Apr '15 21

Grind Them Smooth. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

Processes and procedures associated with poetry fascinate me. One of the most famous procedural poetry groups was the French group Oulipo, whose members experimented with mathematically constrained writing techniques. They came up with the N+7 procedure, which involves replacing each noun in a text with the seventh one following it in a dictionary.

There's a nice N+7 online generator over here. I simply entered the text of one of my poems and the generator spat out 15 texts ranging from N+1 to N+15. Here for your entertainment is the N+7 version. Some words were obviously not in its dictionary! I particularly like '...his flukes on my bottleneck'.

You can read my original poem, 'The Smoothest Place is Right Here', at the end of this post. This 'found' poem, sourced from Chapter 18 of James Joyce's Ulysses, was published in The Found Poetry Review's special Bloomsday edition in June 2014.

My friend and poet Mike Hopkins, who's also writing a poem a day this month, did this with Yeats's poem 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' and you can read the entertaining result on his website here.

The Smoothest Plaid is Right Here

theres novelette like his kitty hot dowse to the south
o heartthrob kitty me straight on my moviegoer i cant wait
swelter like incisor his flukes on my bottleneck
and yet not a partridge of luck in our necessities

im softy like a pearl but stretched out dead
this damned old bedroom is jingling like the dickens
weve too much blot clattering up in us
im a juicy peccadillo where his brew makes me waterproof

i dressmaker creditor muslin at the boulevard of the bat
i remember a young may mops beaming luck
i tourist fens in clogs asleep in the shake-up
then cub them defendant and send them all spinning

he was a balmy bollocks but too beautiful all the same
hed be glauming me over my moaning made him boardroom
we kissed goose the candle locus was frozen
an icy window-dresser skeeting across from the moustaches

Here's my original 'found' poem.

The Smoothest Place is Right Here

theres nothing like his kiss hot down to the soul
o heart kiss me straight on my mouth i cant wait
sweet like incense his flowers on my bosom
and yet not a particle of love in our natures

im soft like a peach but stretched out dead
this damned old bed is jingling like the dickens
weve too much blood clattering up in us
im a juicy pear where his breath makes me water

i dream cream muslin at the bottom of the basket
i remember a young may moons beaming love
i touch fellows in cloaks asleep in the shade
then crush them deep and send them all spinning

he was a balmy bollocks but too beautiful all the same
hed be glauming me over my moaning made him blush
we kissed goodbye the canal lock was frozen
an icy wind skeeting across from the mountains

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 20

Nautilus Illuminata. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

Today's poem is based on the Fibonacci Sequence. This mathematically described structure often occurs in nature, for example in sunflowers, pine cones and Nautilus shells.

In this mathematical sequence every number is the sum of the two preceding it. So, starting at 1, the sequence is 1+1=2; then in turn 1+2=3; then 2+3=5; then 3+5=8 and so on.

I applied the sequence to the number of syllables in each line, so the first two lines have one-syllable words, the third line has two syllables, etc. I wrote one of these before; for NaPoWriMo in 2013. You can read it here.

I increased the challenge for today's effort: I went as far as the 21-syllable line before turning the poem around. I also included the word 'Fibonacci' in the poem.

one gold fib

about how
to execute a
Fibonacci series poem;
how the key idea might hinge around the thirteen-
syllable line, or even the twenty-one syllable line, like this, before it turns
in golden ratio'd symmetry, spiralling to
last lines in manic urgency,
halting, leaving me
to wonder:
what was

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 19

Last Rays. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

I wrote today's poem on a most delightful drive back to Adelaide from Edithburgh on the Yorke Peninsula.

the long road north

through luminous trees
wintry western sun
strobes the long road
'look at the light!' you say
but a 'save our farmland, save our future' banner
and roofless, stone-skeleton'd cottages
remind me of famine and exodus
and how my own damn fury
flickers just below serene surfaces;
see, the high drama of clouds as light intensifies,
see, how shadows lengthen as the sun dips;
'look at the light!' you say
but all I recall
is how sarcasm rose, dripping gold
in a game, goading me
eroding my thin fabric
needling me with a pinprick point
hemming me in, the thread of
anger running around my edges
threatening to unravel:
but you always help me see light
wherever we're going,
(and sometimes we take the long way)
and even now, as it changes and surprises us
there is nothing new, just new to us

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 18

Neptune Fish Trap. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

I was browsing an old edition of New Scientist (10 May 2008, to be precise) and I was struck by the number of brilliant headlines throughout. The first one that grabbed my attention was the most poetic-sounding 'Why didn't the early earth freeze under the faint young sun?' For today's poem I have done a mash-up of some of the best headlines from the issue and joined them with phrases and words to make some sort of (non)sense.

