Monday, 22 February 2016

What Katie Did First!

The year was 1988 and a 14-year-old London school girl named Kate Moss was on her first fashion shoot. 
Photographer Owen Scarbiena advised: 'Pretend you're bored waiting at the bus stop." The rest became international fashion history and the early pictures snapped by Scarbiena are now on display at the Zebra One Art and Photography Gallery, London.

Bus Stop

Gimme your best pout, love.
The sort you’d offer any
passing lout, pet.

Pretend you’re bored stiff, sweet.
It’s a rainy Tuesday after school,
doll. Lean like so against the bus
stop pole, let its metalled frame
lay you back; we’ll fast-track you
to the stars, chuck.

You’re desperate to ape cool,
hon’. Let me see you drop that
lower lip; the one that as a rule
makes Mum itch to slap your
bloody face, scrub off all trace
of forbidden fun.

Try ‘fed up’, dear; the already
twice around the block; done
it all; ‘I’m past fourteen; don’t
nag; I’ll snort it up, spit it out –
nothing tastes as good as
skinny feels’ look.

But when you’re forty-plus
and suddenly understand
that all flesh is grass, you’ll
pout again, love. 
This time, for real.

© Natalie Wood (22 February 2016)

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Taking the Hump!

Digital CameraHar Gamal, just outside Karmiel, Lower Galilee is a hill with a twin-humped camel-shaped top, formed by centuries of wind and rain erosion.
Although popular with abseiling (‘rappelling’) enthusiasts, the area is unspoilt, boasts orchards of ancient olive trees and affords a wonderful view towards Haifa Bay.
On Being Har Gamal


I am a camel with two humps.

My lushly verdant saddle bestrides

twin mountains shaped by weather’s

ancient rules, first lapping, then lashing

wrinkled rock, a patterned beat

struck to the rhythm of time.





I am unshod. But as the Hebrew

alphabet’s third letter, am not unschooled,

so know that from my regal mount I may,

on days like these glimpse Haifa’s sun-

dazed bay or wonder on Itshar’s

early olives as they bud but –

shame! - are still far too tart to try.





I am silent but not quite deaf,

so understand that should

romantics yearn to hear the songs

of spring they may cup an ear to

nearby Yonah’s caves, wherein a

multitude of aerial tenants swoop,

sway and trill.


Digital Camera


There, thrilled to be gathered

in a place of avian prayer, they

could form a choir loud enough to

burst as one from the body of a

whale with time in hand to save

a grand city’s citizens who know not

their right from their left and many

camels besides!


© Natalie Wood (18 February 2016)

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Writing More for the Ear than the Eye

Madison Smartt Bell is an American novelist best known for his stories about the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint Madison Smartt BellLouverture,   a leader of the Haitian independence movement during the French Revolution.

During an interview with the literary website, Byliner, Bell discusses his major influences and the relation between words and music in his work.

He is also a banjo player and acknowledges that as a native of Nashville,Tennessee “a lot of people write more for the eye, but I definitely write for the ear.  Sound defines my choice of words and the way I construct a sentence and paragraph, all that. 

“The musicality of prose has always been extremely important to me. Then again, the physicality of playing an instrument is really nice. You can sit there and do it without any conscious thought and let your mind just drift around, which can be productive in other areas”.

I thought about such things earlier this evening while watching - and listening - to an Israeli guitarist play through his engaging repertoire at the Karmiel Conservatory. By day, ‘Hetzi’ drives for Egged, the national bus company but tonight he took us on a musical journey with stops including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, Smile (Though Your Heart is Breaking) whose lyrics are by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, Oscar Hammerstein’s Edelweiss from The Sound of Music and as an encore the plaintive theme tune from Schindler’s List by John Williams. Hetzi’s audience may have been small. But we were smitten!

© Natalie Wood (17 February 2016)

Sunday, 14 February 2016

They Were Also at Entebbe

In memory of the civilian hostages murdered at Entebbe, July 1976.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe, the counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission conducted by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces  at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976.

