When I was growing up one of my favorite pieces of music was World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by the Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Abrams, 2018, 978-1-4197-2845-7
Every person sees a work of art differently. Some may notice the forms in the artwork, while others may be captivated by the colors. Some may only see the story that the artwork seems to be telling, and others may be drawn to examine how the artwork was created in the first place. Everyone’s reaction to the work is therefore different and unique.
In this splendid book nineteen poets have created poems that were inspired by works of art that are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first of these is a portrait by Gustav Klimt. In it we see a girl in a white dress looking at us. Her hands are behind her back and there is an air of impatience about her. Certainly this emotion conveyed itself to Marilyn Singer. In her poem Paint Me we hear the voice of the girl who wants Klimt to “Hurry up and / paint me.” She has things to do and, furthermore, she is tired of the dress with its flowers. She is ready to be on the move; it is time for the world to “make way,” for her and her restless energy.
For the painting Dancing in Columbia, Alma Flor Ada has written the poem Dancing. The narrators are the musicians in the painting, seven of them in all, who take up so much space that there is room for only two dancers. The man and women are “absorbed in our music” and their attention is such that “everything else is forgotten.”
In Cat Watching a Spider we see an image of a cat watching a little spider scuttle across the floor. The cat is hunched, its attention fixed on the little animal. The poem that Julie Fogliano has written about this wonderful artwork perfectly captures, in just a few words, the moment that we are witnessing. We feel the pause that brings the cat to a place of stillness that is unusual in one who is often a creature of “prowl and prance / and teeth and claws.”
Winslow Homer’s painting Boys in a Dory made the poet Charles Ghigna think of early evening when movement is slow and where the boys in the boat “float as in a dream, / soft and serene.”
It is fascinating to see how the poets featured in this collection reacted to the artwork. Sometimes readers will see what they saw and perhaps feel what they felt, and sometimes the poet’s ‘take’ on the artwork will be a surprise. We will pause and take in their perspective and marvel at the way in which perception can be so different from person to person, and so interesting. At the back of the book the editor includes information about the poets who contributed to the book. He also tells us about the artists, whose work is featured on the pages.