A book offers a multimedia celebration of Jewish Scripture.
In the Jewish tradition, words have power—real power. According to the first verses of the Hebrew Bible (or Torah), God created the cosmos with speech. For Jews, then, the story of the world’s making shows that the phonemes that spill from their mouths possess an unimaginable potency. Jinnett (The Olive Tree in the Shadow of the Second Temple, 2015, etc.) reminds readers of this fact in the opening piece of his new collection inspired by the Torah: “In the watery depths / twenty-two fiery letters / swirled; / the aleph-beit of Hebrew, / building blocks of the world.” If God made the universe out of words, then the world is divine poetry. What more appropriate reply than to write poetry in return? The author focuses on the first few chapters of Genesis, in which God builds the world in seven days. Thus, a poem from the section entitled “Fifth Day: Fish and Fowl” gives readers a glimpse of the wonders of the deep: “And—oh—what a sight / was our undersea feast, / with conch shells of food, / near thousands at least.” Yet the book is no slavish retelling; the themes of Creation send Jinnett on flights of fancy that set him down in other parts of the biblical narrative. Hence, the aforementioned “undersea feast” reminds him of the Great Flood of Genesis 8 and the birds Noah releases from the ark. Thus readers have “Raven’s Song,” which opens lyrically: “I remember how it was before the rains, / when waves kissed sand as waters lapped the shore, / gentle sounds like lovers make when they embrace.” Like the scriptural model on which it is built, this volume is fresh, dynamic, and readable. Its only real flaw remains its cumbersome configuration. The first half of the book features Jinnett’s poetry. But the second half awkwardly reproduces those works in their entirety—this time with extensive footnotes that flesh out references to Scripture and commentary. The information is valuable, but the exposition is bulky and didactic. Further, buried among these piles of explanatory text are gorgeous original artworks by Bowden, all of which deserve better placement. A more streamlined structure would make this good book great.
The verse sparkles and the visuals shine in this volume that examines Genesis.