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November 25, 1983 - Image 90

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-11-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

92 Friday, November 25, 1983 •


Welsh Poet


Growing up in the interior
of America, I never saw any
of the exotic birds that live
close to the tropical seas
until I moved to New Or-
leans, a grown man, enter-
ing my 30s. Recalling that
time, I remember the sense
of wonder and pleasure I ex-
perienced when I went to
the zoo and saw a whole host
of flamingos standing one-
legged in the shallows, their
brilliant pinks, oranges and
starlets a striking contrast
to the sunburnt greens and
browns of the land and the
pale blues of the sky.
Those first flamingos, and
others I have since seen,
have seemed to me not just
like images of poetry, but in
their abstracted gaze, their
total serenity and their
marvelous balance, like
poems themselves, exotic
creatures perfect in their
aesthetic connection be-
tween flamingos and poems
has been reinforced for me,
so that today the two are
even more strongly in-
tertwined than when the
bonding of bird and poem
first occurred. I never read
"Sunday Morning," Wallace
Stevens' great poem, with
its description of the
"visionary south" without
seeing in my mind's eye
(though I am sure it is not


what Stevens saw) a flock of
flamingos imaged in his
I am content when wakened
Before they fly, test the
Of misty fields, by their
sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone
and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then
is Paradise?
I have always thought it
curious and ironic that Ste-
vens, who was no special
friend of the Jews, emphati-
cally advocates in these
lines the Jewish view of
immortality over the Chris-
tian view which he rejects,
arguing that it is only in
this world that we may ex-
perience "some imperisha-
ble bliss."
Still, Stevens' magnifi-
cent lines are all but
peripheral in my experience
of flamingos and poems.
What, then, is in the center?
Four flamingos are! They
stand one-legged not on
Louisiana's coastal shores
but in far-off London in a
shallow stream that
traverses Golders Hill Park,
just off Hampstead Heath.

Those four flamingos
were first pointed out to
me in the summer of 1975
by the Welsh Jewish poet,
Dannie Abse, who lives in
Golders Green. I saw
them again in 1976 and
1982. However unlikely it

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Dannie Abse's Flamingos in Winter

may seem to find flamin-
gos in that northern clime
they are not only there
literally but, now, they
have been given a figura-
five presence as well and
a permanence in Dannie
Abse's poetry where they
are seen, unruffled by the
London winter's cold
winds and snows, stand-
ing "One-Legged on Ice."
Dannie Abse has used
these words for the
American title of his
newest volume of poems,
just released by the Uni-
versity of Georgia Press.

The images of the birds
including the peacocks who
frequent Golders Hill Park
are found in the poem
entitled "A Winter's Visit"
in which the poet antici-
pates the approaching
death of his 90-year-old

Now she's ninety I walk
through the local park
where, too cold, the usual
peacocks do not screech
and neighboring lights come
on before it's dark.

Dare I affirm to her, so aged
and so frail,

that from one pale dot of
peacock's sperm
spring forth all the colors of
a peacock's tail?

I do. But she like the sibyl
says, would die';
then complains,' his winter
I'm half dead, son.'
And because it's true I want
to cry.

Yet must not (although only
Nothing keeps)
for I inhabit a white coat not
a black
even here — and am not
qualified to weep.

So I speak of small approx-
imate things,
of how I saw, in the park,
four flamingos
standing, one-legged on ice,
heads beneath wings.

Here, the flamingos be-

come not a symbol of loss
but a symbol of the beauty of
life and of endurance and
survival in the face of cer-
tain tragedy.
Through this capability
in composing such poems as
those found in "One-Legged
on Ice, "Dannie Abse has
emerged in recent years as a

major English poet. This
new volume confirms a sen-
sibility comprised of equal
parts of versatility (if he
were not so modest, I would
say "genius"), technical
mastery and human
warmth and compassion.
Though Abse has enjoyed
a rich diversity of experi-
ence, best described by the
American poet Daniel
Hoffman in these dualities:
"British/Jewish; English/
Welsh, seeker/skeptic,
bourgeois/bohemian, poet/
doctor," it seems to me clear
that he is turning more and
more to Jewish wellsprings
for the substance of his

Increasingly, he draws on
midrashic and hasidic
sources. For example,
"Snake" begins:

When the snake bit
Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa
While he was praying
the snake died (Each day
is attended by surprises
or it is nothing)

Other poems which em-
ploy Jewish themes in won-
der and delight include "Of
Rabbi Yose," "Bedtime
Story" (Its opening isAdam,

the first man, my father
said, perfect' like the letter A.
Blessed be all alephs.) "Of
Itzig and His Dog," and
"Lesson In Reality (1) and
(2)," modeled after the He-
brew poems of the Israeli
poets T. Carmi and Amir
Many of my favorite
poems have been written by
Dannie Abse. For the pre-
sent these have been over-
taken by the charming lines
which conclude the new
poem in "One-Legged on
Ice" called "Last Words":
And how should I wish to
Not as in opera— that would
offend —
nor like a blue-eyed cowboy
shot and short of words,
but finger-tapping still our
private morse, ". . love,
before the last flowers and
flies descend.
This poem and others in

Dannie Abse's new volume
provide for me a sense of
satisfaction akin to what I
have obtained contemplat-
ing the beauty of flamingos.
It is sufficiently exquisite to
want to share it with

