Oct '17 10

Rear Admiral Kevin John Scarce AC, CSC, RANR, 16th Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, presents me with me parchment on 2 May 2017. As he shook hands with me, he whispered: "That sounds like a really interesting thesis". But I bet he says that to all the doctors.

I've been asked several times what I've been working on in the creative space for the past while.

So this is what I've been up to: I was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide in March this year, and I graduated in May. What a wonderful day that was, made all the more special by the presence of my darling sister Susan and her husband Daragh, who came all the way from Ireland for the event!

I gather it's not often that 'fun' and 'PhD' are in the same sentence, but for me it was exactly that: fun, and a real privilege. From the beginning I treated it as a major project, turning up every day to 'work' in my (shared) office at the university (hurray for room 624!). I was fortunate to have two excellent supervisors: Jill Jones, senior lecturer at the university and herself an internationally recognised prize-winning poet; and Professor Dorothy Driver, a distinguished English literature scholar and academic.

I wrote a collection of poetry—87 poems all up—and an exegesis, which is a 20,000-word critical explanation of the context and themes associated with the creative work. The collection incorporates poems in the voice of Grace O'Malley (Grainne Mhaol—pronounced Graw-nya Wail) interspersed with what I call 'rescued' poems. (My other website rescuedpoetry.com lists the steps of this process I developed, and features several examples.)

Grainne was a powerful sea-faring chieftain who lived in the west of Ireland from 1530 to 1603. She was 'some woman for one woman'; during this time—one of the most turbulent political eras in Ireland's history—she and her crew traded by sea with Scotland, Spain and Portugal from her base in Mayo.

Irish contemporary historical literature has mostly overlooked Grainne in spite of her prominent role in politics. She pops up quite frequently in various English political papers and communications, however, because of how irritating she was to the English regime which was busy trying to colonise Ireland at the time. In various dispatches she was called 'the nurse to all rebellions for forty years' and 'a director of thieves and murderers at sea'. It was through subsequent retelling of her seafaring exploits that she came to be known in Ireland as the 'pirate queen'. In the deeply researched biography Granuaile, Grace O'Malley—Ireland's Pirate Queen, Irish author Anne Chambers fleshes out in great detail Grainne's personal and political life.

According to a letter written in the 1950s by my great-Aunt Angela Russell (née Coyne), sometime in the mid-1800s my great-great-grandfather James Coyne married an O'Malley woman who was related to Grainne. Of course, Grainne's direct descendants are more likely to be O'Flaherty or Bourke—Grainne's husbands' surnames—but that doesn't rule out the possibility that we have a few globs of O'Malley blood running through us! The Brownes, who are the direct descendants of Grainne's youngest son Tibbott, owned and lived in Westport House until earlier this year.

So, back to my collection of 87 poems: these consisted of 37 Grainne compositions and 50 'rescued' poems. In the Grainne compositions I placed Grainne at different points in her life but also, in a sort of subversion of the idea of straight biography, I situated her in the mediaeval past and in the future via her dreams. I viewed the re-worked and re-created stories from her past and future as a way of honouring her for having been written out of history. I drew on the stories about her that I'd heard as a girl in Ireland, or that were discussed in her biography by Anne Chambers, or mentioned in passing elsewhere.

I rescued the 50 poems from combinations of 17 texts connected to Grainne—a selection of factual or fictional biographies of her and a small number of contemporary historical texts. The idea behind this was that the rescued voices would echo and complement Grainne's voice, even if in a removed way.

After three-and-a-half years of researching, writing and editing, I submitted the collection and exegesis in August 2016*. My examiners' reports finally came back in February this year. I agonised and imagined all kinds of (negative) reasons for such a long assessment period. Imagine my amazement and relief when both examiners (one from Ireland and one from Australia) returned overwhelmingly complimentary feedback and remarks.

One of the examiners referred to the manuscript as a 'strong and thrilling poetry collection' and an 'inventive and impressive volume of poetry', and called the poems 'enthralling' and 'strong in voice and polished in their craft'. The second examiner observed that the poems presented 'richly realised moments' in a collection that was 'evocative and technically adept'. I was really delighted to see that both examiners 'got' what I was trying to do with this unusual approach to biographical poetry (and my risky creative approach to the academic exegesis—but that's another story). I was even lucky enough to be awarded the Dean's Commendation for Excellence!

I would love if an Irish publisher published the collection, so at the moment I'm working my way through a list: it's a patient and courageous publisher indeed who agrees to publish the work. The poems combine in a unique way so for example, it's difficult to select a few poems that 'represent' the collection, and submit only those to publishers.

I've already received three rejections. I was rather upset initially by the most recent, particularly detailed rejection letter. Then I decided to be grateful that he took the time to (hand)write his thoughts to me.