May the New Scientist be with you

The man who won't give up said
stop the internet, I want to get off.
Over our dead bodies, they growl.
Why didn't the early earth freeze under the faint young sun?
Sea creatures had a thing for bling, he whispered,
they always favoured style over substance.
Some swans are grey, but we know that less is more
and now that the secret's out on black hole trysts
you need to believe that drivers' pain is the planet's gain.
Look at it this way:
when the smoke clears
the medium is the means.
From babble to tweet
you need to be a mimic
and grind them down, get them angry.
Remember that
resistance isn't futile
but any God of creativity
would advise you that
reality's easier to take than sedation,
and to take it you need to
stink or swim.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 17

Ghost of a Surfer. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

As a basis for today's poem (and title) I used one of my favourite quotes (read it at the end of the post) from page 324 of Shanghai Dancing by Brian Castro, an almost manic, yet most poetic, fictional autobiography. I used the quote in the two middle lines (seven and eight) and balanced the poem around it (six lines before, six lines after). The final six lines echo and mirror somewhat the contents of the first six lines. The poem itself explores the power of language and questions the reliability of memory and the premise of the middle lines – that the dead are in us.

Also, I was alone today for a while in a large, old echoey house.

the way we hear the heart

Is there anything stranger
than the thump of a book falling on the timber floor in an empty house
or how a building's bones creak as it shifts and settles;
a footstep softfalling but never entering the room;
the whisper of obsolete words in our ears
language preserved for the realm of the dead, unknowingly heard
but the dead are in us...in the form of ancient
languages, which live within our own
thus the dead are preserved
which is why we are moved by arcane words
and hear footsteps that never cross the threshold;
and why my bones creak and settle
as I bend to pick up a strange book
full of secrets I already know.

The dead are in us, I said, in the form of ancient languages which live within our own. Like hearing the heart through the lungs ... buried kinships.
Shanghai Dancing, page 324

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 16

Transient Landscape. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

Another day, another rescued poem. This one is rescued from two books by Irish poet Eavan Boland - Object Lessons and A Journey with Two Maps - in which she reflects on her experiences of becoming a poet and the nature of that journey.

As I have said before, the important distinction between my rescuing process and other process-based approaches such as 'finding' poems is that I do not select a complete phrase or sentence; after I transcribe the text I jumble it so that all the words are in random order, and then I choose words as individual building blocks. The resulting rescued poem is usually quite surprising because I take the words out of their original context and create my own stories from them.

unreliable distance

the past is a wound
windows fracture the language of a nation
there is grace in place
and power in possibility
but the poor and the young who have entered
my house on this street in this city
who have stood tall in their dispossession
who have looked far for purpose
and near for the origins of their doubt
should realise
that even this church is witness
to the weakness of some spun story
and sense
the present world drawing towards
the edge of their history

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 15

Wonderwalls The North Wall. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

I wasn't feeling particularly inspired today and half-started a few things which may eventually turn into other things. So today's offering is almost an anti-poem; well, a bit of prose really. And speaking of inspiration: Calliope was one of the nine muses, and her particular domain was epic poetry.

Date with Calli

She prances into my office, barely glancing at me, and drops her black Prada handbag on top of the messy piles of paper on my desk. She sits down on the only other chair in the room, flashing red sole as she crosses her Louboutin'd legs, and carefully pats her fashionably mussed 500-dollar-haircut tresses. Miss me? She grins as she lights a slim Vogue cigarette. I shake my head. The dull, half-written, unedited piles of crappy copy seem to shift and shimmer and grow all around me. She arches one perfectly-plucked eyebrow. She could be auditioning for a movie, the way she’s carrying on. I don't need you, I mutter. I'm doing just fine on my own. She takes a deep drag of her cigarette, purses her rouge-Dior'd lips and exhales in my direction. She mouths: I. Don't. Think. So. Wait, what was that? A nicotine hit with…unmistakeably peaty overtones. You've been drinking, I snarl. Lucky you. Except that's not useful to me. She smirks and looks around the room; then she winces. She actually winces. Well, I need inspiration too, you know. This isn't exactly a creator's paradise. She stares at me, then jumps to her feet. I have an idea! She stubs out her cigarette on a cracked saucer on my desk, grabs her bag in one hand and my arm with the other. You're coming with me. I know just the place to kickstart you and me. Get your coat and your notebook; we're going to the pub right now. What could I do? When the Muse proposes, you acquiesce. And that's when she and I first got scuttered together.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 14

Messy pile -> poem.

Today I selected books – some poetry, some prose – from my shelf at random and set about writing today's poem from their titles. In the end I was left with these 30 titles (including the poem title), to which I added some linking words and phrases. I've listed the books and authors in alphabetical order below, after the poem.


