The third part of the Salt City Slam Genesis Bout: Eve and Lilith
The third part of the “Genesis” bout by Salt City Slam at the 2012 National Poetry Slam was one of my personal favorite pieces, let alone group pieces.
Written and performed by Rebeca Mae and De Emett. To recap: we’ve had a Lucifer piece about a son of God who wants to, in some way, come back to God with an insinuation of vengeance. The second piece was about Adam who tells God that it is him, Adam, that is walking away from God. With this piece, we have two figures: Eve, performed by De, and Lilith, performed by Rebeca. As you see in this piece, there is a focus on the role that women have in the story of Genesis.
The story of Lilith is exciting. Belonging to the Jewish tradition and left out of the Old Testament, Lilith was Adam’s first companion. She was created out of the same clay as Adam, and, as a result, was equal to Adam and therefore refuses to submit to him. Apparently, the final straw was a disagreement about sexual positions, Lilith refusing to lie beneath Adam. As a result of this dispute, Lilith flees and becomes a “monster” or succubus that haunts man. There are various interpretations of this story, but the best one, of course, is that Lilith didn’t want to be defined by Adam.
Eve was created after Lilith leaves Adam. Rather than being created from the same clay as Adam, Eve is created from Adam’s rib. Upon her creation Adam names her, just as he names all of the animals of the earth, implying that Eve is of a status far below Adam.
The angle that Rebeca and De took in composing this piece revolves around the idea of naming oneself. In some ways, it’s about how words and language can create possession. “I never had a name before this. I was free from containment,” Eve says in this piece. “Now, my name Eve is whatever Adam wants to call me.” De is describing how Eve is basically a pet to Adam.
Lilith follows up with “They call you ‘all-knowing.’ I think you should have known better.” This somewhat hints at the idea that the concept of “God” is simply whatever people want Him to be. When she says, “I think you should have known better,” Lilith isn’t saying that God should have known better, but rather, the men who created the concept of God should have known better. She continues “was my name trial or error” harkening to a scientific concept, which is typically viewed in opposition to the concept of religion, but at the same time calling back to the concept of naming.
The setup of the piece is complete here, at the 47 seconds mark and the piece begins to turn. Here, the duo has accomplished a very difficult task: setting up the characters (which is tough because not a lot of folks are as familiar with Lilith) and establishing the concept of the naming of things, a powerful tool of subjugation. You might notice that they’ve also set up to diametrically opposed positions in this piece: Lilith is frustrated with God, in some ways taking on a sardonic tone. Eve’s tone is a little more regretful in how her actions has led to the demise of man by partaking of the fruit of knowledge. This opposition creates a tension that builds in the piece.
The piece continues with Eve acknowledging that it wasn’t actually Satan or the devil (typically portrayed as masculine) that led to Eve partaking of the fruit of knowledge, but rather Lilith, whose independence appealed to Eve. Yet, in partaking of the fruit, there is some regret, as Eve says “now all I do is spread imperfection.” Lilith takes it up from here, accusing God of being egotistical, wanting his living beings to be playthings for his amusement. Again, there is another call to the concept of naming, as Lilith asks “Did you create Eve from Adam’s rib so you could name her ‘submissive.’”
Right here, at about 1:13, both Eve and Lilith drop the line “My name is the fall of man.” This is a really cool line as it means something different for each character. For Lilith, it means that she is out to destroy man. For Eve, at this point, it means there is some regret in what she has done since she is blamed for all of man’s imperfections. Eve continues from the refrain in a remorseful tone, though it seems increasingly frustrated when they say “All of my daughters will be named ‘trophy,’ ‘dinner,’ ‘dishes,’ ‘dissatisfied,” as they point out the stereotypical gender roles that has resulted from the naming of things. This is compounded as both Lilith and Eve call out God for being a terrible father, and not fitting the gender norms that He created in the first place. This is pointed out directly with the line “God, how are we supposed to call you ‘father’ when you have never been one?”
The piece really takes off (if it hasn’t already) from about 2:10 when both De and Rebeca give the line “Your name is a curse upon my tongue,” which has a dual meaning. Not only is the name “God” a curse upon their tongues, but so is the name of the men who created the concept of God (see above). But to go further with the line, the concept of naming or being named is also reviled by both Eve and Lilith.
The remainder of the piece is not just a rejection of God like we see Adam, by Brian Frandsen. This is a rejection of the subjugation of women that has been established by the interpretation of these texts throughout history. By the end of the piece, Lilith and Eve are looking into the audience and pointing to individual members and asserting that your name “is whatever you choose.” Essentially, you don’t need to let anyone choose your identity for you; take control of your identity and “wear your name like the shotgun placed above the Bible and speak it with artillery…Genesis and Revelations, write your own damn Bible. You are your own God.”
It’s incredibly exciting to revisit this piece and really dive into the nuances of it. Upon closer examination, it’s amazing how intricate and nuanced it is while also maintaining a visceral intensity, which is often a tough balance to strike in performance poetry.
Additionally, Salt City Slam had a rule for several years that a group piece had to be written as a group piece. That is, the team was opposed to turning an individual piece into a group piece for the sake of being a group piece. Often, you will find many teams that will perform a group piece that could just as well be performed by and individual. SCS wanted only to write pieces where there was a distinct need for two or more performers onstage. You can find this in Jesse Parent’s “Legion” for example, or the team piece “Hands” performed the previous year.
If I recall correctly that in writing this piece, De and Rebeca went through several drafts and concepts. They extensively researched the stories and drew a lot of feminist theory to arrive at this poem. They never settled. There were several drafts that may have been good enough, but they kept pushing and pushing.
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