Is Its Own Animal: Poetic Encounters at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum,” appears in Ecotone Issue 21 (Spring 2016).