It is has been increasingly argued in recent years that the memory of Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, who was kiled by a Ugandan sniper while leading the raid,  has been magnified and mythologised at the expense of both his colleagues and the four civilians who were also killed or died as a result of the operation.

The piece below is my tribute to them.


A Prayer for Rebirth at Entebbe

We were there, too.

Hear us!


Don’t let myth’s weight void

us, time’s passage oust us,

fine words erase us.

This is our wish.


Honour us like those

always feted by flags,

flowers, burnished stones.


Do not expunge us,

condemn us to plunge

further, still further

in an ever-falling

spiral inside oblivion’s

unending deep.

This is our plea.


Heed us now as you

dismissed us then, petty

people in a giant plan.


Both alone and as one,

recall our four lives that

were quite forgot as time

fashioned false truth, making

others larger, us smaller,

in a wrong fixed still deeper

as the decades ran.


We were there, too.

Renew us!

© Natalie Wood (14 February 2016)

Friday, 12 February 2016

Always with His Heart

While cynics insist that Valentine’s Day is vastly overrated, newspapers like  Britain’s  The  Telegraph have treated readers  to  a  selection  of  world-class verse to celebrate.                                                                                   .

Israel’s own day of love is marked in the late summer on Tu B’Av so I’ve entered the S.Y.Agnonpresent fun with  an offbeat contribution from an unusual source.

Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Israel’s only  Nobel literary laureate, immigrated from Galicia to Palestine in 1908 and returned to Europe for some years before going back to live in Jerusalem until his death in 1970.

He was strictly devout and his novels and short stories reflect the traditions and attitudes of the East European shtetl. I suggeat the piece I have chosen exemplifies why he was praised especially for the "peculiar tenderness and beauty"  of his work.

As a short story of less than 850 words, I must suppose that today it would be described as a ‘flash’. But I have chosen to use it here as it is deeply lyrical and so may also  be classed as an allegorical prose-poem.

With My Heart is from the short-story collection, A Dwelling Place of My People, Sixteen Stories of the Chassidim, translated from Hebrew into English by Rabbi J. Weinberg and H. Russell (Scottish Academic Press 1983).


“With My Heart”

“I wanted to sing a song to the Shulamite, the most lovely maiden because I love the Shulamite more than all the daughters of the people; and now because the birthday of the Shulamite is near I said to myself, ‘I shall make a song and bind it up in a string of rhymes’ for that is what the poets do with their songs.

“So I went to the rhymes and said to them, ‘Please listen, rhymes; behold I am composing a song for the Shulamite, the most lovely maiden, and I come to you in order that you will give me two or three rhymes for the song which I am making for her birthday’. Shulamite

“And the rhymes answered and said to me, ‘It is a good thing that you want to do, but go and bring us words and we shall give you the rhymes, according to your heart’s desire we will give you rhymes.’ I went to the words and I said to them, ‘I dearly wished to compose a song for the Shulamite, and I went to the rhymes in order that they would give me a few rhymes, and the rhymes said to me, ‘Go and bring us words and we will give you rhymes'. Now behold I come to you for the loan of words, and now lend me words for the song that I want to compose for the birthday of the Shulamite.’

“And the words listened and said: ‘The advice which the rhymes gave you was good, because without a word there is nothing. What is the most important of all is ourselves, the words; without words the thing is meaningless. So go and come to the head; perhaps it will give you an idea, and we will give you words, and you will come with the words to the rhymes and they will give you rhymes, and you will bind the words to the rhymes and compose the song to that Shulamite on her birthday’.

“So I went to the head and recounted everything, and he did not want to come with me. He said it was not proper for a man to compose songs. So what then? But I did not let him go, and I pleaded with him shamelessly until he agreed to go with me to one of the ideas in order to be with me when I came to the words and rhymes to compose the song for the Shulamite, the most lovely maiden. And we went, and we came to the idea and found him seated with wise and aged ones, and I said to the idea:

“’Behold the birthday of the Shulamite is near, and now I want to compose a song for the Shulamite. I went to the rhymes, and to the words, and they sent me to the head to speak for me before you when I come to make the song. So now please come with me to the words, and the rhymes; please arise, O idea, and come with me.’

