Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at his tent’s front door
In the heat of the day. He looked up, and saw three men near him that were not there before.
When he saw them, he ran from the door of his tent to greet them, and he bowed to the ground.
He said, "My lords, pray, if I’ve found favor with you, do not pass by this servant you’ve found.
Pray let water be fetched, just a little, then wash your feet and recline under the tree;
Let me fetch you a morsel of bread to refresh your hearts, then go on with your journey..."
Those are the first few lines of this week's Torah portion, Vayera (Genesis 18), rendered in verse by Seth Brown, who's written a version (not a translation, but a rendering) of the entire Five Books of Moses in rhyming heptameter.
His rendering is called From God to Verse, and it's either chutzpahdik, impressive, or completely insane. Seth isn't a religious guy, but at this point I suspect he knows the Torah better than any of the rest of my secular friends. (He'd have to, in order to do this kind of work.)
I'll admit it, I love this project for its sheer nuttiness. And because I think it's a respectful yet quirky recasting of the Torah text. But I also love it because it feels to me like a sign of the tremendous richness of scripture.
My next book (due in early 2011) will be a collection of Torah poems, many of which appeared in early draft form at Velveteen Rabbi. (You can find them linked here.) My poems and Seth's have very little in common, stylistically, but they arise out of the exact same material. And that fascinates me.
It's a little bit like the way that Shakespeare's plays have sparked renderings as diverse as Kiss Me, Kate and Ten Things I Hate About You. It's not just that these foundational texts are deep, though they are; I think it's also that they're beloved, and have been so deeply-loved for so long. We can't help wanting to respond to them with our own creativity, our own transformative works which take them in new directions.
Ultimately I suspect that our transformative works say as much about us as they do about the sources from which they ostensibly spring. Seth writes Torah poems which are witty and literary and a little bit over-the-top because he is all of those things. (I'll leave it to readers and reviewers to figure out how to describe my Torah poems when that collection comes out.) And on that note: shabbat shalom, dear Best American Poetry readers!