Between Par­adise & Earth: Eve Poems

  • Review
By – April 3, 2023

The first woman, the first trans­gres­sor, the first moth­er: While so many of our myths stretch back to her, it might seem that there is noth­ing new to say about Eve. For­tu­nate­ly, the work of poet­ry goes beyond say­ing. In Between Par­adise & Earth: Eve Poems, over sev­en­ty poets fol­low lyric threads through the sto­ry of this foun­da­tion­al fig­ure, demon­strat­ing her con­tin­ued relevance.

Or, rather, her sto­ries, plur­al — for not only do these poems go far beyond Gen­e­sis and its com­men­taries, they also rec­og­nize that Eve’s life is like any human’s: not a sin­gle nar­ra­tive, but many. Each poet reck­ons with that fact in both expect­ed and unex­pect­ed ways, locat­ing Eve every­where from the first moments of the Cre­ation sto­ry to old age. Trans poet Jus­tice Ameer finds Eve in Adam’s body before her cre­ation, observ­ing that it takes the hack­ing of a body / to make a woman / Adam hack­ing up a piece of his body.” In Ona Gritz’s Eden,” Eve’s acqui­si­tion of lan­guage leads direct­ly to her trans­gres­sion: A round fruit the col­or of fire / hangs from the high­est branch. / I want, I say, star­tled by the phrase.” And in Ansel Elkins’s Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Eve,” the speak­er sub­verts an old tale: Let it be known: I did not fall from grace. // I leapt / to freedom.” 

As Elkins reminds us with her con­fronta­tion of the Chris­t­ian fall from grace” trope, Eve does­n’t belong only to Jew­ish text and tra­di­tion. Although Jew­ish poets — among them Nan­cy Nao­mi Carl­son, Jes­si­ca Jacobs, Aviya Kush­n­er, Vic­to­ria Redel, and Brooke Sah­ni — are well rep­re­sent­ed here, the strength of the col­lec­tion lies in the rich diver­si­ty of its con­trib­u­tors’ back­grounds, per­spec­tives, and poet­ics. Some of the most per­sua­sive poems set­tle into a dou­ble voice that serves both Eve and the con­tem­po­rary speak­er, whose life in some way inter­sects with the myth. The speak­ers of Ama Codjoe’s Why I Left the Gar­den,” Ron­nie Hess’s Eve’s Lament,” and Amy Dryansky’s “(Eve) Talk­ing to Her­self (Mother’s Day),” among oth­ers, use the myth of Eve to inves­ti­gate moth­er­hood, rela­tion­ships, loss, and many kinds of knowl­edge. Indeed, knowl­edge — racial, gen­dered, cor­po­re­al, lin­guis­tic, and his­tor­i­cal — is the keynote of the col­lec­tion, which is orga­nized accord­ing to the out­lines of the bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive. But its struc­ture still leaves gen­er­ous room for midrashic leaps into spec­u­la­tion, adven­ture, and play. 

With few excep­tions, among them Lucille Clifton’s Eve Think­ing” and a rare Toni Mor­ri­son poem, Eve Remem­ber­ing,” this is a twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry anthol­o­gy — and its con­tem­po­rane­ity is a pow­er­ful rea­son to rec­om­mend it. Between Par­adise & Earth con­veys Eve’s endur­ing rel­e­vance and sug­gests that her myths will con­tin­ue to evolve accord­ing to our need for them. As Andrea Cohen observes in Eaves­drop­ping on Adam and Eve”: It didn’t get inter­est­ing / until after they’d left.” 

Nan Cohen is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tions Rope Bridge and Unfin­ished City and the chap­book Thou­sand-Year-Old Words. The recip­i­ent of a fel­low­ship from the Yet­zi­rah con­fer­ence for Jew­ish poets, her poems have recent­ly appeared on The Slow­down and in The Beloit Poet­ry Journal.

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