On this, his 80th birthday, we are honored to feature Lee Bennett Hopkins’s most recent poetry book for young readers. Everyone in the world, make way for this stellar author, poet, educator, editor, and master anthologist!
We are first introduced to this beautiful collection of ekphrastic poetry with this perceptive quote and sketch by Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci:
Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
In his Foreword, Hopkins explains that the book’s title was inspired by da Vinci’s drawing:
Though rough, the sketch reveals sharp details of the animal’s strong facial features, powerful muscles, and grasping claws — a stance as if the bear forewarns: World make way!
In World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Abrams BYR, 2018), we are treated to 18 original poems written by contemporary poets in response to 18 visual masterpieces from the Met’s vast collection. The art represents a diverse world view, spotlighting different time periods, artists, and cultures, and it is rendered in a variety of media (oil, tempera, pencil, ink, watercolor, silver, gold, acrylic) on different bases (canvas, paper, wood, silk, PVC panels). The poets (who were specially commissioned for this project), are among the finest writing for children today. In short, an exquisite book — a heartful, soul nourishing feast for the eyes and ear.
Here are the poets (*swoon*):
Alma Flor Ada
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Joan Bransfield Graham
Lee Bennett Hopkins
J. Patrick Lewis
Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Naomi Shihab Nye
Ann Whitford Paul
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Carole Boston Weatherford
Art begetting art — what could be more life affirming or gratifying?
I’ve long been a fan of art poems. Since art elicits an emotional reaction in the viewer, it’s always interesting to see how a poet will respond in words. Will he/she speak to one or more of the painting’s subjects? Create a mini narrative or backstory? Or, as with most of these poems, will the poet assume the voice of one or more of the subjects in the painting?
Imagine my delight when I encountered the first poem in the book by fave poet Marilyn Singer. In “Paint Me,” we hear the impatient voice of the young girl pictured in Gustav Klimt’s, “Mäda Primavesi” (1912-13):
I cannot spare more hours.
I’m tired of this dress, these flowers.
I’m young, a girl, it’s true,
but I insist.
World, make way.
With her strong, determined face and stance, her words echoing those of da Vinci’s bear, we root for her as she tells the artist, “I have things to do,/more than you. Streets, countries, continents to see/outside of this atelier.”
A progressive, empowered viewpoint to be sure, a perfect “appetizer” for 17 more poems that will indeed transport the reader to other streets, countries, and continents.
Among the gems: Julie Fogliano’s astute observation of Ōide Tōkō’s “Cat Watching a Spider” (“all prowl and prance/and teeth and claws”), Irene Latham’s lyrical love song between river and duck inspired by an Egyptian painted plaster pavement fragment (“This is the hour /when the sun dreams,/when river/sings/its silky song”), and Charles Ghigna’s luminous reflection, told in the voices of Winslow Homer’s “Boys in a Dory,” (“We are rowing our way/across a small, stretched/canvas of time”).
Other stunning works of art include Henri Rousseau’s “The Repast of the Lion” (ca. 1907) interpreted by J. Patrick Lewis, Frank Henderson’s “Man and Two Women (Henderson Ledger Artist B)” (ca. 1882), as viewed by Carole Boston Weatherford, and Utagawa Hiroshige’s “Kinryūsan Temple at Asakusa, 1856,” reverently observed by Janet Wong.
The beautiful art and poems in this collection enrich us twice over with a fertile dynamic. There is no right or wrong way to react to a work of art, just as there is no right or wrong way to read or write a poem. You approach with an open mind, allow yourself to feel, and bring your heart, soul and unique perspective to your interpretation. The marriage of art and poetry is especially nourishing, and World Make Way is a wonderful way to introduce young readers to both genres. They will see what the poets saw, which will prompt them to look closer themselves, perhaps even inspiring them to write their own poems about art.
Today I’m happy to share three poems that rouse, delight, and uplift. Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s lyrical “Blue Worlds” truly paints a beautiful word picture, Alma Flor Ada’s “Dancing” taps into the joy of total immersion, and Marilyn Nelson’s “Studio” celebrates the glory and power of art in all forms. Enjoy!
by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
I grow up in a world the color of water.
Sometimes when breezes blow just right,
when sun puddles in blue folds,
mama talks of blue things, wild things;
seaglass and butterflies,
peacocks and poppies.
While clocks keep perfect time
ships sail on seas yet named,
and birds sing odes to skylight.
Cornflowers turn to tufted stars
while mama threads light rain,
stitching my name
by Alma Flor Ada
Music fills the room
as we play.
Seven of us grow
taking up all the space
leaving only enough room
for a couple to dance
with quick steps
her hair flying
Two absorbed by our music
which continues to take over the world
everything else forgotten
like scattered litter strewn
on the dance floor.
by Marilyn Nelson
In this space quiet as a laboratory,
artists as focused as the kitchen staff
of a 4-star Michelin Guide restaurant
give themselves up to organized chaos.
They were born with a compulsion
deeper than skin-deep, deeper than black:
Every cell of their bodies says Make Art.
Their hearts repeat: Make Art, Make Art, Make Art.
Here in the studio’s silence
artists demonstrate that freedom means
exploring unlimited potential,
playing a part in creation.
How beautiful the human body is.
How a story can emerge from colors.
How a yellow curve can become a dog.
Whether you’re a woman, whether you’re black,
no matter who you are, you can make art.
Art rebuilds our hope for a shared future,
it restores our courage, revives our faith.
Here in the studio, as on cave walls,
our species reaches toward undying truths.
Every work of art was once unfinished:
part in this world, part imagined.
Now, please join all of us here at Alphabet Soup in wishing Lee a very Happy Birthday. After weeks of practice, Mr. Cornelius has finally mastered the Happy Birthday song on his new piano. Feel free to sing along. 🙂
Please help yourself to a piece of cake and raise your teacups (full of Twinings Ceylon Orange Pekoe) to one of the original Poetry HotTEAs. Thank you, Lee, for 8 decades of simply being YOU, for all the joy and beauty you’ve brought to the world with your books, and for all your tireless work on behalf of children’s poetry.
🍰 HAPPY 80TH, AND MANY, MANY MORE!!! 🎉
WORLD MAKE WAY: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
published by Abrams Books for Young Readers with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 2018
Poetry for all ages, 48 pp.
*Includes Foreword, Short Bios of Poets and Artists, and Info about Artwork
♥️ Click here to read Elaine Magliaro’s “Night-Shining White” at Wild Rose Reader.
♥️ In case you missed it, check out Lee’s interview on NPR radio/Weekend Edition Saturday.
🎨 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📕
The publisher is generously donating a copy of World Make Way for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) April 18, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with WORLD MAKE WAY in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
The lovely, charming, and sometimes secretive Robyn Hood Black is hosting the special LBH Birthday Bash Roundup at Life on the Deckle Edge. Prance on over to check out all the fun, celebratory posts in honor of Lee’s birthday today. More cake, more ice cream, more colored sprinkles!!
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**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.