Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Most Beloved One of All

(Prompted by a translation of a Greek poem inscribed on the wall of the burial cave at Beit Guvrin, south of Jerusalem).

Betrothed to Me Forever

On a fruitless day in a place

whose faded paths forever

bode autumn, I stumbled on

a lover’s note scrawled upon a wall.

Beit Guvrin Burial Cave Inscription

“I write wrapped tight in your dear

cloak”, it read, “just as fast as once

you clasped me in your arms.

“But grasp this well. Should

we be allowed to meet but once

again, we must barely bend our

heads in greeting.

“No shared smile, no slight sign that

in another place we were ever

more than fleeting friends.

“After those things – terrible things

– nought remains that I may do to

please you.

“So while I sleep with someone else,

I beg as you read my words, let

me flee while I allow you breadth

of freedom.

“In return, neither scream nor

strike this wall in anger. Believe

instead that I vow in Aphrodite’s name

we will be in eternity like lovers new –

betrothed as if forever.

“In sum, it is you I love. You’ll

always be my most beloved

one of all”.

Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared in Volume 3 of the December 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine as Betrothed to Me Forever( edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

© Natalie Wood (31 October 2015)

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Jewish Poet of Sri Lanka

The great swaths of immigrants currently flooding Europe will soon learn that they’ll make and re-make their lives a dozen times over before finding some sense of place, let alone a sense of peace.

Anne.RanasingheThis is part of the refugee experience and sadly is very often how artistes are made. It most certainly helped to shape  prize-winning poet Anne  Ranasinghe (neé Anneliese Katz) whose parents were murdered by the Nazis after they sent her to safety in England on the Kindertransport. 

Born in Essen, Germany, she went on to study midwifery but later changed careers to concentrate on writing. But what must be described as a novel twist in a familiar plot emerged when Ranasinghe met and married a Sri Lankan doctor, Don Abraham Ranasinghe. She then emigrated to Sri Lanka where she helped to raise her husband’s three children from a previous marriage as well as the four they had together.

Anne Ranasinghe took Sri Lankan citizenship in the fifties and has now lived there for 60 years. So it is little surprise that the Holocaust along with a sympathetic look at others’ alienation and minority persecution are frequent subjects in her poetry.


Anne Ranasinghe is an overseas member of Israel’s English language poetry society, Voices Israel and fellow members are delighted that her life story is being broadcast throughout October on Caesarea Al HaGal on Channel 98 each Monday at 3:30 p.m. and again on Thursday at 10:00 p.m.



"Auschwitz from Colombo

“Colombo. March. The city white fire
That pours through vehement trees burst into flame,
And only a faint but nearing wind
Stirring the dust
From relics of foreign invaders, thrown

“On this far littoral by chance or greed,
Their stray memorial the odd word mispronounced,
A book of laws,
A pile of stones
Or may be some vile deed.

“Once there was another city, but there
It was cold - the trees leafless
And already thin ice on the lake.

“It was that winter
Snow hard upon the early morning street
And frost flowers carved in hostile window panes -
It was that winter

“Yet only yesterday
Half a world away and twenty-five years later
I learn of the narrow corridor
And at the end a hole, four feet by four
Through which they pushed them all - the children too
Straight down a shaft of steel thirteen feet long
And dark and icy cold
Onto the concrete floor of what they called
The strangling room. Dear God, the strangling room,

“Where they were stunned - the children too -
By heavy wooden mallets,
Garrotted, and then impaled
On pointed iron hooks.

“I am glad of the un-echoing street
Burnt white in the heat of many tropical years,
For the mind, no longer sharp,
Seared by the tropical sun
Skims over the surface of things
Like the wind
That stirs but slightly the ancient dust”.

(From Against eternity and darkness: [poems] Paperback – 1985)

© Natalie Wood (16 October 2015)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Days of Rage

Some traditions believe that when one dreams of the skies raining stones or blood, it foretells disaster; a punishment for sin. (

Raining Stones

stones raining









The people demanded rain.

So I dreamed a dream in which

the winds blew and the dew fell,

each drop shining like stones on

a monarch’s jewelled diadem.

This was for a blessing.

I raised my arms, bore my

hands aloft and prayed.

I, even I could make the

waters fall!


First came a small spit, pushed

by a larger spot, chased by a

greater splash that rushed into a

stream which unfurled and spread

shimmering smooth; a virginal

lake of watered silk, stilled by

easy expectation.


This too, was for a blessing.


Then the sun blazed angry;

the waters ebbed and the people

moaned. We’d been twice cursed.


So I dreamed another dream.

Again I raised my arms, bore my

hands aloft and prayed. But now

there was no gleam. No water fell.


Instead the winds howled and

a harsh-worded harpy screeched

that we had sinned.


This is for a curse.


Yet the rains came. First, fell

tiny crystals that became

pebbles which hurtled into

rocks that dashed into boulders

which crushed us hailstone small.

Now Israel bleeds.


This too, is for a curse.