In a world without maps
Pharaoh's daughter is drifting under the moon
in the Celtic twilight, across the stones of Aran.
Between here and there, the mining road curves
through the rough field like the bend for home.
Around her shoulders is draped the astrakhan cloak;
at arm's length she holds a book of migrations,
a journey with two maps,
but between the lines are secrets
about the fall,
about what this earth cost us,
riddles reminding her
that because of sleeping with monsters
our banished misfortune
is in her own image; is the price of stone.
In this new territory
the veiled woman of Achill,
the big fellow and the flower master
form a human chain,
and through the square window
we may see the blue swallows –
with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold –
but here, or there, or anywhere
what love comes to is this:
perhaps the heart is constant after all.

A Book of Migrations ( Lorrie Moore)
A Journey with Two Maps (Eavan Boland)
At Arm’s Length (Anne Chambers)
Between Here and There (Sinéad Morrissey)
Between the Lines (Jon Stallworthy)
Drifting Under the Moon (Ger Reidy)
Edgelands (Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts)
Human Chain (Seamus Heaney)
In Her Own Image (Eavan Boland/Constance Short)
New Territory (Eavan Boland)
Perhaps the Heart is Constant After All (Mary Dorcey)
Pharaoh’s Daughter (Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill)
Sleeping with Monsters (Wilson/Somerville-Arjat)
Stones of Aran (Tim Robinson)
The Astrakhan Cloak (Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill)
The Bend for Home (Dermot Healy)
The Big Fellow (Frank O’Connor)
The Blue Swallows (Howard Nemerov)
The Celtic Twilight (W B Yeats)
The Fall (Jordie Albiston)
The Flower Master (Medbh McGuckian)
The Mining Road (Leanne O'Sullivan)
The Price of Stone (Richard Murphy)
The Rough Field (John Montague)
The Veiled Woman of Achill (Patricia Byrne)
Through the Square Window (Sinéad Morrissey)
What Love Comes To (Ruth Stone)
What this Earth Cost Us (Theo Dorgan)
With the First Dream of Fire they Hunt the Cold (Trevor Joyce)
World Without Maps (Geraldine Mitchell)

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 13

Twilight Silhouette. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

I started to write today's tongue-in-cheek poem during Easter a couple of weeks ago, then left it, so today I revisited it. It was sparked by my skimming through Marina Warner's most fascinating book Alone of all her sex The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary.

Mammy's boy

It all started over a few pints in Egans of a Sunday
not long after you found out you were expecting
and it took off like Chinese whispers.
I remember you saying
how the kid was conceived in the back of a panel van
one night after the pub had closed
and that his deadbeat dad had already run for the hills,
but didn't he deserve a better story than that?
And after the seventh shot you had it worked out:
not only would you give him a better life
but you'd find a good husband, too.
He was a grand little fella and grew up so obliging
although to be honest he was a bit cocky, but that's the young for you.
Did he get his charisma from you or his long-suffering stepfather
who believed that visitation story of yours?
The story went on for so long you couldn't collapse it
couldn't dismantle it, fold it up and store it away.
The lad believed everything, of course –
he always had a soft spot for his mammy –
so between that and his conjuring tricks
he really had it going on with his pals.
And somehow this shaky, flaky house of cards stayed upright.
He never moved out of home; sure why would he
when you would be feeding him his favourite dinners –
he loved the ole Shepherd's Pie
and the bit of lamb roast of a Sunday –
and you were happy enough to wash his clothes and mend his sandals.
There wasn't a chick around these parts
that had the measure of him or were good enough for him anyway.
The boy did lose the run of himself a bit
and really got up those Romans' noses
but sure weren't we all a bit wild ourselves when we were younger,
and we didn't get hauled up for treason.
Sure weren't you only a mammy who loved her wee lad?
You loved when his pals came over for the bit of supper,
although you always had your eye on that one young buck.
I remember that time we met in Starbucks for coffee:
you said it then, and you warned your young lad;
not to be trusted, that one, you said, he's dark as the devil
and isn't it a reminder to all of us
that keeping our friends close and our enemies closer
mightn't always work out for the best?
And now look at your fine fella, poor lamb,
how has it come to this?
Him having to answer that crackpot prosecutor,
although he really should answer straight
instead of shifty-lad replies like 'it is you who say it',
sure what does he mean by that at all?
If he's not careful he'll be in desperate trouble
and see the other eejit washing his hands now…
…wait, what is wrong with these people?
Shut your gobs, you amadáns. He's one of our own.
Sweet mother of God what just happened?
He's to be… what?

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 12

Arc of age.

