Wednesday, 28 May 2014

‘A Blaze of Light in Every Word’

It’s said that Canadian singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen wrote eighty verses for his famous song, Hallelujah but selected only four for the  final studio recording.


I’ve edited and am re-posting my original piece about Hallelujah now in tribute to the young men and women of the Israel Defence Forces to thank them for looking after us ordinary citizens during the seven arduous weeks of Operation Protective Edge.

The video clip (above), features the Band of the IDF Education Corps singing the song in Hebrew and was produced by


Leonard.CohenIt’s difficult to believe that the ol’ romancer celebrates his 80th birthday next month. Perhaps that marks a year for each verse of Hallelujah!

But as I’m a fantasist I find it difficult to think of him without speculating how  his work would look if he had become an ordained rabbi.

His background in and knowledge of Jewish tradition  and culture would make him half-way there without a smidgen of real effort. But who cares? I’m sure no literate person would deny him his place in the pantheon of great modern psalmists.

As I’m leaving discussion about his new album for another day, I’ll conclude this post with the studio version of the lyrics to Hallelujah and a simply marvellous piece from his 1961 poetry collection, The Spice-Box of Earth.

Meanwhile, I challenge any Cohen mavens (experts) reading this to explain why he spells the word ‘Jew’ with a lower-case ‘j’.

The Genius ("For you I will be a ghetto Jew ..")

“For you
I will be a ghetto jew
and dance
and put white stockings
on my twisted limbs
and poison wells
across the town

“For you
I will be an apostate jew
and tell the Spanish priest
of the blood vow
in the Talmud
and where the bones
of the child are hid

“For you
I will be a banker jew
and bring to ruin
a proud old hunting king
and end his line

“For you
I will be a Broadway jew
and cry in theatres
for my mother
and sell bargain goods
beneath the counter

“For you
I will be a doctor jew
and search
in all the garbage cans for foreskins
to sew back again

“For you
I will be a Dachau jew
and lie down in lime
with twisted limbs
and bloated pain
no mind can understand”



Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah”


© Natalie Wood (28 May / 29 August 2014)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Look At All The Kindness!

Cathy Bryant is generous to  fault! Cathy.Bryant.02

Almost every poem in her new  collection bursts with warm-hearted, no-frills kindness, bearing testament to her good-natured, commonsensical view of life. Indeed, it’s as if she and her publisher, Mother’s Milk Books are destined partners - a veritable match made in heaven.

But what the casual reader won’t know is that Bryant, already a multi-prize-winner, is at the hub of a network of talented writers and performance artists - mostly based in the Northwest of England -  who much appreciate the important professional information she gathers and publishes regularly - all free of charge.

Further, if I’m any example, she is unstinting in the praise she offers other people’s work. But enough of frivolity! First, I must point out that not only have some of the poems in Look At All The Women already appeared elsewhere,  but that Bryant allowed me to read one of them, Gifts of Fruit for Travellers,  at a meeting in Israel a couple of years ago when I explained that she is not Jewish but a warm friend of the community. I chose the poem then because it empathises keenly with emigration - an experience that many Jewish residents of Israel surely share.

Perusing the collection has also been an educative and occasionally humbling exercise. Before reading The White Rose, for example, I knew nothing about the German resistance group of that name or of two of its members, Lutheran Christians Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans who were executed for treason by the Nazis in February 1943.

Further, the moving piece, Sacrament proves once more how much poets from different cultures owe the Bible as a source for personal creativity, although we may use it from our many perspectives:

“You taught me the song of Solomon,
beloved husband, and silently we sing;
mouths, tongues fruit ripe to bursting.
Credo. This is an act of belief,
of us erased yet also magnified”.

There are also moments of devilish levity and I’m sure most people reading Dinner Invitation will nod sagely and recall having had to endure a similar date. Oh, dear ….

This brings me to the title poem where  the author looks at a host of different women and their lives:

“Look at that woman writer!
It’ll be all flowers, dresses and chocolates
at her many literary award ceremonies”.

We all wish that for you, Cathy. You deserve it and I’m convinced this particular piece will become a much read and beloved modern classic.

