before whisky after jazz

Dreamers Writing has just published three of my poems: ‘Smooth Horseback and Plenty’, ‘Background’, and ‘Bracelets’.

Take a look here:




“enough, Enough, ENOUGH!” … and other poems in response to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt

Today 13 million Syrians are still in need of aid, and continue to suffer at the hands of powerful politicians’ war games. More strikes from the West intended to punish Assad are happening right now. Here I reblog a post from The Poet By Day with some poems yearning for peace.

The task was to write a poem about why humans struggle so much to prevent conflict around the world. My poem is the fourth one down. It is about disconnection, or ‘misconnection’ – the word I am appropriating for a new cause. I use it to mean being physically around one another but not truly connecting.

Aiming to show love, care and understanding in every interaction, especially the more difficult ones, is the first step to feeling personally connected in a deep way to the world around us. Without this, we can separate ourselves from others in our thinking in the blink of an eye. I believe that committed authentic connection on a personal level is central to the prevention of conflict on a global level.


The responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt, April 4, Where is the will of the cup to overcome the sword?, are marked by compassion, concern, insight, and sadness. A collection of heartfelt works by three poets new to Wednesday Writing Prompt (June G. Paul, Frank McMahon, Siobhan Tibbs – bios included by way of introduction) and by three of our dear regulars (Paul Brookes, Sonja Benson Mesher, and Mike Stone).  As a part of her response, Sonja has treated us to some of her artwork this week.

Thanks to all six poets for generously sharing their work and coming out to play. We hope you’ll join us tomorrow for the next Wednesday Writing Prompt. All are welcome – encouraged – novice, emerging or pro.

The Golden Shovel Poem
The bar brawl began after midnight, blood and wine splattered where
she was sitting and asking herself, Has everyone gone…

View original post 2,875 more words

Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan as a hero and a human

Annihilation and Collateral both feature badass women in state-sanctioned roles unerring in their determination to complete a complex task. Reason enough to warrant comparison, surely? (Not to mention the fact that I happened to watch them both last week. My watch-rate is greater than my blog-rate, so I’m reviewing two birds with one stone.)

Following in Stalker’s footsteps, Annihilation is a new take on ‘the zone’: an action movie that calls for a traditional driven-though-slightly-reckless hero, Lena, who is drawn out compellingly by Natalie Portman. Collateral, on the other hand – which follows a police investigation of the murder of a migrant in London – is as much a character study of Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) as it is a police story and a criticism of modern-day immigration rhetoric.

As often happens in sci-fi movies like Annihilation, Lena is mainly a vehicle for revealing the space. The ‘main characters’ are absent: these are the aliens whose presence created this gene-warping hyper-evolving space in the first place. In Collateral, it would have been simple to use Kip in a similar vein: a two-dimensional tool to reveal the quirks and secrets of the characters in the story. But she is much more complex, with Mulligan chewing on the excellent script to weave a web of Kip’s strengths, foibles and attitudes with the utmost finesse.


Motivations are a good example of this difference. Lena is driven by the unexplained loss of her husband Kane to give up everything and embark upon a death mission to the centre of the zone. This motivation, while the action she takes is drastic, is assumed as making innate sense. DI Glaspie’s drive to achieve the goal at each stage of the murder investigation is more intimately constructed. One major aspect of her past, a thwarted sporting background (she was a pole vaulter and crashed out of the Olympics with a broken back), is hinted at with progressively increasing detail throughout the series.

The ‘fatal flaws’ of each character also differ in their complexity. Lena’s flaw is in compromising her own safety to discover what has happened to Kane. DI Glaspie compromises her own safety too, but also that of others. In order to get valuable information, DI Glaspie offers a refugee witness UK residency without the authority to do so. She climbs the stairs to negotiate with an unstable murderer even though she’s six months pregnant. This degree of recklessness would not be acceptable within the confines of the watertight heroism of Annihilation.