I was looking through the writing prompts at the NaPoWriMo website here and one of them was to write a visual poem. I am inclined to write words in a 'visual' way anyway and my notebooks are dogs' breakfasts-worth of doodling, angled writing and text experiments. So I revisited some of my old notebooks to see if I could rework any but I ended up creating a new one.

The text reads as follows:

Arc of age
Pendulum of grace
exuberant youth
trajectory of our days
towards rest

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 11

The Matrix Unloaded. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

I've been getting quite a few spam comments on my website so I decided to 'rescue' a poem from yesterday's spam offerings (you can read about my 'rescue' process here). The poem turned out to be something of a question and answer session.

incredible stunning online benefit

Selling wonders: digital silver and gold
melodic pings fracturing the physics
familiar conversation, yet who is this
playing in my own connected world?

Us, trying to guide you: easily, more vigor,
profitable investment, free videos, connections,
weightless, simple losing, hold your searching
casino, members, see: you just got bigger!

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 11

Stormy. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

Today's poem is self-explanatory and inadequate. That is all.

News and weather

For H.

The sun is shining here today
but an icy wind blows in the shade
and the weather has become unpredictable…
…but I'm not that writer
who metaphors climate for catastrophic events;
I'm not comfortable with
environmental similes for human conditions;
I prefer to modify language itself:
verbalise nouns and nounify verbs
reimagine inadequate vocabulary
connect unconnected ideas
with hook-and-eye words
yet today the flair for it fails me;
today, when I most need
to express my concern;
today, when I most need
to wish love and light
to a dear friend who's staring into the eye
of a terrible, sickening storm.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 10

Temptation Moonset. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

Today's poem is the result of a (few days old) prompt from the NaPoWriMo site here. The suggestion was to find and rework a poem by Emily Dickinson. I chose 'The Moon is distant from the Sea - 387'. When I started playing around with the poem, I wondered why she had altered the relationship between the moon and the sea in the final stanza so that the feminine character sounded fragile and dependent – the opposite of how the poem begins. That had to change! (I've posted the original version at the end of this post, after my one.)

Emily dashed: the moon is (not so) distant from the sea

The moon is distant from the sea,
and yet, her amber hand
commands him ebb and flow just so;
he seems to understand.

Striking balance, finely tuned:
natural laws at work;
then why does Emily's last verse
reverse the moon-sea roles?

Oh, Signor, mine's the amber hand
and thine the distant sea.
Just so we're clear, I've turned it round:
my eye's imposed on thee!

Here's the original poem by Emily Dickinson.

The Moon is distant from the Sea – (387)

The Moon is distant from the Sea –
And yet, with Amber Hands –
She leads Him – docile as a Boy –
Along appointed Sands –

He never misses a Degree –
Obedient to Her eye –
He comes just so far – toward the Town –
Just so far – goes away –

Oh, Signor, Thine, the Amber Hand –
And mine – the distant Sea –
Obedient to the least command
Thine eye impose on me –

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 8
Inside the Teepee. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

This started out as a little riff on that old saying 'Home is where the heart is'. A change of letter in one word and it all veered off, then circled back unexpectedly.


'Home is where the heart is', so my heart is here at home.
Or home is wherever my heart happens to be.
Where my head happens to be.
Home is where the head is?
In my house?
Home is where the house is?
Home is where the horse is?
Homer is the horse?
Homer IS the horse.
A horse named after a poet.
Horse is where the poetry is
where the trough is
where the water is.
Water is where the drinking is.
Drinking is where the wine is
where the mind is
where the fun is.
Fun is where the laughter is
where the life is
where the friends are.
Friends are where the love is.
Love is where you are.
Love is … here you are.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '15 8
Surfing a Celestial Wave. Photo by Robert Rath from Robert's website.

I really have nothing to say about today's poem.


I fell off the edge of the world
on Tuesday at 9.30 pm.
Dreamily I realise the thin silk line
has frayed and snapped.
Slowfloating away
I notice a tabby cat who'd disappeared from our street
seven months before;
one sock of a favourite pair, long mislaid;
an unfinished apple;
a disconnection notice from the electricity company.
I waft through the atmosphere's edgelands
colliding with cosmic junk and space debris.
I begin to wonder what I'm doing here
and where everyone else is
when I spot a silver spaceship
rocketing towards me
and there's a man inside
waving and smiling
so I wave and smile back
and he yanks me into his capsule.
Pleased to meet you, he says,
shakes my hand
asks if I've been up here long.
Me, he says, I'm just floating around
in this tin-can up here
and there's nothing I can do
I love my wife very much but
you know, it's quite quiet here...
...oh sorry, so rude of me, he grins
my name is Tom,
Major Tom.
And the pot I smoked
and the Bowie records I hazed to
all begin to make sense
as Starman and I
share beers and Pringles and chill
more than one hundred thousand miles
above blue planet earth.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

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