But I conclude now on a deliberately dark note by choosing a wryly astute piece of the sort that may be penned only with the wisdom of maturity:

Passing On

“Yet another of her friends died and Rae,
seventy eight, sighed as yet again
she crossed out an entry in her address book
and ironed her good black frock
and wondered why she of so many was left,
and what she could do while still here;
until presently she wasn’t, and her friend Jim
crossed her entry out in his address book
and remembered her laugh, and went a bit watery
as he brushed down his well-worn dark suit;
and he felt as if he alone carried the burden
and knowledge of his generation, important work;
and then he copped it too, and, the torch passing,
someone else felt the same”.


'Look.At.All.The.Women.CoverLook At All The Women is published by Mother’s Milk Books at £8.99.



© Natalie Wood (22 May 2014) 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

‘A Foot For Every Year’

Part of the oddity of ‘virtual’ acquaintance is that it may bond people over thousands of miles although they never meet in the material world.

This modern truism hit home most hard yesterday when news of the untimely passing of an acquaintance’s brother in his late forties won her an outpouring of quite affecting sympathy  from many people who would otherwise be wholly unaware of each other’s existence.

A poem that encapsulates the grief caused by the death of a beloved sibling especially well is Mid-Term Break by the late Irish Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney. The difference though, as my newly bereaved friend would surely acknowledge, is that Heaney’s brother died aged only four.    Seamus.Heaney

“Mid-Term Break

“I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

“In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

“The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

“And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble,'
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

“In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

“Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

“Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

“A four foot box, a foot for every year”.

© Natalie Wood (20 May 2014)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Taste of Edible Poetry!

During a week that BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please celebrated food and had the good sense to include a piece by the lovely Cathy Bryant,  the rest of the world decided to follow suit and enjoy a pot or three of hummus.

HummousBut  can the delectable edible produce poetry?

The answer has to be, “indeed, yes!

So, try this for starters by a writer who appears on Hello Poetry as ‘AS’:

Old, found III

“There is
no poetry
in me.
There is only
people and
things and
places where I should have
been hours ago.
I am empty cigarette cartonHummous.Pitta
I am
bleeding nostril
I am sweaty neck.
I am calloused feet.
I am going to shoot up
a mall
or maybe
eat some hummus
or maybe
take the train home”.

© Natalie Wood (13 May 2014)

Bombs Don’t Always Turn Houses Into Ashes

I am pleased to publish the piece below as the first of many guest contributions to PerfectlyWritePoetry.

Andy Nicholson, known professionally as ‘Andy N’, is a writer, performer and experimental musician from North West England, U.K. His first book,   Return to Kemptown,  was published in 2010. He has since co written two further collections: A Means to an End (with Jeff Dawson – 2011) and Europa (with Nick Armbrister – 2014).

Nicholson, who has a collection of mystery stories due out soon from the Origami Poems Project, is currently working on another full length poetry collection, The End of Summer, due for release next year.  Andrew.Nicholson

His work has appeared in many books and magazines and he performs regularly in public, both as an individual and as a vocalist and keyboardist in the spoken word collective, 'A Means to an End'.


This poem, Nicholson says, stemmed partly from reading about a bombing near a train station in Israel. But his intention is not political.

“Nahariya 2001

“Bent double in the flames
His charred possessions
Lay split across the ground
Like soil beneath stones

“Scalding his hands in the heat
Throbbing ceaselessly
In the aftermath
Of a midnight bombing

“Which has somehow missed
The train tracks
And also most of his neighbours
Who stand there amazed

“That the bombs
Haven’t turned their houses
Into ashes also

“His lack of sleep
Mirroring the beginning
Of another storm”.

 © Natalie Wood (13 May 2014)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

‘To Practise This Thin Love’

I’ve chosen this piece as it’s a wickedly witty contradiction of the Platonic ideal of love being chaste and non-sexual.


William.CartwrightWilliam Cartwright, one of the so-called ‘Cavalier Poets’,  was an Oxford University graduate who swiftly became a well-known preacher and dramatist. Although there is debate both about his origins and the quality of some of his work, I think this piece is a little gem.