© Natalie Wood (13 October 2015)

Friday, 9 October 2015

Herschel Silverman –‘Beat Poet Candy Man’

Below is a clip of a reading by US Beat poet Herschel Silverman who died last month aged 89.

If you rub your chin and confide that his name does not readily spring to mind along side those of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and co, then you’re in good company!

How could the humdrum, stable life of a sweet shop owner with a wife and children to support possibly compete with those of the crazed but starred founders of the beat generation?

Even the obituarist in The Telegraph wrote that Silverman worked “to little fanfare” while running his ‘luncheonette’, Hersch’s Beehive, in New Jersey.

But he became a long-time pen-pal of Ginsberg and his verse developed to combine Beat themes like jazz with details from his domestic life. So while influenced by his better known peers, he managed to produce what Ginsberg called an “inventive energy, New Jersey beauty and charm in his compositions”.

Herschel.SilvermanThis excerpt from Nite Train Poems as discussed on CultureCatch  displays Silverman’s skill for raising the mundane to the level of art:

i run away in mind

                         in nite train

again and again

                         and again

something bugging me

                         money maybe

a need to scream   to cry out

                         and curse with verbs

     to release the utter   Frustration

                        of a rent due

     and electric gas bill --

     the lack of tears so inhibiting

            the train carrying me

     filling with a nervous gas

                 the hang-ups

          coming to a halt

                 for a while

          in a bottle of Fleischman's

               and some ginger ale

I conclude with an excerpt from  Section VI of Jazz & the Changes, which the poet dedicated to his wife, neé Laura Rothschild and addressed to her:

“i told her

there's no Jazz

Real Jazz

without Gut

without Love

or Zen statement

no ear

without Jazz

no Jazz without Ear,

that Jazz is the daily statement

an unincorporated


      of the condition of

an individual's soul

                              in relation

      to God”

[*The four poems in the recording, documented by Mitch Corber, are Crazy She Called Me, Cittee Cittee Cittee, For Jim Brodey and To Construct the Blues for Moe. Perry Robinson is on clarinet.]

© Natalie Wood (09 October 2015)

Friday, 2 October 2015

This Dinner Guest’s Personal Exodus?

Anat.HoffmanEven as a strong IRAC (Israel Religion Action Centre) supporter and its feisty director, Anat Hoffman I can’t agree with everything she and her organisation do.

In the past week, for example, I felt more embarrassed than engaged when she used her newsletter, The Pluralist, to suggest that the tradition of ‘inviting’ historical guests to celebrate the festival of Succot be widened to include “seven Israeli-Arab and Palestinian treasures, including  performers, politicians, and poets”. 

Ali.Salem Perhaps I’m not alone in feeling it’s the wrong time to mix religion and politics and that anyway her choice was rather arbitrary. Why did she not, for example, include the much-admired Egyptian writer, Ali Salem who had been widely ostracised by his fellow countrymen after visiting Israel in 1994 and died during September aged 79?

But never mind! It’s given me a reason to look at the work of one of Hoffman’s proposed ‘guests’, Taha Muhammad Ali, a Palestinian poet and short story writer who lived in Lebanon with his family during the 1948 Israel War of Independence  but went on to spend the rest of his life in Nazareth where he owned a souvenir shop. He died there in 2011.

The Poetry Foundation says of Ali: “Self-taught through his readings of classical Arabic literature, American fiction, and English poetry, Ali started writing poems in the 1970s. His collections in English include Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story (2000) and So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971–2005 (2006).

Adina Hoffman’s biography of Ali, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century, won the 2010 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize.

ExodusTaha Muhammed Ali


“The street is empty

as a monk’s memory,

and faces explode in the flames

like acorns—

and the dead crowd the horizon

and doorways.

No vein can bleed

more than it already has,

no scream will rise

higher than it’s already risen.

We will not leave!


“Everyone outside is waiting

for the trucks and the cars

loaded with honey and hostages.

We will not leave!

The shields of light are breaking apart

before the rout and the siege;

outside, everyone wants us to leave.

But we will not leave!


“Ivory white brides

behind their veils

slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,

and everyone outside wants us to leave,

but we will not leave!


“The big guns pound the jujube groves,

destroying the dreams of the violets,

extinguishing bread, killing the salt,

unleashing thirst

and parching lips and souls.

And everyone outside is saying:

“What are we waiting for?

Warmth we’re denied,

the air itself has been seized!

Why aren’t we leaving?”

Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,

the places of ablution.

Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;

they do not believe what is now so clear,

and fall, astonished,

writhing like worms, or tongues.

We will not leave!


“Are we in the inside only to leave?

Leaving is just for the masks,

for pulpits and conventions.

Leaving is just

for the siege-that-comes-from-within,

the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,

the siege of the brethren

tarnished by the taste of the blade

and the stink of crows.

We will not leave!


“Outside they’re blocking the exits

and offering their blessings to the impostor,

praying, petitioning

Almighty God for our deaths”.

  © Natalie Wood (02 October 2015)