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A fusion of literature and visual art brings new insights in 'World Make Way'

Explore literary and visual art forms in this new book.

Imagine paintings from all over the world: a cat staring at a spider...two people playing chess...a brewing thunderstorm over a lake.

These are just a few of the eighteen paintings in "World Make Way," edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

But there's more.

Each painting is accompanied by a poem, written by a contemporary poet who interprets what he or she has "unearthed" while viewing the painting.

As a result, I notice details that I probably would have missed.

Next to the vibrant painting "Untitled (Studio), 2014," by Kerry James Marshall, poet Marilyn Nelson writes, "How a story can emerge from colors. How a yellow curve can become a dog."

Sure enough, I notice the yellow hound under the table — and view the painting in an entirely new way.

The poems also help me understand style. In the painting "Dancing in Columbia, 1980," by Fernando Botero, I initially was distracted by the enormous band members. (They're at least three times the size of the dancers!)

But then I read the poem by Alma Flor Ada, written from the point of view of one of the band members. "Music fills the room/as we play./ Some of us grow/taking up all the space/leaving only enough room/for a couple to dance..."

Sometimes, the poems are pure speculation.

Next to an Indian painting from 1694, poet Amy Ludwig Vanderwater writes what a child (unseen) observes as her parents play a game of chaupar: "They do not know I listen./ I watch as they take turns./I see my father/win the long necklace./ I hear my mother sigh."

The book concludes with short biographies of the artists and poets. Each painting is also fully credited. (Each comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

"World Make Way" is a beautiful book, especially as it combines visual art and poetry.

As Hopkins writes, "Mesh both together, and magic happens."

"World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Abrams, 2018. 48 pp.

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