According to Mulligan herself, TV shows are an incubator of complex female characters where the big screen is failing. This is why she chose to be in Collateral:

“You can get a TV show like Big Little Lies, which has five or six extraordinary roles for women, while there would maybe be half a good role for a woman in a film. I want to play the most interesting, complicated real person, and interesting, complicated real people in films are really, really rare.” Carey Mulligan to The Independent

Through Collateral, writer-director team David Hare and S. J. Clarkson have certainly helped to bring a fresh vulnerability and complexity to mainstream audiovisual narratives. What put them in the position to move beyond the usual offering for female characters or protagonists in general – was it the small-screen format, somehow? Was it the length of screen time available to TV-writers? The police-show genre? A different gender-relations climate in the UK to the US? Was it a particular drive and vision, which we have seen in ample measure in The Hours and The Reader (both screenwritten by Hare)?

We could ponder over several possible reasons, but the fact is that a hero character in an action movie about a ‘zone’ could be equally complex if enough attention was paid to it. Taking this kind of risk would bring a more honest identification for viewers with the people we see on the screen, a deeper validation of who we are, and greater confidence in ourselves – especially for women, who tend to receive messages from mainstream media that it is best of all to be passive, innocuous, and immaculately manicured. It’s good to have a hero like Lena, but it would be even better if such characters were truly fleshed out, more deeply human.

Hiding (or simplifying) our vulnerabilities is so twentieth-century. With the array of top movie directors overwhelmingly male – as Natalie Portman herself pointed out recently when presenting the Director’s award at the Golden Globes – some serious top-level change is in order before we can reliably find female characters (or, perhaps, characters in general) with the complexity and uniqueness of Kip Glaspie on the big screen.

Annihilation and Collateral are both currently available on Netflix.

Disrupting the Food Chain? ‘Chicago’ meets ‘The Gruffalo’

Think a musical crime drama set in the Jazz Age would have nothing to do with a children’s animation about a made-up monster?

Think again!

I happened to see them both last weekend, and noticed this:

A hungry mouse and a wannabe cabaret star each challenge ‘survival of the fittest’. They win out, not by being the physically strongest, but by using their available resources to shape others’ thinking and get access to what they desire.

Each of the two worlds has its own food chain. Wouldn’t it be fun if academic articles used visuals like this?

‘Food Chain Worksheet’ by Lori Soard, Amended by me

The Gruffalo’s food chain is the literal one, with the herbivore mouse feeding on acorns and having to dodge carnivores such as the fox, owl, and snake, who are in turn afraid of a larger carnivore, The Gruffalo. The completion of the cycle via decomposition and the sun’s energy is implied.

Chicago’s ‘food chain’ is the media machine. Roxie Hart craves fame; Billy Flynn’s successful business relies on people like her; and journalists feed on his stories. Masses of newspaper readers feast on their papers. These chattering mouths represent the sun’s energy, a replenishing source of the very fame Roxie desires.

In a post-Darwinist twist on the ‘hero prevails against all odds’ trope, these food chains are disrupted by the protagonists’ cunning.

The mouse wards off the fox, owl, and snake by talk of the Gruffalo, and later dupes the Gruffalo by claiming a status as the scariest animal in the forest. As a woman in a world where men are the breadwinners, Roxie complies with the ‘food chain’ while it’s to her advantage – but capitalises on the connections she made in prison of her own accord when she agrees to collaborate with Velma Kelly and they achieve success on the stage together.

In the end, both the mouse and Roxie have what they wanted in abundance without having to scrape around for it. In other words, survival – on their own terms.

I’ll leave you with ‘They Both Reached For The Gun’ from Chicago. Check out the journalists – led by the glorious Christine Baranski – gorging on the stories about Roxie devised by Billy Flynn:

Chicago, Dir. Rob Marshall, USA, 2002
The Gruffalo, Dir. Jakob Schuh and Max Lang, UK and Germany, 2009

‘Speed reading’ and our old friend Distraction


Ever tried speed reading? If you fancy having a go, paste this article into Spreeder.

Speed reading: isn’t that a gimmick for those who want to be over-productive, rat-racing, forever ramping up the pace of their lives?

Until yesterday, this was my assumption. Then laziness came upon me. I was reading this short story, Seth Fried’s ‘Mendelssohn’, and swearing internally at the computer screen. Not the story’s fault. All the finger-scrolling and eye-flicking across the unforgiving bright white expanse was getting to me: much more tiring than reading a physical book or a Kindle. So I found Spreeder and tried speed reading the second half.

