Poem: ‘Eaux errantes’

Here’s another poem from my French ‘Slam dit bien’ poetry group. I’ve done a rough translation to English, which is below!

Eaux errantes

Eaux errantes

De goutte à goutte
Vous picotez
La surface
Sur laquelle vous atterrissez

Vous prenez le chemin
de la moindre résistance
Avec le plus de gravité

Par sagesse
Ou par simple paresse ?
On ne saura jamais

Mais dans le procédé
Vous nous rendez
Mouillés, trempés

Et puis, ça y est !
Vous vous en allez
En vous évaporant

Quand l’humeur vous prend,
Vous recommencez.

English version:

Wandering Waters

Wandering waters,
where do you
come from?

Drop by drop, you
peck the surface
you land on

Taking the path of
least resistance
with the most

Wisdom, or
We’ll never know.

But – in the process –
you dampen and
soak us

And that’s it!
You depart by

Eventually, when the
mood takes you,
you start again.


de Siobhan Tebbs

Eaux errantes

De goutte à goutte
Vous picotez
La surface
Sur laquelle vous atterrissez

Vous prenez le chemin
de la moindre résistance
Avec le plus de gravité

Par sagesse
Ou par simple paresse ?
On ne saura jamais

Mais dans le procédé
Vous nous rendez
Mouillés, trempés

Et puis, ça y est !
Vous vous en allez
En vous évaporant

Quand l’humeur vous prend,
Vous recommencez.


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Poem: ‘Bracelets seem as though we had been making them’

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Bracelets seem as though we had been making them:
Smothering wire and tiny stones, altering outcomes,
Batting away flies. Safety lies in such focus. Twisting
Transience into silent braids; naming every child;
Blackmailing beaded misfits into shape. We’ll die
Surburbanites, tied to inborn courtship of our trades.

Review of ‘Frantz’

Frantz, France & Germany, 2017, directed by François Ozon

Post-war romantic saga or clunky assertion of our common humanity? You can almost taste pre-twenties Europe in this well-styled film that could do with lopping off the last few twists in its plot. (And Anna’s hats are quite something.)

Frantz opens with a puzzling occurrence in a German town in the year after the First World War’s end. Anna, who is visiting the grave of her fallen-soldier fiancé, Frantz, gleans that an unknown Frenchman has been placing flowers on the grave too. He tries to visit the home of her former in-laws-to-be, where she is staying, and is kicked out by Frantz’s father for being French. There is some back-and-forth as Anna seeks him out, and eventually introductions are made. The visitor, Adrien, whom it turns out had some form of connection with Frantz, brings new life to the home and we even get the sense that there could be some romance between him and Anna.

Tension cultivated, denouements are tossed at us with gusto for the rest of the film. Halfway through the 113 minutes there is a Big Reveal, a this-man-isn’t-who-you-thought-he-was. This would probably have been enough, but then we are treated to a number of other untie-the-knots, namely: deceit from the protagonist, Anna; an attempted suicide; a you-thought-he’d-died moment; and even a surprise fiancée. (Incidentally, the surprise fiancée is one of the most compelling characters in the movie, despite only having a few minutes’ screen time to show it.) By the end, it feels like the energy you’ve put into suspending your disbelief is being exploited somewhat.


Édouard Manet, Le Suicidé

Though artistic tropes are rather over-used (poetry-sharing, violin-playing, appreciating paintings, and dancing all feature in both the burgeoning relationship and the lost one), the use of the Manet painting Le Suicidé is surely one of the best things about the film. Appearing repeatedly (in disguise at first) to tie together the different turns of the storyline, the painting depicts a man who has committed suicide lying on a bed. Unfortunately, as Anna stares at it in the ending of the endings, we are lacking in knowledge about what her hopes and dreams might be. Perhaps they lie in the young man next to her in the museum: the one she has a brief conversation with. God forbid she has any hopes and dreams that do not involve marrying fragile young artists. (True, we do see her playing piano a few times; but always as accompaniment to Adrien.)

Pascaline Chavanne’s styling is sumptuous and full of glorious details that feed you that pre-flapper-and-suffragette moment like a plain-looking but surprisingly tasty hors d’oeuvres. Adrien’s hair is always falling in his face, and not in a suave way. His moustache looks like it has just landed and perched on his upper lip: a precarious arrangement, fitting for a sensitive person. Anna spends every second looking immaculate, with earrings glistening out from under carefully tilted pinned-brimmed hats.

Anna’s styling being quite glorious for its own sake, the characterisation doesn’t match it, though Paula Beer’s acting is outstanding. I am left wishing I had a clearer idea of what aspect of her personality her style has been designed to represent. This is surprising in a film from the director of 8 Mujeres. Still, wishy-washy character design doesn’t stop Beer from playing every scene with consistent, sparkling subtlety of movement and expression. Pierre Niney (Adrien), too, holds up a very effective sensitive young artist with a secret. I feel that I type the same comments too often about films: that the script didn’t warrant the outstanding quality of the acting.

