Sunday, 20 December 2015

It's Never, Ever, 'All Over'.

Bob Dylan's song, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, prompted the theme of veteran US writer Joyce Carol Oates's most noted short story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

The lyrics are difficult. Some critics argue that they are strongly influenced by the symbolist poet, Arthur Rimbaud while lines like "take what you have gathered from coincidence" reflect the I Ching philosophy which uses a type of divination called cleromancy and states that coincidence represents more than mere chance. This in turn produces apparently random numbers. 

Oates's story has prompted as much debate as Dylan's song, partly because of her description of the graffiti of rough doodles and  random numbering adorning the villain's gold-painted, open-top car. 

"'Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey," Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 ...'" 

Other scholars say the numerals allude to several biblical passages, especially Judges 19:17 in the Hebrew bible. This verse appears in the story about a man who tries to prevent a male guest from being sodomised by offering his daughter and the guest's concubine in their place. The concubine is gang-raped throughout the night, collapses, then dies. Then as the story unfolds, we learn that the incident causes a  civil war with mass slaughter on both sides.

My own feeling is that while Oates is an atheist, that she may also be acutely aware of the rabbinical dictum of there being no such thing as coincidence; that everything happens for a reason. 

After all, she is from a part-Jewish background and was very close to her paternal grandmother, Blanche Woodside who concealed her heritage after her own father killed himself. It seems self-evident to me that Oates drew on this link via Dylan's music and also through her villain, 'Friend', who bears a common Jewish surname. 

Elsewhere, Oates uses parts of her grandmother's life story in her novel, The Gravedigger's Daughter. Most recently, the final tale in her new short-story collectionThe Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, refers to the frequent use of 'coincidence' as a popular plot device in 19th century fictional literature.


You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun

Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets

This sky, too, is folding under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
All your reindeer armies, are all going home
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Friday, 18 December 2015

Poetry with Punch

When I opened this blog in April last year, I mused on the nature of poetry, and suggested that a poem is more than its base material; that like its author it has a soul – a ‘divine spark’ - that helps to lift it beyond the ordinary.

Now English language poetry lovers in the Galilee will have the chance to debate what makes a popular poem great when we meet for an evening of ‘Poetry with Punch'.

At the event, under the aegis of ESRA KARMIEL, participants will take turns to read a couple of beloved poems by favourite authors and then to explain the reasoning behind their selection.

The event, to be held in a private home, is open to a maximum of 21 readers so those wishing to attend should pre-register to help the organisers arrange seating and refreshments which are to include snacks and hot punch.


Date: Tuesday 05 January 2016

Time: 7.15 p.m. for 7.30 p.m

Venue: Private home in Ramat Rabin, Karmiel

Entrance: NIS 15; NIS 10 (ESRA/KESC members)

© Natalie Wood (18 December 2015)

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Then – and Now

(“Generation after generation reads the same words and says: ‘Was that then or is that now’?” – Rabbi Lord Sacks)
Then and Now


And it came to pass that Fayez

Father of Hamdia heeded the deeds

of our shared forebear, Avraham

and welcomed weary strangers inside his home.


“’Jew, Jew, Jew! We’ll stone you!

Burn you! Destroy you’!”



As all around a baying mob of

neighbours threw rocks and fire,

scorching holy Hebrew prayer boxes

with searing words of hate, Fayez,

a Palestinian Arab, gave five angels

from the States water, time, refuge

so they may learn that ‘Allah’ – also

named ‘Hashem’ – is great and would

help them find their way to where

our noble patriarchs lie at their eternal rest.


“I’m no hero”, said unassuming Fayez.

“I did what needed to be done. We are

all human first and foremost. That's how

everyone should behave. We have no problems

with the Israelis and we don't want to have any."


But even as he proffered kindness,

offered Jews universal words of comfort

beneath his roof, the hate outside did not abate.


“‘Jew, Jew, Jew’! We’ll stone you!

Burn you! Destroy you’!”


Dear God of all our warring nations,

please keep Fayez Father of Hamdia quite safe!

© Natalie Wood (08 December 2015)

Sunday, 6 December 2015

‘Time for You and Time for Me’

Afternoon Tea


“Cake – let’s have cake”,

you said. The same rotund vowels

that robed us in a swish of velvet

drapes drawn swiftly against

an early darkened afternoon,

also bathed us in scents of

mixed sweet spice, citrus,

plumped fruits – and sugar so

sticky-black it may have passed for

road tar in the thickening gloom.




Toast perhaps?” As I asked, my

tongue lingered long on fancied

butter spreading, sliding, oozing

on a plate – like the skittish soap suds

that slithered off Gran’s hallowed

door-step, down, deep down the

nearest grate.


“No. Cake, please”, you said,

the tips of your blunt-nailed fingers

scarcely grazing mine. “Times like

this - of joy – even the tremulous

joy of sorrow – are best toasted

with cake, tea. Sometimes wine”.


Then there were flowers. And

after an elaborate search behind

your chair, you revealed a riot of

quite unreasonable, unseasonal,

bare-faced colour.


“These  unblushing, brazen

blooms”, I said, “seem careless

of their pedigree. Are they not

aware that good breeding requires

that they close their puckered

mouths in public?”


“But they wish to toast you”,

you said, “with cake. Feed

them. Now”.

© Natalie Wood (06 December 2015)