Speed reading doesn’t allow for distraction: if your mind wanders, you skip half a sentence and get lost for a while. As someone with a restless mind, this was a demanding task, requiring me to zone in intentionally to the effort. To my surprise, when I later picked up a paperback and began reading ‘normally’, my focus was better than usual. I felt more present and calmly attentive to the task at hand.

Focus is rewarding, but distraction is equally important. Our old friend Distraction is the essence of poetry, a point made thoroughly and eloquently in this Poetry Off The Shelf podcast, ‘The Poet is Distracted’.

It was distraction in my exam revision period at the age of 15 that led me to start playing the acoustic guitar, an activity that has brought me great joy and fulfilment over the course of my life. It was an anxious breakdown four years ago – a major distraction from my career in headhunting – that gave me the space to revive my love of writing.

Not all distraction is made equal. Worrying or ruminating about aspects of our lives that make us fearful is an unwelcome habit that many of us struggle with. On the other hand, I might notice the sound of the raindrops on the windowsill and find it curious. This type of distraction is like fresh air because it emerges from an inner presence, a deep silence that we often crave.

Speed reading helped to unleash more of the ‘good’ kind of distraction. It was like taking my mind to the gym: my brain having had a proper workout, it was more stable, less worried, and – paradoxically – more willing to attend to the meaty distractions that come from that rooted place. A few moments ago, whilst enjoying my breakfast, I was distracted by the thought of writing an article about speed reading. I decided to change my mind’s focus and consciously attend to the distraction – and here we are!

There is an important drawback of speed reading, which is the lack of time it affords us for reflection and interpretation along the way. We are used to seeing large blocks of text at a time and moving on at our own pace, and this helps us to digest the work. I read the first half of ‘Mendelssohn’ without speed reading and found some nifty expressions, sharing some on my @siobhantebbs Twitter account. Whilst speed reading the second half was effective for my understanding of the story, it didn’t offer any breaks for laughter (I love allowing myself to laugh out loud while reading) or to consider what I’d read.

Some distraction is not only necessary to create, then, but also to process and interpret whatever you are taking in. I would venture that, when reading something we care about as a work of art, we need a bit of breathing space during the reading process itself. We already know that reading has a variety of positive effects on our memory, stress levels, and capacity for empathy – such as those outlined in Davis Allen’s article for JuxtaProse blog – (‘Bodies, Minds, and Literary Fiction’),  for example. For these to have the freedom to blossom, it doesn’t seem enough to expect them to happen spontaneously after the event.

We can pause the speed reading mid-flow, but this is less than smooth as it takes a conscious physical effort and we are under pressure to take a quick decision: keep reading or stop! There is no middle ground. For this reason I would put forward the idea of speed reading as ‘training’, to be used perhaps more with news articles or similar texts that are more about transferring information than the exploration of ideas. This could then help bring a profound concentration to our reading of fiction and poetry.

Speed reading ‘training’ could help us focus more, not only on reading, but in other areas of life too. A few minutes of it has given me a delicious glimpse of this, and of how it feels to have a more generous faith in the unexpected paths sometimes taken by my mind.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ Review

In Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet is subtly moving as Elio, a brooding yet well-adjusted seventeen year-old boy from a privileged Euro-American family, whittling away the summer in Italy. He becomes enchanted with his father’s male research assistant and they gradually slip into a romance as Elio discovers his desires and limits.

Luca Guadanigno has built a deep love of Italian pop culture as well as Italian tradition into this film. Brash, swaggering Italian 80s pop mingles with old ladies sitting shelling beans and giving cups of water to strangers. Nevertheless, the fetishisation of pan-European intellectualism is in full force. With English, French, and Italian constantly bleeding into one another, there is one comical moment in which Elio’s mother pulls a book from the shelf. It happens to be in German, which she laments for a moment, before starting to read it aloud and translate it for Elio and his father.

When Elio and Oliver wake up together for the first time, we cut to a shot of the secret pond. It seems to be waiting for them, primed and ready for their joy. Combined with the film’s contemplative ending, this pond and its resting potential symbolise more than just the relationship between the two, but the wide expanse of Elio’s future in general. By moving cautiously towards whatever we are drawn to, and by taking our time, we create space for life to unfold in an organic and meaningful way.

