Sunday, 25 September 2016

Alwayswriteagain: 5777 כתיבה וחתימה טובה

Alwayswriteagain: 5777 כתיבה וחתימה טובה:   The first day of Rosh Hashana , the Jewish New Year, falls next week, Monday 03 October 2016. May everyone who is celebrating have a gr...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

On Rachel’s Birthday …

Israelis love their writers so much that many  are lauded as latter-day seers and saints.

Rachel BluwsteinSo it is with Rachel Bluwstein whose 126th birthday is celebrated today by Google Israel. Indeed, so revered and renowned does she remain even 85 years after her death, that she is still referred to simply as ‘Rachel The Poetess’.

Earlier this summer during a visit to Tiberias, I attempted to make a pilgrimage to her gravesite at the old cemetery, overlooking Lake Kinneret. But despite spending more than hour there wandering among the many fading headstones  and poorly tended plots, I was unable to find it.  I would appreciate a word from anyone who can point me in the right direction for a future occasion.

I conclude here with Perhaps, taken from the Anthology of Modem Hebrew Poetry, translated from the Hebrew by A.C. Jacobs.

Rachel Bluwstein Google


Perhaps it was never so.
I never woke early and went to the fields
To labour in the sweat of my brow
Nor in the long blazing days
Of harvest
On top of the wagon laden with sheaves,
Made my voice ring with song
Nor bathed myself clean in the calm
Blue water
Of my Kinneret. O, my Kinneret,
Were you there or did I only dream?


© Natalie Wood (20 September 2016)

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Jewish Dadaist Without Borders

Jacob GlatshteynJacob Glatstein (Yankev Glatshteyn) was one of the great figures of mid-20th century American Yiddish literature.

I mention him now because Words Without Borders, which promotes cultural understanding through the translation and publication of contemporary international writing, features his work in its current newsletter.

I am intrigued by this piece, translated by Asya Vaisman Schulman, as on a first reading, I mistakenly assumed it to be a sly satire of Ladino  -  Judeo-Spanish and Sephardi Jewry’s linguistic counterpart to Ashkenazi Yiddish.

However, research tells me that Glatshteyn designed it as a ‘dadaist hymn to Yiddish’ and used it in a public reading in November 1966, during which he asked his audience not to applaud between each poem so they may “have the opportunity without distraction to immerse themselves fully in the sound, rhythm and texture of the poetry.”


Sing Ladino

Sing Ladino, you blond songer,
Our magicjargonino,
Multicolored chattering,
Multitongued languageing
Sundownino, nino-nino,
Finegolden radiating, bursting—
All the breads, all the deaths,
All the taigas, all the tundras,
All the wonders multicolored,
All the wicks, all the skins,
Yellowred and Falashino,
Palestino speakerino,
Ours, our universladino,
You, blond Alladino, sing.

From the deeps and the stilldeepers,
Slavic, Luvavich, Turkavic,
Pollackic, Kazakhic,
Greekish and Teutonic,
Caucasian, Ashkenazi,
Carpathian and Asatic –
Our languagenoiseration,
Our tragic multihyping,
Our bulkheap, our buzzing,
Our Latvic, our
Scrawny thoughtster,
You blond songer,
Sing Ladino.

© Natalie Wood (13 September 2016)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Disinheritance and Continuation

John Sibley WilliamsIn less than a month this past summer American writer John Sibley Williams has become the father of twins and produced a new collection of hauntingly beautiful verse.



Even so, the title of this latest book is Disinheritance **.

But unlike other readers who have offered it unstinting praise, I find the volume deeply disquieting. At a time when many fathers would write joyously of the new lives they have helped to create, Sibley devotes himself to death and mourning. Disinheritance

Further, as one poem in the collection is titled A Dead Boy Speaks to His Parents, it is followed by another, Things Start at Their Names. The latter refers to ‘Gabriel’ – also the name of his new-born son and means “God is my strength”.  Enough said!

Williams also writes fiction, is a free-lance literary agent, publicist and presently the marketing director of Inkwater Press, a self-publishing company. So I was surprised to note printing errors in the final poem, Denouement.


Can I say that a child died inside us
when all we have conceived is a name
for what could be?

We’ve built a cradle of nails and wood
to house a body too busy dying
to rest, a trophy of grief
we polish in case of tomorrow.

Yet still he cannot see through
the eyes I tried to give him.

My mother has woven a shroud
to warm the son, blue for the sky
and gold for its promise, black
around the edges to resemble
the distances between them.

Our friends have their mantra
the world will wait for you
and we have our reply
spelled out in silence.


** Disinheritance is published by Apprentice House @ $6.99 (Kindle) and $11.99 (Paperback).

© Natalie Wood (13 September 2016)

Sunday, 11 September 2016

What Black Poets Know By Heart

A 20-year-old US black poet has won the prestigious ‘Most Promising Young Poet Award’ from the Academy of American Poets. Donte-Collins_thumb17

Donte Collins scooped the prize for a poem dashed off in only 15 minutes and which was triggered by yet another shooting of a fellow black man by a white police officer.

Collins is a young man who may well be suffused by an uncomprehending, unrelenting rage.

After all, he could demand, as he was born in Chicago why were he and a brother summarily despatched to be adopted by a total stranger in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota when he was aged only two? Didn’t they have a say in the arrangement? Why weren’t they allowed to be raised and loved by their natural mother – like other kids?

