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This poem is taken from PN Review 36, Volume 10 Number 4, March - April 1984.

Art & Extinction Tony Harrison
'When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel as if all the works of some great writer had perished.'
Theodore Roosevelt 1899

I

The Birds of America: John James Audubon (1785-1851)

The struggle to preserve once spoken words
from already too well-stuffed taxonomies
is a bit like Audubon's when painting birds,
whose method an admirer said was this:
Kill 'em, wire 'em, paint 'em, kill a fresh 'un!

The plumage even of the brightest faded.
The artist had to shoot in quick succession
till all the feathers were correctly shaded.

Birds don't pose for picures when alive!
Audubon's idea of restraint,
doing the Pelican, was 25
dead specimens a day for one in paint.

By using them do we save words or not?
...


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