The movie’s softly revelatory ending does not trouble but rather deepens our sense of the wise and kind parenting in the film – a rare exposure of positive familial relating in the movies. The plot’s gentle transitions and the observant, unobtrusive cinematography are crystallised in the father’s message to his son: we must be with – and not cut off – our feelings if life is to be worthwhile. In the 16th Century French romance that Elio’s mother reads out in German, the knight’s question is ‘Should I speak or die?’ The film seems to affirm that this is indeed the question.


Ce n’est pas toi, Londres : c’est moi


I wasn’t prepared for how rewarding it feels to translate one’s poetry – and how challenging it can be. Picking from the array of available expressions for the new version requires some deep digging that you have so far left to the audiences. What did I actually mean with that line/word/expression/rhythm?

Club Cronopios has started hosting French-language poetry nights, and my poetry group Clame ton slam went along to share. Above is a photo of me apparently looking quizzically at some audience members. Below is the translation of one of my spoken-word poems into French.


‘It’s Not You, London: It’s Me’ by Siobhan Tebbs, translated with Ada Oliveras

Ce n’est pas toi, Londres : c’est moi

Ce n’est pas toi, Londres : c’est moi
Il y a six ans, je me suis dissous en toi si facilement
Et là j’ai besoin d’être libre

Ce n’est pas facile de m’en aller
Mais ça suffit des déjeuners « Prêt-à-manger »
Et des chai à la vanille au bruncher
Plus de soja lattes que tu ne peux l’imaginer

Du houmous maison coule dans mes veines
Mon lycra est taché, il bouloche et me freine
La hausse du loyer me plombe comme des chaînes

Mais des fonds me manquent dans la banque des rêves,
Même Google Maps se met en grève

Je passe ma carte et je vois rouge
Je suis dans le 29
Il me tarde que mon lit me berce
Mes paupières tombent
L’épaule d’un fêtard endormi me perce

Londres, c’est moi qui décide
Je ferai un saut chez toi
Quand j’en aurai envie

Ne me regarde pas comme ça !
Toi, qui a eu tes lumières
Sur chaque page de mon livre.

Je suis allée à des stations dans toutes tes zones
Je suis montée dans le métro avec des milliers de drones
Les transports sont bondés mais je n’y vois personne

Ce n’est pas ta faute, Londres.
Je suis contente d’être venue
Mais tic-tac.
Big Ben est à l’heure, je ne trouve plus le temps

J’ai besoin de sable et de rochers
De chaussettes plus épaisses
De neige.
Et de soleil
Et de silence.

J’ai besoin de me promener toute seule.
Reconnaître – au moins – les visages de mes voisins

Et c’est vrai que j’aime mon vélo de course
Je me faufile entre les voitures
Au sommet de mes compétences
Mais j’ai trop la tête dans le guidon

J’ai envie de rouler en roue libre
Me sentir chez moi dans tous les tons de vert
De respirer à plein poumon pour avoir le cœur net

Et j’ai peur, mon Londres
Comment te quitter ?
En toi, j’ai créé un havre de paix
Je me suis mise en pièces : mon existence, mon identité
J’ai tout recommencé

J’ai payé mes frais
Je suis dans le lounge avec les VIP
Je suis restée dans les parages
J’ai construit des communautés

Ces mots ne peuvent jamais te montrer
Toutes les personnes que j’ai étés
Tous les espaces dont je n’aurais pas rêvé
Le bois de Hampstead, et les bribes de pensée que j’y ai chassées

Comme tes lampadaires ont brillé, Londres!
A quel point ces panneaux de pub ont ressemblé à de vieux amis !

Et si le temps pouvait s’arrêter
Je compterais tous les visages qui ont vu tant de choses avant moi
Ames à nu ; emportées par la brise
Comme des éclats de miroir,
Ou des feuilles qui tombent.

Londres ! Avec quelle fierté a-t-on dansé ?
Tu es bien d’accord ?
On s’est donné une chance
Six années d’aventures
Une longue romance

Et franchement, je n’étais qu’une invitée;
Je me suis incrustée
Là je ne plaisante pas
Je serai partie au petit matin
Prends bien soin de toi