Moreover, King Charles I valued Cartwright’s loyalty  during the Civil War and is said to have worn mourning on the day of his funeral, following his death from camp fever in November 1643 aged only 32.


“No Platonic Love

“Tell me no more of minds embracing minds,
     And hearts exchang’d for hearts;
That spirits spirits meet, as winds do winds,
     And mix their subt’lest parts;
That two unbodied essences may kiss,
And then like Angels, twist and feel one Bliss.

“I was that silly thing that once was wrought
     To practise this thin love;
I climb’d from sex to soul, from soul to thought;
     But thinking there to move,
Headlong I rolled from thought to soul, and then
From soul I lighted at the sex again.

“As some strict down-looked men pretend to fast,
     Who yet in closets eat;
So lovers who profess they spirits taste,
     Feed yet on grosser meat;
I know they boast they souls to souls convey,
Howe’r they meet, the body is the way.

“Come, I will undeceive thee, they that tread
     Those vain aerial ways
Are like young heirs and alchemists misled
     To waste their wealth and days,
For searching thus to be for ever rich,
They only find a med’cine for the itch”.

© Natalie Wood (07 May 2014)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

‘I Bite My Lip, and Begin To Cry’

Elisha.PoratIsraeli poet and novelist, Elisha Porat died last year aged 75.

I have chosen his poem below both in tribute to him as a fine writer whose work is widely available in English translation and also for Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and those who have died from terrorism).

Porat, like many poets the world over, drew material from his experiences serving in the military.

The Young Students may be found, inter alia, on

“The Young Students

Soldier.Cemetery"The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them
at night when the clock counts."   

-- Archibald MacLeish.

“On the morning of Memorial Day I walk into the class.
"The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard . . . "
I read to my young students;
My voice echoes in the silent space of the class.
Their eyes are fastened to my lips,
Fear beats upon my face:

“I'm the one who knows,
I'm the one who remembers;
I bite my lip, and begin to cry.

“Abruptly I flee from the classroom,
As the eyes of my young students
Drill into the silent space in my brain.
Speak to me, dear children,
How I truly need to hear
Your voices now”.

Translated from the Hebrew by
author and Ward Kelley

Elisha Porat
© Copyright 2006


About Elisha Porat 

Elisha Porat, the 1996 winner of Israel's Prime Minister's Prize for Literature, was born in 1938 to a pioneer family in pre-State of Israel Palestine and his parents were among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, located on the Sharon Plain near Hadera.

Porat, devoted to the community ideal, was drafted into the IDF (the Israeli army)  in 1956 and fought in the Six Day War of 1967; the Yom Kippur War of  1973 and the 1982 Lebanon War.

As a life member of his kibbutz, Porat  worked as a farmer as well as a writer and  editor for several literary journals. His work in the kibbutz fruit orchard, which  contrasted markedly with his military duties, heavily influenced his art.  He was married with four adult children - three daughters and a son.

About Archibald MacLeish 

Archibald MacLeish (1892 – 1982) was an American poet, writer, and the Librarian of Congress. He is associated with the Modernist school of poetry and received three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.

© Natalie Wood (04 May 2014)

Saturday, 3 May 2014

My Saturday Night Rose

The self-authored piece below is a tribute to Israel’s two major days of springtime remembrance.

This week, Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Memorial Day) recalled those who died during the Holocaust. Tomorrow night and Monday, Yom Hazikaron will memorialise those who lost their lives defending the State of Israel. Celebrations for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, begin on Monday evening.


Saturday Night Rose


Night falls where bombs cannot.

So we sit as safe as houses,

An audience to songs without music

Sung to the uneasy beat of

Waters saddling a white-horsed sea.


We are handed roses.

Long-stemmed crimson beauties,

They accept our fealty with

Gracious hauteur. 


Quivering proud on Holocaust

Day, mine guards the hushed

Breeze as the eternal two

Minutes stretch to honour each

Soul ever sacrificed by fire.


But an innocent dog barks;

A heartless motorist scuttles past.

At another time, they too, will

Be remembered.


  • This note allows me to offer renewed thanks to the Voices Israel poetry group and also to members of the synagogue who hosted last week’s event in Nahariya. 

© Natalie Wood (03 May 2014)