Change Is Afoot (and a new anthology)

 

TDreamers imagehree of my poems have just been published in this anthology by Dreamers in Canada. There is a print version and also an ebook.

I will be moving my blogging (opinions, reviews, and so on) to my Siobhan Tebbs Medium account from now on. WordPress will serve more as a space for updates on my work.

As for actual new poetry and book snippets, I can’t share these ‘publicly’ as I am always submitting them for consideration in places (and this would count them out) – but I do share them in weekly posts with my patrons on my Patreon page. (I also post open-access stuff on there sometimes, such as the lyrics to my spoken word poems.)

Take care and see you around the web!

 

 

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Opera and Me: It’s Complicated

Opera is not changing quickly, at least as far as I know. What might well disrupt it soon is the availability of online streaming with services like OperaVision.eu. That, and glorious initiatives such as New York’s bold ‘Mile Long Opera’ from last year (wish I’d been there!). With so many more people able to access opera, composers and writers from fresh walks of life will get a look-in and hopefully start to bring some new sights, sounds and stories to opera, and shake it free from its dust-gathering base.

I only got interested in opera thanks to the Access All Arias programme by English National Opera in London. The venue and the magic of the events enchanted my newbie self, but it was the music that kept me going back. The incredible duet O soave fanciulla in Puccini’s La Bohème moved me to tears. Libiamo ne’lieti calici (the ‘drinking song’), which opens Verdi’s La Traviata, expanded my heart.

Here is the ‘drinking song’ from La Traviata (Met Opera 2018):

Then, when I lost access to the wonders of cheap youth tickets, opera took a back seat in my life as an ‘exclusive’ activity that I wasn’t really part of.

Until one day, when I was taken to see Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Liceu in Barcelona and was completely transported by the Queen of the Night’s unfathomable vocal dexterities (as recently used in a popular US car commercial) as well as the inventive animation in this particular production. Bizet’s Carmen was next (birthday gift, Palau de la Musica Catalana). Tears streamed down my face and soaked my clothing as I was utterly overcome during the duet Parle-moi de ma mère.

I had half-noticed that it was only the recognisably patterned ‘pieces’ within opera that I was experiencing as transcendent. You know: the tracks you’ll find on a ‘Best of opera’ album. When it came to the rest of it, the sing-talking, I had always assumed that there was something I didn’t get.

My next two experiences, Manru (discovered via OperaVision) and Madame Butterfly (birthday gift, Liceu 2019), which contain moments of beautiful choral unity and arias but sing-talk most of the way through, compounded this feeling. Clearly, there was something so sublimely aesthetically perfect about these parts that I was missing the point.

It was a young, ranting Nietzsche who helped me see that I might actually just not like those parts very much. I read his The Birth of Tragedy, in which he derides opera. In his view, opera uses music in a warped way, making it subservient to the narrative. Dramatic narrative should be slave to the music, in his view, as it was in original Greek tragedy. This is due to music being the most original, most human art form, which validates and reaffirms our existence by enabling us to transcend the visual and access the darker parts of ourselves.

“Language can never adequately render the cosmic symbolism of music, because music stands in symbolic relation to the primordial contradiction and primordial pain in the heart of the primal unity, and therefore symbolizes a sphere which is beyond and prior to all phenomena. Rather, all phenomena, compared with it, are merely symbols: hence language, as the organ and symbol of phenomena, can never by any means disclose the innermost heart of music; language, in its attempt to imitate it, can only be in superficial contact with music; while all the eloquence of lyric poetry cannot bring the deepest significance of the latter one step nearer to us.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

My reading of Nietzche’s book explained why the parts that were not orientated around ‘hubs’ or culminations of clear patterns in the music were simply boring me. The music was being subjugated to the story. As a musician myself, I assumed that the music came first: that composers composed beautiful musical pieces and then got hold of a librettist and narrative to join them up and help to ‘gild’ the moments and bring everything together. That is, that story serving music. Meaning that the sing-talking enabled the creation of pretty pictures which joined the dots of the visceral odyssey.

I didn’t care much for the narratives themselves, mainly because of the exhaustingly oppressive representations of gender. I needed to watch them with a tipsy feminist crew behind me to comment bitingly on each moment. And I don’t always have a tipsy feminist crew to hand.

The podcasts and reviews I could find of opera productions were always so reverent of the composers and librettists – the auteur syndrome – that they seemed unwilling or unable to provide much critical appraisal of the power structures at play in, and reinforced by, the plots they came up with. Perhaps that’s because those podcasts and reviews are often commissioned and created by people with power.

So was this a great ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ situation? Were people pretending to like this singing sentences at each other because they thought it was highbrow enough for them to be seen at the opera? As the next one I had planned to see, I hoped The Marriage of Figaro (thanks, OperaVision) would offer me some answers to this conundrum.

I was wrong. If you are wondering why, just watch it! It’s pretty complicated. Voi che sapete is absolutely gorgeous, though, and it’s refreshing that it’s being sung by a woman playing a teenage boy with burgeoning sexuality (Cherubino). Some playful relief from gender tyrannies at last, even if only thanks to the traditional way of casting the part.

When taking leave, one of the special people who had come over to watch it with me commented that we’d done our bit for a while – that we could probably leave opera aside for a bit and take a break. I thought so too, but the following day I found myself checking out OperaVision and reconsidering already. Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is available for streaming…

 

 

Links from my patrons:
http://www.draughtmagazine.com

Support me & read fresh poetry at http://www.patreon.com/siobhantebbs

Merry Christmas and By The Way Please Write

Some days get tainted by a bitter taste;
It ain’t wasted if it’s faced.