“My childhood was filled with both beauty and struggle … I was so angry. I didn’t understand what adoption meant. I had so much grief,” he says. It was only later that he began to understand that he could best express himself by using words instead of fists.

Amy-King_thumb13Below I repost Donte’s poem, what the dead know by heart along with Perspective by Amy King, who was co-winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize.


what the dead know by heart

by Donte Collins


lately, when asked how are you, i

respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder

often:  if the gun that will unmake me

is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a

flock of blue jays, will come carry my black

to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood. today i did

not die and there is no god or law to

thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed

a mirror and did not see a body, instead

a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i

haven’t enough room to both rage and

weep. i go to cry and each tear turns

to steam. I say I matter and a ghost

white hand appears over my mouth.



by Amy King

When I see the two cops laughing

after one of them gets shot

because this is TV and one says

while putting pressure on the wound,

Haha, you're going to be fine,

and the other says, I know, haha!,

as the ambulance arrives—

I know the men are white.

I think of a clip from the hours

of amateur footage I've seen

when another man at an intersection

gets shot, falls, and bleeds from a hole

the viewer knows exists only by the way

the dark red pools by the standing cop's feet,

gun now holstered, who

yells the audience back to the sidewalk.

I know which one is dying

while black and which one stands by white.

I think this morning about the student

in my class who wrote a free write line

on the video I played

that showed a man pouring water

on his own chest, "...the homoerotic

scene against a white sky" with no other men

present. Who gets to see and who follows

what script? I ask my students.

Whose lines are these and by what hand

are they written?

© Natalie Wood (11 September 2016)

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A Sporting Chance for Brazil’s Finest Flower

 Carlos Drummond de AndradeAlmost 30 years after his death, the modernist poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade is still regarded as Brazil’s greatest writer of the 20th century and his poem, A Flor e a Náusea – Nausea and the Flower - was read both in Portuguese and English during Friday’s opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Drummond – despite maternal Scots ancestry – has hitherto been much better known in the Americas than Europe or the U.K. But I am convinced that the manner in which he is revered by his countrymen will now become universal.

I have spent an absorbing few hours reading about this truly astonishing personality and discovered that his prose works include Boitempo,  a book of poetic memories in which there is piece based on local legend,  The Uncomfortable Company of the Wandering Jew. Most intruigingly, the anti-hero is ‘Ahasverus’ – a variaton on the name of the Persian king who saved the Jewish community in the Purim story.

There are several available translations of the poem below and I rely on any Portuguese-literate readers to provide a different version if this one proves inadequate.


Nausea and the Flower

A prisoner of my class and some clothing, I walk, dressed in white along the gray street.
Melancholy and merchandise harass me.
Must I keep going until I collapse?
Can I rebel without arms?

Filthy eyes in the tower clock
No, the time of complete justice hasn’t come.
It’s still the time for dung, bad poetry, phantasms and hope.

A poor time and a poor poet
Melt together in the same impasse.

In vain I try to explain myself, but the walls are deaf.
Beneath the skin of the words there are ciphers and codes.
The sun consoles the sick but does not renew them.
Things. How sad things are, considered without emphasis. A flower bloomed in the street!

To vomit this ennui on the city.
Forty years and no problem solved, not even stated.
No letter written or received.
The men all return home.
They are less free but carry newspapers and spell out the world, knowing they are losing it.

Crimes of the earth, how to pardon them?
I took part in many, others I hid.
Some I thought clever, they were published.
Smooth crimes, that help one to live.
The daily ration of error, home-delivered.
The fierce bakers of wrong.
The fierce milkmen of wrong.

To set fire to everything, me included.
They called the boy of 1918 an anarchist.
But my hate is the best part of me.
With it I save myself
and give to a few a small hope.

Let the trolleys, busses, the steel river of traffic, keep their distance.
A flower still in bud
Eludes the police, pierces the asphalt.
Observe complete silence, stop all business,
I swear a flower grew.

You can’t see its color.
Its petals aren’t open
Its name isn’t in the books.
It’s ugly, but really--it’s a flower.

I sit on the ground of the capital of the country at five in the afternoon
and slowly pass my hand on this insecure form.
Beside the mountains, massive clouds pile up.
Little white dots move on the sea, chickens in panic.
It's ugly. But it's a flower. It breached the asphalt, the
ennui, the nausea and the hate.

© Natalie Wood (07 August 2016)

Monday, 4 July 2016

Yeats Saw This Coming

Even former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks says the present worldwide political storm is like nothing he’s seen in his lifetime.

“What we are witnessing throughout the West,” he  wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph and distributed to his email subscribers, “is a new politics of anger” that is hitting all western democracies, including the United States.

W B YeatsBut then in part illustration of his point, Rabbi Sacks did not use a Jewish source but remarked: “W B Yeats’s vision has come to pass. The centre no longer holds. Things fall apart. Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

The phrase comes from the Irish Nobel laureate’s 1919 poem The Second Coming which has no Christian allusion but whose ‘rough beast’, suggests Nick Tabor in The Paris Review, is intent on wreaking universal havoc.

Tabor continues: “Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.” These words, I suggest most respectfully, could well be those of Rabbi Sacks!

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


© Natalie Wood (04 July 2016)