If the protagonist could have been more three-dimensional, the theme of common humanity across borders is successfully brought to the front of our minds. Working out how best to take it in (French-German audio; Catalan subtitles) was a labour of love for me. That we can one minute be learning each other’s languages and the next minute killing each other is a point explicitly made by Adrien. Here the sharing of language – the epitome of connection – is contrasted with killing each other: the epitome of disconnection. Multilingualism in films often adds to their universality; here it was effective, if not subtle, in doing so.


La poésie

‘Francophone’: the state of being a French-speaker without necessarily being French.

Writing in your second language is harder because the expressions make the journey from heart to mind (and from feelings to words) less organically. You have to push a bit and rummage about. It can also be more fun, because you’re less limited by painful awareness of the social and linguistic nuances of what you’re saying. You put less pressure on yourself to get it right because it’s a bit of a shot in the dark anyway. Result? More freedom.

At the recent International Day for Francophonie, there was an open mic in Barcelona. We did some poems.

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Here is me.


Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Here is a poem of mine, with translation below.


Une chanson sourde
Pour les syriens,
dont le monde
ne se souvient
que lorsqu’ils sont
a la une.
Écoutez les larmes qui coulent dans nos ventres
On les digère si doucement
par peur que ça s’entende
Par peur que tout s’effondre
Mais nos cœurs ne chantent qu’une chanson sourde
Ne croit-on plus aux mélodies:
Ne sait-on plus qu’elles dissolvent les armes?
Moi, j’en ai marre de ce silence fatale
Qui consume mon énergie et mon être
Et nos enfants? Si on se tait,
On va les noyer la-dedans!
Vaut mieux qu’ils les entendent,
Nos cris et nos gémissements
Ils trouveront la fraîcheur dans la douche
De nos lamentations
Si cette cage possède encore sa batterie
Dans la nuit, la meme que celle de ceux qui souffrent,
On accueillera l’aria de la lune
Et les clochettes des étoiles, et la sonnerie du ciel
Ne cessons-pas de battre le tempo du chagrin
Pour que ceux qui viennent de nos ventres
Aient le coeur fait de musique
Et salés par nos larmes
Unheard Song
For Syrians,
Whom the world
Only remembers
When they are
To the tears that flow through our bellies!
We digest them so gently
For fear of hearing.
For fear that everything might collapse.
Our hearts sing an unheard song.
Do we no longer believe in melodies
Or know that they dissolve weapons?

I’m sick of this fatal silence
That consumes my energy and my wellbeing.
What of our children? Our silence
Will drown them!
Better they hear
Our cries and groans:
They’ll find freshness in the shower
Of our lamentations.

If this cage still has its drums,
Then, in this night that we share with those suffering,
We shall welcome the aria of the moon
The bells of the stars, and the ringing of the sky.
Never cease to beat the rhythm of our sorrow
So that those who come from our bellies
Have hearts made of music
Salted with our tears.

Spoken Word brings poetry home

poetry, n. writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm – Merriam-Webster

When I started writing spoken word poetry, it came to me as words I was speaking to myself. A major part of the essence of the poetry was in its performance, even though during the writing of it that performance was only to myself.

Since I was younger, I have always assumed this: Poetry is a thought condensed. Prose is the opposite: a thought elaborated. Spoken word seems to straddle both of these definitions and to step outside of them.

Originally I thought that ‘traditional’ poetry was passed on in print. But this misconception comes from years in school, studying Blake and Wordsworth and Owen and then at university Akhmatova,  Blok, Pushkin. Even though sometimes we’d be asked to read it out to the class, we studied it mainly by looking at the words on the page.

Reading written words was not the ‘original’ method of passing on poetry. Poetry began with Chinese folk songs and oral epics such as The Iliad. From the Middle Ages, think of the Catalan troubadours, whose oral verse occasioned the codification of the Catalan language. Writing it down was merely a way to ensure that it wasn’t forgotten.

Poetry was a way to connect, instantly, with one’s audience. I would argue that spoken word poetry is the closest art form to that today. In spoken word, the words come forth like a stream of consciousness: as I speak the words, my audience understands what I am saying. There is no break or study period needed in order for them to connect.

When ‘traditional’ or ‘establishment’ poetry is read out loud, on the other hand, the words may sound beautiful, but it would take several readings for me to begin to really connect with the meaning of the words. Realistically, one needs to study the words visually and allow them to seep into one’s mind over time in order to decipher the real meanings behind them.

The very concept of a ‘poetry reading’ is alien to the spoken word scene, because spoken word poets feel that the performance of their work is absolutely integral to its existence; it is a part of the very essence of the work. The pace, tone, timbre, beat, rhyme, possible musical backing, amplification, acoustics, the general atmosphere, and the audience themselves are part of the poem. The work cannot exist outside of its being performed.

This makes spoken word – often seen as a less high-brow genre – in fact a sub-genre that brings us closer to poetry in its original form. Poetry is not always a thought ‘condensed’: it can be condensed, elaborated, tossed about, stretched, mocked, ripped apart and put together again; in any combination of visual and auditory elements.