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(Original Article)

Take a Poetry Tour of the Desert Museum

From Tucson Life
Published: 02/11/2018 by Johanna Willett

If words escape you when struck by the beauty at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, no worries.

You can now take a poetry tour of the property.

The museum has been working with the University of Arizona Poetry Center for about five years to collect and install more than 30 snippets of poetry around the museum grounds. Called "Woven Words: Poetry of the Sonoran Desert," the whole project probably cost around $50,000, said museum executive director Craig Ivanyi.

While you're marveling as stingrays glide through the water, almost breaching the surface, take note of a few lines of poetry scrawled on a mural near their exhibit.

Or take a small detour on the pathway to the Mountain Woodland to ogle at an enormous sagauro with just one arm drooping low to the earth. At its base, a small, glass sign wonders about the nature of a saguaro.

You can get a map of the desert museum that will help you find each poetry installation. The back of map lists the location and a few other details to help you spot each poem, along with the poet. Just a heads up, we tried to take the poetry tour, and while lovely, some of the poems stumped us — we just couldn't find them! We suggest picking up the Woven Words map next time you're at the museum for a little bonus treasure hunting.

The desert museum's poet-in-residence Eric Magrane (and longtime Tucson hiking guide and naturalist) helped the two institutions curate the poems, picking pieces by local poets, inspired by local settings or dedicated to local creatures.

For example, the line "Don't worry, spiders, I keep house casually" from a haiku by Kobayashi Issa welcomes visitors to the hummingbird aviary. The line is a reference to a discovery the museum made when the exhibit was renovated that hummingbirds need spider webs to make their nests.

"In the process of renovating, the keeper took out the birds and plants ... and then put them back in there and eventually realized that the birds' nests weren't holding together and they couldn't have young," Magrane said. "They realized that the spiders and the spider webs and been taken out. ... That poetry installation is a great story to think about ecological relationships."

Another poem, by Irish poet Seamus Heaney about otters, was inspired after Haney's encounter with the otters at the desert museum, said Sarah Gzemski, publicity and publications coordinator for the Poetry Center.

"We want to inspire people to do something about conserving the natural world, and there are a variety of ways to connect with it," Ivanyi said. "Some people are motivated by seeing wildlife and plants and some are motivated by physical experiences on the grounds ... The arts are just another way to connect people to the environment."

Some of the installations are obvious — a tile mural as you're entering the underwater viewing area for beavers and otters — and some are hidden —poems painted inside owl and ringtail masks.

Ivanyi said that it was the Poetry Center that reached out with the project idea.

"I think poetry can express things that we may not be able to express otherwise," Gzemski said. "Experiencing nature and having poetry there to sort of capture the magic of it is exciting. We hope that people who go to the desert museum find that it enriches their experience with interacting with nature."

For more information about the project and the poems displayed, visit

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