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Poems on the Hebrew Bible

Eve Grubin’s new one-day workshop – Poems on the Hebrew Bible – draws attention to one of the most influential books of all time, by way of Milton, Keats, Robert Frost, Sharon Olds, and countless other poets it has inspired.

With the use of translations, Eve will be peering under the mantle of this classic holy text, exploring its profound effect on English-speaking culture and literature, and using its rich use of language and imagery to provoke new poems. We caught up with Eve to find out what to expect…

What inspired you to offer this workshop?

Eve: Inspired by my ongoing study of the Hebrew Bible and other classic Jewish texts, I find that biblical themes and language often quite unconsciously enter my own poems. The simple yet sometimes enigmatic language, the lacunae, and the rich reticence of the stories engage with imagination and word music in a way that opens up pathways towards a poem. The sacred landscape of the Hebrew Bible offers a range of ideas and profound truths that lie at the core of human experience to draw on for anyone aspiring to write poetry. And the Bible offers a model for literature that poets can learn from. I am delighted to have the opportunity to expose poets to this experience.

What will you be doing in the workshop?

Eve: We will read and discuss some of the psalms in English translation and we will also read poems by such poets as Ben Jonson, John Keats, and William Wordsworth. Up to the 20th century, educated people knew the Bible inside and out and much of it by heart. It’s no surprise then that poets expected their readers to be familiar with allusions to the biblical text. Today, poets who allude to the Bible can no longer assume that readers will recognize the references. When reading modern and contemporary poets such as Robert Frost, Marie Howe, Sharon Olds, and Yehoshua November, we will observe how this challenge is addressed. Then we will look at the Hebrew texts that inform these poems and write our own poems based on the readings.

What will students leave with?

Eve: Students will leave with a familiarity with a number of poems that allude to the Hebrew Bible. In addition, they will develop an understanding of ways in which the Bible handles narrative and language in inspiring ways. The 19th century rabbi, Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, also known as the Netziv, puts it this way: “The Hebrew Bible, with a few exceptions, is not poetry. But its inner character is poetic because of its allusive and metaphoric quality. The implicit meaning is the heart of poetry. Similarly, the so-called hidden implications of the biblical text are its real message.” Finally, students will have written or will have begun up to ten poems based on our discussion and readings.

Who is welcome?

Eve: Anyone who is interested in poetry!

Have you got any images / links / further info or reading to share in advance of your course?

Eve: Link to a blog I wrote for the Best American Poetry website that explores links between biblical stories and poetry:

‘Eve Tempted by the Serpent’, by William Blake:

A quote from Blake we may discuss:

Eve Grubin’s book of poems Morning Prayer was published by The Sheep Meadow Press, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Pleiades, The New Republic, Poetry Review, Poetry International, and other magazines and journals. Her essays have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics (U of CA Press, 2009). She has taught at The New School, NYU, London School of Jewish Studies and the City College of New York and worked as Programs Director at The Poetry Society of America for five years.


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Image Credits:

Image: William Blake, Job’s Sons and Daughters Overwhelmed by Satan. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons