A great night at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans last night. Two hundred visitors rode the little zoo train through the dark (think squabbling flamingoes and scrambling nutria) back to the swamp, where a cantilvered series of boardwalks carry you above the alligators in their green kingdom, back to a big wooden house like a Cajun dancehall. There they enjoyed wine and good, a jazz trio, and then readings of some of the great poems that will be installed next year around the zoo: Whitman, Dickinson, Roethke, Hopkins, Andrew Marvell, Kay Ryan and many more. Joining me in reading the texts was the luminous Nevada Barr, a mystery writer known for her series of books set in National Parks, who turned out to be a poetry reader of fierce presence. It's always a pleasure to see how much people enjoy hearing great poems aloud; it takes me back to the Favorite Poem Project events, and it's a reminder that perhaps we err in having so many event where poets read their own work. Of course that can be a huge pleasure too -- but something else happens when readings center on the art of poetry, on great work NOT written by the reader. It's a whole different sort of energy, and something about it seems an intrinsic pleasure, even for people who don't know they like poetry.
But I have to say that the truly memorable part for me was getting to the zoo just at twilight, when it was already closed. Not finding anyone to meet me, I slipped through a side gate that the education people use, and walked through the gloaming back to the swamp area. The zoo is well over fifty acres, and the trails and boardwalks loop all around. I was alone with the flamingoes, the big tapirs lumbering across their low plain, the shy alpacas, some haughty cranes, a huge and hurrying flock of -- um, ibis? Squawking, rustling, how many eyes in the shadowy depths of the leaves? Fantastic, to wander alone through those paths toward the welcoming lights shining above the green surface of the swamp.