“The idea answered and said, ‘Should I leave my place with the aged and the wise and go wandering with words and rhymes?’ The idea did not want to come with me to go to the words and the rhymes in order that the words would give me words and the rhymes give me rhymes for the song which I wanted to compose for the Shulamite, the loveliest maiden, whom I love.

“And I went out from before the idea, and I was very sad because my desire was to compose a song for the Shulamite on her birthday, and the idea would not come with me to the words and to the rhymes in order that I might make the song. And my heart found me and saw that I was sad, and my heart said to me, ‘Why are you sad?’ and I told my heart that I had gone to the rhymes and they sent me to the words, and the words sent me to the idea, and the idea sent me away empty and did not go with me, and indeed I wanted to compose a song for the Shulamite, the lovely maiden, for her birthday.

“’Now, how can I compose the song, and how can I return to the words and rhymes, if the idea is not with me?’ And my heart saw and said, ‘I shall be in your mouth, and you will compose a song for the Shulamite, loveliest of maidens, because I love the Shulamite and your songs.’

“While he was speaking he touched my mouth, and I composed the song for the Shulamite, the beautiful maiden, on her birthday; a song — which I had never sung till then, with an idea, and words, and rhymes — because my heart was with me and in my mouth.”

** The translators suggest that according to sources, the word ‘Shulamite’  may be a feminine form of Solomon.

© Natalie Wood (12 February 2016)

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Another Poet. But This One’s King!

The Poetry of Yehuda AmichaiI’ve been astounded to discover that modern Israeli high school students know little or nothing of their country’s major poets. This surely leaves a gaping and distressing hole in their education.

After all, Chaim Nachman Bailik’s  children’s Chanucah poem prompted the name of the 2008-2009 war while it’s said that Yehuda Amichai is the most translated Hebrew poet since King David. What’s more, there can be no argument about the origins of Amichai’s majestic verse.

So we’ve been given an enormous treat with the publication of what is described as the largest-ever English-language collection of Amichai’s work.

Yehuda AmichaiThe former Ludwig Pfeuffer fled with his family from Nazi Germany to Mandate Palestine and  explained during an interview with the Paris Review how the chance discovery of a Faber anthology of modern verse caused him to think seriously about writing poetry. This, he said, was how the likes of Thomas, Eliot and Auden became important to him and I say, doubtless how he eventually forged a strong bond with English poet laureate Ted Hughes who translated some of his work.

It must be an unsought tribute to editor Professor Robert Alter and his translators that the  publication of this collection  has itself produced a wealth of polished criticism and background feature material. I’ve had an absorbing few hours reading everything!

I was going to end here, simply by quoting below one of Amichai’s best known and beloved pieces, an ironic version of the El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer usually recited at funerals and on solemn religious holidays.

But then I came across a blog written by young  US composer, Mohammed  Fairouz who quotes the poem in Hebrew and English, giving readers English language notes explaining the original Hebrew prayer and Amichai’s wry version of it. This has been the best treat of all!


“God Full Of Mercy

  “God-Full-of-Mercy, the prayer for the dead.
If God was not full of mercy,
Mercy would have been in the world,
Not just in Him.
I, who plucked flowers in the hills
And looked down into all the valleys,
I, who brought corpses down from the hills,
Can tell you that the world is empty of mercy.
I, who was King of Salt at the seashore,
Who stood without a decision at my window,
Who counted the steps of angels,
Whose heart lifted weights of anguish
In the horrible contests.

“I, who use only a small part
Of the words in the dictionary.

“I, who must decipher riddles
I don't want to decipher,
Know that if not for the God-full-of-mercy
There would be mercy in the world,
Not just in Him.”

(Translated from the Hebrew by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav)

** The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai edited by Professor Robert Alter, is published in hardback ($24.47; £16.87; NIS 95.01 ) and Kindle ($16.99; £11.71; NIS 65.97)

© Natalie Wood (06 February 2016)