Writing Poetic Midrash
An Introduction to Writing Poetic Midrash:
``The writer imagines the concrete details, emotions, and the responses from others in the story. ``
One of the offerings of the 2021 Companion Conference was a poetry workshop on writing a poem in the tradition of a midrash.
In Jewish tradition, a midrash is discerning new meaning in the text of the Torah. For us today, a midrash is the re-imaging of Bible stories—making connections between new realities and the unchanging biblical text.
A midrash is written in first person as a character in a Bible story. The writer imagines the concrete details, emotions, and the responses from others in the story.
Midrash writing prompt
Purpose: Create your poem from the perspective of a biblical person’s point of view–first person.
STEP 1: Choose a biblical person who you believe has something to say to you today.
STEP 2: Choose a part of his/her/their story to focus on.
STEP 3: Step into the scene with the person.
STEP 4: What do you notice? (use all senses). In this step you are bringing your experience and imagination to gain insight to the story from your character’s first-hand knowledge.
STEP 5: What do you wonder about the scene? What is unanswered? Your poem can explore the questions or provide the answers to the questions that you have.
Examples of Midrash Poems
Two Companions responded to the prompt by writing about Noah’s story found in Genesis 7:1-24. Kathy Cenatiempo (Texas Chapter) wrote from the point of view of Noah’s wife, and Sarah Braik (Maine Chapter) chose to see the story as the birds sent out by Noah to determine if the flooding was over.
Noah’s Ark by Sarah Braik
After 40 days cooped in the ark like a common chicken, God chooses me, the magnificent Raven, to test the waters.
I fly out of the dank ark, delighting in the beat of my wings against the humid air.
I fly, and fly, and fly
to the east, the north, the west, the south.
Water, water, more water, this water that has drowned my entire race,
save my mate; the water is endless.
I tire, I am so weary-aha! A promontory
of dry land. I alight, but there is nothing here to sustain me
for the return flight.
The story told about me doesn’t say what happened to me.
Do I die from hunger?
Do I fly until, exhausted, I plummet and drown?
Animals, women; the Bible is all too often silent about us.
I shall leave you guessing about my fate.
When raven does not return, Noah chooses me, the humbler dove.
I don’t know why he ever picked that uppity raven.
Always squawking about something.
I won’t miss him.
I fly out over the waters,
looking, looking for a place to land.
Back and forth, determined to do better than that raven.
Finally I turn back; there is no place to rest.
I alight on Noah’s outstretched arm.
He is pleased with me.
After resting seven days, I am dispatched again.
I am renowned over all the earth for returning that very night with the olive branch
that I found clinging to a sad olive tree leaning on a hillside.
Another seven days; he bids me fly out again.
Not far off, I see land, dry land-desert scrub, cragged mountains, rushing streams.
I alight near a wadi and peck about.
Aha-a worm that God has spared just to sustain me!
Praised be the Lord God, blessed be He.
You will also have heard of my descendant
Who lands on Jesus as he rises from the Baptismal waters of the Jordan,
It is not only Jesus who is the chosen beloved of God.
I, the lowly dove, am also God’s beloved.
Noah’s Wife by Kathy Cenatiempo
Oh Noah! What have you done now?
Wasn’t it enough to build the ark?
What is with all these creatures?
Where did you get them?
Who’s going to feed them?
Will they eat each other?
How are you going to keep the birds?
That Zebra is really pretty.
Aren’t they all too heavy for the ark?
I like the cats. Can we keep the yellow tabby?
But where am I going to sleep?
Noah, Noah, it’s starting to rain!
image credit: Watercolor by Lois Blood Bennett