So, my optimistic self has decided that I'm three publishers closer to being published!



*Full thesis titles.

Vol 1 Creative Work
Grace Notes
Giving Voice to Grainne Mhaol, Ireland's Pirate Queen


Vol 2 Exegesis
Saving Grace: Re-Imagining, Re-Placing, and Rescuing Grainne Mhaol, a Sixteenth-Century Irish Pirate Queen



Posted by Jennifer Liston

Oct '15 16


A few months ago I met Aisling, a lovely English and Geography teacher from St Mary's Secondary School in Mallow (Co Cork, Ireland). We chatted about literature and writing in general, and poetry in particular. Aisling asked if she could introduce my poetry to her fifth year English class. Of course I said yes.

They selected my poem 'Disconnection' (you can read it here) to discuss in class and Aisling offered them some options to respond to the poem.

Aisling forwarded me a selection of the responses; I was blown away by how creative they were.



For example, there were three very different movies, an artwork, a 'storyboard' of the poem, two poems that were written using only the words from 'Disconnection' and a couple of fake twitter pages of the young woman who walked into the pole (one student decided it was Kim Kardashian who walked into the pole).




Another student created a fake Facebook profile online for the young woman who walked into the pole.

Some students did without their mobile phone for 24 hours and wrote a diary entry about the experience. One girl cooked a Sunday dinner for her family and went for a long walk as she felt she had nothing else to do when she didn't have her phone.

I was thrilled to 'connect' with this class via poetry, and very moved by the funny and diverse responses. It is such a privilege when someone takes the time and effort to read and consider what I write, so to the talented fifth year girls and Aisling O'Connor of St Mary's Secondary School, Mallow: congratulations on your enthusiasm and spirit, and a heartfelt thank you.







Posted by Jennifer Liston

Nov '13 16


I'll be reading some of my poems with super-talented poet Louise McKenna at 5.30 pm next Wednesday 20th November at the State Library of South Australia, North Terrace, Adelaide.

'Words @ the Wall' is a joint Friendly Street Poets and State Library event and is a lovely, unique kind of poetry reading. The library is a beautiful setting and the event itself - two poets reading for no longer than 45 minutes - gives the audience no time to get bored.

And it's free.


Posted by Jennifer Liston

Nov '13 14
I joined amazing wordsmiths Alison Flett, Heather Taylor-Johnson, Rachael Mead and Anna Solding at a writing retreat during the October long weekend (5-7 October). We rented a house on Hindmarsh Island, an area close to Goolwa on the Fleurieu Peninsula about a 1.5-hour drive from Adelaide.

The idea was to write our little heads off in a distraction-free environment. The house, which backed onto the waterway, was certainly large enough for each of us to find our individual writing spaces. In the evening we'd read out what we'd written if we felt like it.

Everyone brought and shared delicious home-cooked food and of course we had supplies of wine, beer, gin and vodka.






Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '13 1
I've committed to writing and publishing one poem every day for the month of April. Mike Hopkins and I did it last year and we both agreed that while it was a challenge, it was certainly worth it.

You can read more about National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) here.

The most difficult part of this challenge for me is publishing drafts of poems or incomplete versions of ideas. My internal editor has a hard time allowing these to be seen before I've had a chance to polish them a little.

I've been interested for a couple of years now in applying constraints to writing and the effects of doing so. I have found that when I establish rules - for example choosing a particular form, number of lines, rhyming schemes and even certain ways of generating a poem - other aspects of my creativity have been liberated somehow. The resulting poems are often quite different to others that emerge more 'organically'. I will explore more of this during this poem-a-day project.

For example, I've wanted to write a poem based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence. Then I discovered that many others were already doing this and that there's a great online jounal called the Fib Review which publishes 'Fib' poems.

In the Fibonacci 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.

The number of syllables in each line in today's poem follows the Fibonacci sequence. I went as far as 8, then decreased. There's also a point-of-view change/turnaround half-way through. And there's no title.

So here we go: the first of 30 poems in 30 days.

Be-
tween
night's and
light's deep folds
lurk our darkest fears,
tasting our sweat, testing our shell.
Shell-blocked, we tease; whetting, we're poised
foretasting moments
when we'll creep
through; hear
you
scream.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Mar '13 6
What a feast of poetry performances, book launches and readings over the past few months. (See what I'm doing here? Heading towards the excuse 'I've been too busy to update my website' which, as we all know, is just that: an excuse.)

Alison Flett and I had great fun as guest readers - of the celtic kind - at Poets' Corner in January.

I went to the moving launch of the book Too afraid to cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann.

