'World Make Way': New Poems Paint Classic Pictures

Mar 31, 2018
Originally published on April 4, 2018 9:58 am

Pictures can be poems and vice versa: they're feelings captured in a phrase, a stroke, or an image. Leonardo da Vinci said, "Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen."

Lee Bennett Hopkins and the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked a number of poets to look at great classic art from the museum's collection and reflect their feelings in new poems.

The book that results is World Make Way: New Poems Inspired By Art From The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

Hopkins is an artist, poet, and holder of the Guinness Book of Records citation for compiling the most anthologies for children.


Interview Highlights

On what inspired Hopkins to edit World Make Way

Frankly, I began my career as an elementary school teacher in New Jersey, and my work in poetry was really influenced by children I was teaching. I found that using poetry with them was a very miraculous thing, particularly with slower learners. Poems are usually short, [and their] vocabulary's simple. And I've always maintained that more can be said or felt in 8 or 10 lines than sometimes in an entire novel.

And the whole book is really based on a form from the Greek called ekphrastic poetry, where poems are inspired by art. I assigned these varied paintings to 18 of the top children's poets in America who would then write their emotions toward the painting. Rather than describing the painting, it's what they feel.

On whether the poems will invite readers to reconsider these paintings

I think that's the premise of the entire book. Peering into any piece of art, whether it's a painting or sculpture, they capture your eye and capture your ear. Magic happens. New things are seen, new things are felt. I think I want to ask the children and adults, "What have these poets seen when they looked at the painting? More important, what do you see? What do you feel?"

Tyler Hill and Rachel Gotbaum produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Sydnee Monday and Petra Mayer adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Pictures can be poems and vice versa, feelings captured in a phrase, a stroke or an image. Leonardo da Vinci said, painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen. Lee Bennett Hopkins and the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked a number of poets to look at great classic art from the museum's collection and reflect their feelings in new poems. The book that results is "World Make Way: New Poems Inspired By Art From The Metropolitan Museum Of Art." And Lee Bennett Hopkins, who's also an artist, a poet and holder of the "Guinness Book Of World Records" citation for compiling the most anthologies for children joins us from member station WGCU in Fort Myers, Fla. Thanks so much for being with us.

LEE BENNETT HOPKINS: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: What interested you in this?

HOPKINS: Frankly, I began my career as an elementary school teacher in New Jersey, and my work in poetry was really influenced by children I was teaching. I found that using poetry with them was a very miraculous thing, particularly with slower learners. Poems are usually short, vocabulary simple, and I've always maintained that more can be said or felt in eight or 10 lines than sometimes in an entire novel. And the whole book is really based on a form from the Greek called ekphrastic poetry where poems are inspired by art. I assigned these varied paintings to 18 of the top children's poets in America, who would then write their emotions toward the painting. Rather than describing the painting, it's what they feel.

SIMON: Well, let's give people an idea of what we're talking about in this match between painting and poems. "Dancing" a poem by Alma Flor Ada that she wrote in response to Botero's "Dancing In Colombia." This is a very famous painting - a group of musicians playing dance music and a couple totally focused on each other and dancing. Could I get you to read this poem?

HOPKINS: I would love to. It's by Alma Flor Ada, who, by the way, is a leading Latina poet in America. She writes (reading) 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 flying hair in abandonment. Two absorbed by our music, which continues to take over the world, everything else forgotten, unimportant, like scattered litter strewn on the dance floor.

SIMON: The poem as much as the painting does capture that sense of abandonment to joy, doesn't it?

HOPKINS: It does.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another one - "Cat Watching A Spider" - Julie Fogliano. This is one of the most famous paintings I think in the the museum's collection. And it's a grey cat watching a spider - watching intently. Also the cat has a nice kind of Japanese scarf around its neck.

HOPKINS: (Laughter).

SIMON: Do you mind if I get to read this?

HOPKINS: Of course not. I'd love it.

SIMON: OK. (Reading) So silent and certain, a spider can cause a watchful and wondering cat to pause, all prowl and prance and teeth and claws.

Oh, you could write a whole other poem about - from the vantage point of the spider, couldn't you?

HOPKINS: Oh, my goodness, yes. There are so many interpretations.

SIMON: I hope you don't mind, the painting and that poem inspired me to try another Japanese form, a haiku, for this painting.

HOPKINS: Oh, wonderful.

SIMON: Would you mind if I contributed that?

HOPKINS: I love haiku (laughter).

SIMON: All right. Let me try this. OK. Keep in mind, all right, this is written from the view of the spider, all right? The spider muses, each step of one of eight legs, goads me, keep going. I'm too small for him.

HOPKINS: Wonderful.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Kind of a hopeful poem, isn't it? Do you hope these poems can invite youngsters - well, adults, for that matter - to look into these paintings in a different way?

HOPKINS: I think that's the premise of the entire book. Peering into any piece of art, whether it's a painting or a sculpture, they capture your eye and capture your ear, magic happens. New things are seen. New things are felt. I think I want to ask the children and adults what have these poets seen when they looked at the painting? More important, what do you see? What do you feel?

SIMON: Lee Bennett Hopkins - the book - "World Make Way: New Poems Inspired By Art From The Metropolitan Museum Of Art." Thanks very much for being with us.

HOPKINS: Thank you so much.

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