I’ve been working on a series of poems for awhile now that are loosely based around Bible stories. Instead of standard retellings, though, I’ve been trying to give these versions a little twist – maybe from the perspective of a character who seems peripheral in the original story (such as in “Lot’s Daughters“); with a new slant to someone’s motives (like “Cain’s Confession“); or perhaps entirely re-imagining the context of a story (as with the Jesus poems I’ve been working on). I have a vague idea that maybe I can collect these into a manuscript, should they be strong enough.
So in the process of writing this series, I have been researching stories that I’d like to twist – I haven’t read the Bible with such vigor in years, if ever. I’ve already covered Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Lot, and a few others. I’ve been thinking about Delilah and Jezebel, and how those women tend to be very polarizing figures, much-referenced. Delilah, of course, is the woman who cut off Samson’s hair (though it wasn’t actually her; it was a servant of hers), and Jezebel was a princess who encouraged idolatry (she wasn’t a whore, contrary to the popular modern-day connotation).
I came across two poems that have sort of put me off from writing about Delilah and Jezebel, though – the first is one I haven’t actually read yet, though I’m looking forward to. It’s Carol Ann Duffy’s “Delilah,” from her collection The World’s Wife. In it, apparently, a pacifism-loving Delilah cuts Samson’s hair to make him non-violent. The second poem is Heather Overby’s “The Defenestration of Juliette Lewis,” which is clearly referencing Jezebel’s death (she was thrown from a window and left in the street for the dogs to eat). The Overby poem is great – I think she has a wonderful sense of fusion, combining pop culture with tradition and high art. And I’m sure the Duffy poem is equally lovely, if her other poems are any comparison (“Warming Her Pearls” and “Valentine” as examples).
But now knowing that this territory has been mined (and how frequently – a quick look at Wiki’s references listing for Delilah shows a mass of entries), I wonder if I have anything new or exciting to say on the subjects of Delilah and Jezebel. I’ve already encountered this problem with Mary – how many versions of Mary can you come up with? The three best (she was lying, she was crazy or she was right) have been covered more times than anyone can count, so what else is there to say?
I suppose I’ll keep looking for ways to tell the stories that aren’t out there yet. And in the meantime, I’ll keep working on other stories that haven’t been done so well or so publicly.