One great performance at the Adelaide Fringe Festival was Anthropoetry by Ben Mellor. Ben was also a guest at Friendly Street earlier this week.

'Breathing spaces' was an interesting performance at Greenaway Art Gallery by poets Cecilia White, Mike Ladd, Jill Jones, Juan Garrido-Salgado, Jude Aquilina and Andre Lawrence who were accompanied by musician Nick Tsavios and projected landscape images by Annette Willis.

This week we're in the thick of Adelaide Writers' Week. Yesterday I went to see/hear five poets read: Cath Kenneally, Karen Solie, Kurt Heinzelman, Harry Ricketts and John Tranter.

It's also been a sad time, with the unexpected passing in January of a fine poet and friend, John Pfitzner, RIP. The evening before, he had been at the Poets' Corner event at which Alison and I were reading. At the end of the evening, I touched his arm lightly and said 'See you at such-and-such'. With a big grin he replied that he was looking forward to it. Later I wondered why these final words were not weighted with the gravitas of 'adieu' rather than the light certainty of 'see you later'. You can read a lovely tribute to him here.

I haven't been writing very much lately, but this will change as I start to schedule my days to incorporate writing and research. I intend to post more poems here soon, so keep revisiting, okay?



Posted by Jennifer Liston

Mar '12 8
These recent days have been poetry-filled and frilled with meeting many new and fascinating people. Although poetry is not a major feature of Adelaide Writers' Week, I was delighted to meet and chat to Dennis O'Driscoll a couple of times at the event. Dennis is from Tipperary (not too far from my home town) and I can tell you now: his poem 'Someone' is guaranteed to give you goosebumps. And his poetry books sold out at the event! (I remember this happened a few years back when Simon Armitage's poetry collections raced out the tent door and there wasn't a copy left anywhere in Adelaide.) However, I was lucky enough to bag one of the last remaining few copies of Stepping Stones, a collection of Dennis's interviews with his friend and fellow poet, Seamus Heaney.

I also attended the session with Mike Ladd and Les Murray in conversation. Les Murray's most recent collection, Taller when Prone, won the 2012 John Bray Poetry Award. Mike compared Les's poetry about place and surroundings with that of Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, who believed that 'All great civilizations are based on the parish'. Kavanagh wrote about everyday farming life (for example 'Spraying the Potatoes') and said '...the things that really matter are casual, insignificant little things'.

In another session, Dionne Brand (Canada), Aidan Coleman (Adelaide), Michael Hulse (UK), Mike Ladd (Adelaide), Dennis O'Driscoll (Ireland) and Jan Owen (Adelaide) read a selection of their poems. It was a delight to hear each poet voice his/her own work. I bought a copy of Aidan Coleman's new book, Asymmetry, which I'm looking forward to experiencing. The poems navigate the challenging path of the author's recovery from a stroke; the collection has had rave reviews.

I was disappointed that I couldn't make it to the launch of Friendly Street Poets 'New Poets 17' (which features gareth roi jones, John Pfitzner and Rachael Mead), as well as the launch of Friendly Street Poets 'Flying Kites' edited by Judy Dally and Louise McKenna. I bought a copy of each, however, and I'm looking forward to dipping in.

All in all, mad March has offered Adelaide a nice polite pot of poetry.

In the next post I'll update you on some slam and spoken word events.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Nov '11 12
Yesterday (11/11/11) I won the Sydney Writers' Centre
11-word story competition, which I entered at the, umm, 11th hour (sorry!).

My 11-word winner was this:

She took 11 minutes to regain consciousness. She forgave him again.

You can read all the great entries here.

Thank you Sydney Writer's Centre. I'm looking forward to receiving my prize (a selection of books).

What fun!

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Sep '10 25
I'm working my way (slowly) through Gabriele Rico's book Writing the Natural Way.

I'm quite enjoying the discipline of doing each writing exercise. The book claims to 'help unlock natural styles and storytelling abilities'. Maybe that translates to 'using the discipline of writing with the old left brain editor switched off so that creativity has a freer run'.

The author presents a technique called 'clustering' to release creative inhibition and to create links between apparently dissimilar thoughts. It's actually a version of mind-mapping, which I've used quite often, but not for writing poetry.

I'm only up to chapter five (of 14 chapters) so I'll be a while yet! What I really like is that the book is peppered with great quotes about writing, creativity and psychology from all kinds of interesting people.

Here's one:

My question is "When did other people give up the idea of being a poet?" You know, when we are kids we make up things, we write, and for me the puzzle is not that some people are still writing, the real question is why did the other people stop?

William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

I might share a few of the exercises from the book with you soon.

Then again, I might not.

You'll have to be very nice to me. ;-)

Posted by Jennifer Liston