Thomas Dybdahl, Easy Tiger

 

When we start to write, or create stories in any medium, something wonderful happens.

We begin to self-identify as ‘artists’. We see our lives from a fresher, fuller perspective. Viewed through the artist’s lens, life is no longer a series of hapless blunders and red herrings punctured by the occasional lucky success. It becomes a diverse landscape, ripe for exploration.

A ‘story’ can take the form of a poem, a movie, a play, a dance – even an object, if you like making things.

In this new light, every nook and cranny of our existence – including the fears and foibles, the errors, and the losses – form a rich tapestry of moments and narratives upon which we can draw in order to fill the canvas. No ‘moment’ is ever wasted; and as artists we can find a thousand different truths in a single one. Even if it happened years ago. Even if – often especially if – it happened at a time of uncertainty or distress. Our life stories to date attain their own intrinsic logic and wholeness, simply because they are already a part of history, waiting to be investigated.

Infinite opportunities exist for accessing the truth of moments through stories. Now and then it is done in a way that is particularly new or inspiring to us as we are carried through as spectator, reader, listener. It is this storytelling, this sharing, this mutual acknowledgement of the way we are existing that makes life worth living.

Think it won’t be perfect? It will take some time to get good, for sure. But that is no reason not to start. As Zadie Smith said, ‘Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.’ In other words, it’s going to happen anyway, so why not be dissatisfied-while-writing?

Merry Christmas to all – and if you have been thinking about it but feeling afraid to start, my message to you is: Please, please write!

 

Links from my patrons:
http://www.draughtmagazine.com

Support me & read fresh poetry at http://www.patreon.com/siobhantebbs

 

Health and Safety?

Sailing over the threshold, I hear Sally give a shout. Ahead of me should be the next carriage of the train. A split-second of breeze on my face and I register the darkness – fast-moving darkness in the shape of Ukranian farmland.

This is the start of my anecdote Health and Safety which has just been published in Parentheses issue 2. Naturally I can’t share the whole thing as there would be no point in the journal being published! You can order a copy by emailing parenthesesbcn@gmail.com.

https://www.facebook.com/parenthesesbcn/

This is me sharing it at the lovely launch reading at Animal Sospechoso Libreria in Gràcia…

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A Note on Facebook Sharing

To share or not to share?

I always feel uncomfortable sharing positive things on Facebook, as they are inevitably the 1% diamond in the rough vs. 99% of many, many failed attempts and difficult days, which don’t get posted about. Facebook can be damaging to our mental health for this reason.

On the other hand, sharing something of myself is part of why I write in the first place and it has led to great conversations, learnings, and community.

On balance I think it’s worth sharing, with the caveat that anything I share is not the work of just me, but of all the amazing people in my life who support me and listen to me and help me create space to write. I have difficult struggles with mental health and I’m reaching out to people all the time to help me get what I need. I spend a lot of time feeling anxious, reactive, and a failure.

I’ve got the help I need, but just wanted to put any sharing I do in its proper context, for the sake of the mental wellbeing of all of us.

Thoughts on writing practice from Erin Brady

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Let me introduce you to Erin Brady, a good friend and a poet I’m lucky enough to write with. Check out her work in the links at the end.

Name three books you’ve read recently.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Barbe bleue (Bluebeard) by Amélie Nothomb.

Also, name three poets who’ve inspired you.

Can I pick five poets? Mark Doty, Carol Ann Duffy, Jack Gilbert, Matthea Harvey, and James Richardson.

Why write?

Because you like to. Because you want to understand or process things. Because you want to help people understand each other. Because you’ve had a brilliant idea.

What would you like people to be saying about you as a writer after you’re gone?

That I was observant and original.

Tell me about a moment of pure inspiration that you’ve had (either inspiration to write or just in general).

I once had a very memorable (and terrifying) dream about being chased by someone and planned a sequence based on it. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever had the idea for a complete story all at once. It’s not finished yet.

What gets you up in the morning?

Insomnia. Early flights. Morning deadlines. Coffee or tea. Sun.

What is the shape of your writing practice? How do you get it done, stay inspired, plan time, rework, submit, etc.?

I almost never procrastinate when it comes to translating or writing for work, but I need to be much better about carving out time for my own projects. It helps to have a friend or two who wants to do the same, so you can keep each other in check. I make a list of flexible goals every couple of months so that I keep coming up with new material, revising, and submitting. Finally, I like switching up where I write to stay inspired—I love writing outdoors and I have a few different cafés that I frequent in Barcelona.

Advice for people who want to write more or better?

1) Start out by setting small, manageable goals for yourself (write for 10-20 minutes every day) rather than huge ones (write a novel in a month).

2) Meet up with people who also want to write, but be aware of whether you write better alone, with one or two other people, in larger groups, or some combination of these.

3) If you get sick of something you’ve written, put it aside for at least a week and come back to it later. Keep coming back to it if it doesn’t feel ready but there are still lines you like. I’ve finished pieces years after writing the first drafts.

Links to some of your published work online.

http://plainchina.bennington.edu/vol2/poetry/secret/

https://www.amaryllispoetry.co.uk/2017/07/a-poem-by-erin-brady.html

https://www.skyislandjournal.com/issue-3-winter-2018/