Britain Scuttles Oil Deal With Israel


LONDON (JTA) — In the
spring of 1981, Britain vet-
oed a private deal under
which 13 tanker loads of

North Sea oil worth more
than $200 million would
have been shipped to Israel.
The matter has finally
come to light following a
prolonged legal battle bet-
ween two of the companies
involved. As a result, the
British government is now
trying to prevent the Euro-
pean Court of Justice from
deciding whether or not Bri-
tain's refusal to supply Is-
rael breaches its commit-
ments as a member of the
European Economic Com-
munity (EEC).
The dispute stems from a
refusal to load a cargo of oil,
sold by Sun International,
the world's 12th biggest oil
company, to a Swiss sub-
sidiary of Bulk Oil, an in-
ternational shipping and oil
refining concern.
Hearing that the oil
was bound for Haifa,
British Petroleim (BP)
refused to load the first
tanker at the giant Sul-
lom Voe terminal in the
Shetland Islands, north
of Scotland. BP operates
the terminal which was
officially opened only
two weeks before this in-
cident occurred.
Instead, the oil was re-
moved by BP for sale on the
spot market. Sun has sued
Bulk Oil for breach of con-
tract, claiming a total of $15
million in lost profits and
The two companies have
also been involved in paral-
lel court battles in Italy and
in the United States where
the Commerce Department
is also probing alleged vio-
lations of anti-boycott legis-

Inquiries by this corres-
pondent show that the deal
between Sun Oil and Bulk
Oil was nipped in the bud
when BP discovered that
the oil was bound for Haifa,
even though Gibraltar was
given as its initial destina-
tion. The whole deal was for
nearly 900,000 tons of crude
oil over a period of 18
months. It would have con-
stituted the first known ex-
port of British oil to Israel.

At least six companies
were involved in various
stages of the deal. The oil
had been produced in the
North Sea by BP which
sold it to Svenska Pet-
roleum, the SWedish state
oil company, which in
turn sold it to Sun. Bulk
Oil had ordered it on be-
half of Delek, one of Is-
rael's three main petrol
groups, whcih arranged
for it to be transported by
Tanker Services, a Haifa
chartering agency.
The deal started to take
shape early in 1981 when
world oil markets were be-
ginning to recover from the
shortages caused by the re-
volution in Iran. The Is-
raelis had previously relied
on Iran for nearly half their
oil requirements. But the
fall of the Shah forced them
to seek long-term secure al-
Israel had already turned
to Mexico and Egypt for 40
percent and 25 percent of its
needs, respectively; it had a
United States guarantee
that if those supplies were
terminated it would not be
left without oil.
The contract between Sun
and Bulk contained a clause
reading: "Destination free
but always in line with ex-
porting country's govern-
ment policy. United King-
dom government policy at

present does not allow de-
livery to South Africa." The
first shipment was to have
been collected by the
50,000-ton Greek-
registered tanker George B.
Sphikas, commanded by
Capt. Triantafiliou.
On May 19, 1981,
British Petroleum ques-
tioned the vessel's bill of
lading which said "Gib-
raltar for orders." This
meant the cargo was go to
go Gibraltar where the
master would receive
further sailing instruc-
Asked to report the final
destination, Bulk checked
with the vessel's Israeli
charterers and was in-
structed to designate Haifa.
On May 24, the George B.
Sphikas reached the sea
lanes off the Sullom Voe
Harbor but was told that it
would not be granted entry.
While further telex mes-
sages were exchanged by
the parties concerned, the
ship steamed around
slowly. Finally, on May 30 it
was told to leave the area,
with its tanks still empty.
In refusing to load her,
the British oil authorities
were following guidelines
first issued on Jan. 31 by the
then Energy Secretary,
Tony Benn.
At the time, Benn had
been asked in Parliament
how he was dealing with
the threat to oil supplies
caused by the cessation
of Iranian exports. He
replied: "The govern-
ment will expect oil com-
panies exporting North
Sea crude to do so in the
markets of our partners
in the International
Energy Agency and in
the European Commun-
ity. This expectation in no
way cuts across the
maintenance, to the ex-

tent possible, of any exist-
ing patterns of trade out-

side those regions."
Although Benn had not
named Israel, he had effec-
tively excluded it because
Israel was not a member of
either of the organizations
he mentioned and was not
an existing customer. He
did not exclude Finland
which, although belonging
to neither the IEA nor EEC,
was an existing customer.
Ironically, although this
ruling was issued to deal
with an international oil
shortage, it was to remain
the basis of British oil ex-
port policy even though the
oil market has since been
transformed from famine to
The policy was restated as
recently as October when
the question was raised at a
London meeting between
Peter Waker, the present
Energy Secretary, and his
Israeli counterpart, Yit-
zhak Modai.
British officials strongly
deny that it is intended to
discriminate against Israel,
pointing out that although
other countries are affected
by it only Israel continues to
protest publicly. They also
point out that Britain sells
Israel coal.
Benn told this corres-
pondent that he was
aware, when first an-
nouncing the guidelines
four years ago, that Israel
would be excluded but he
had first ascertained that
the U.S. had guaranteed
Israel's oil supplies.
Despite British assur-
ances, Israel's oil purchas-
ing agents believe that the
elaborate formula for refus-
ing to supply Israel is in-
tended to protect major
British oil companies with
stakes in the Arab world.

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