Jan '20 29

I’m super-excited to be participating in this year’s Adelaide Fringe with my solo show, Grace Notes: Grace O’Malley, Irish rebel, pirate queen. I had planned to do just three shows (on 21, 22 and 28 February), but to my surprise and gratitude, they sold out a few weeks ago.

So I’ve just added another show, on Wednesday 26 February. It’s upstairs in the Grande Room at the Gilbert Street Hotel. The room is lovely and quite small – it holds 30 people. I wanted an intimate, cabaret-style setting that would suit story-telling and a cappella singing.

Click here to visit the Adelaide Fringe website in case you’d like to join me.

It’s an absolute privilege for me to have the opportunity to bring this amazing woman to life through my original poems and songs, and to share it in the Fringe. The Adelaide Fringe is such an exciting festival – it’s the world’s second-largest annual arts festival (after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), and this year, it celebrates its 60th birthday. So Adelaide will be jumping!

I developed the show from the content of my PhD poetry collection, which gives a voice to Gráinne Mhaol. The poems express fragments of her life, and are interspersed with original and traditional Irish songs.

And who was this woman? Gráinne was a powerful sea-faring chieftain who lived in the west of Ireland from 1530 to 1603. 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 Gráinne 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 Gráinne’s 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 Gráinne. Of course, Gráinne’s direct descendants are more likely to be O’Flaherty or Bourke – Gráinne’s husbands’ surnames – but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that we have a few globs of O’Malley blood running through us!

I hope to see some of you at the show! Thank you to everyone who has already bought tickets. It really means a lot to me.

Again, here's the link to the Adelaide Fringe website in case you’d like to join me.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 30
Today is the last day in the NaPoWriMo-write-and-post-a-poem-every-day project. Thank you for reading them and for your kind remarks and feedback.

Although it'll be nice to claw back a few hours in my day, I will miss the daily discipline of the rescue process and the strange little poems that result.

The 30 April rescuees are quite interesting and mostly 'dark'. Their 'narrative-heavy' nature is not surprising to me at all; the very act of being presented with a bundle of disordered words seems to demand that I construct a story with them.

Today, for the final rescue (for now), I decided to load up the constraint with yet another: write a haiku (three-line poem with five, seven and five syllables in each line respectively). This was somewhat inspired by my poet friend Mike's use of haikus to finish up his poem-stories (they're great; you can read them over here).

Today's cryptic rescuee squeezed out from pages 179 and 104 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

the words of a last toast insist that large fortune is laughter, love and nice wine

raise thy glass to life
death the cat and mouse farewell
my red shoe kicks straight

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 29
Today's rescued poem was another challenging one – plenty of nouns and verbs but not really useful combinations of tenses, hence the 'clunky' feel of the flow. I know the format of 'husband-to-be' is not really correct, but I've allowed it anyway.

This rescuee slunk from pages 103 and 25 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

You shall never be alone, he said

She smoked a wistful cigarette,
her head bent,
her breath light and rapid:
a crumpled creature.

He had walked with her
laughed with her
had pulled her to him
his dear lips had kissed her
had asked her to marry him –
her very own wish.
Nerves had gripped her
on the ivory morning
of her wedding day.

This blue evening,
she is watching out
for the husband to be
who never turned up.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 28
I wasn't sure what kind of poem I was going to rescue from today's jumble of words: both pages of text were short so the vocabulary pot wasn't very big. And of course there were the usual pronoun/verb/tense challenges that I've come to know, expect and even love!

So this demure little rescuee slipped from pages 279 and 43 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

In the arms of an instrument

Now she is at rest,
her coffin shut solemnly
like her old violin-case,
hidden by flowers
as magnificent as the variations
she could play;
she was the violin
holding the key of the strings
holding the key to locked doors
that opened as you listened,
beckoned you in
and lifted you up to die in this

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 27
I found today's poem difficult to rescue; I think that knowing I'm close to the end of the poem-a-day project may have quite a bit to do with it. (There are only three left to rescue after today's!)

The nouns weren't very interesting (yet I used almost all of them, except for a few abstract ones); the pronoun–verb combination didn't work the way I would've liked; and there weren't many useful conjunctions (I really needed 'until' but it wasn't there).

All of this is so obvious to me when I re-read the poem, but it's a curious one all the same.

This one shuffled from pages 210 and 49 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

Sometimes life is dreaming an idea

It was morning when she broke through her chrysalis-shell.
She looked about her, surveying the garden.
She mused, but then leaped from the rose,
willing herself at one
with day, with earth, with fate.
A bird with blue feathers called her vulgar
but she shook her gentle head
and grasped the flame of her belief to herself.
Sometimes despair surrounded her
but then she would remember
to be kind to herself.
At noon she found her talents:
making verses from an idea
making names for nameless things
making a voice for someone;
this was her life from that hour
to the next,
Then she struck the dead end of evening.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 26
I found it a bit challenging to wrangle today's rescued poem out of the jumbled-word mess. None of the words particularly inspired me, there was no 'you', 'we', or 'they', and there was a distinct lack of useful prepositions.

For some reason I seem to have maintained the sing-song rhythm of the last couple of days.

Just a reminder that these poems are not really edited much at all, and if I were to edit them, I'd have to make sure I replaced words with other words from the two pages of text so that the rescue process isn't compromised.

This little rescuee jingled its way out of pages 52 and 108 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

When a word is a bullet

Her pillow sobbed with grief at night
her bed lay hard and bitter
her wound could not be bound or dressed
her sunken heart had languished.

Every word of his were flowers,
his lips were lines of sunshine.
When he called her, she would smile,
gladdened; dancing; trembling.

Futile, now, to speak about
the sun, the apple-blossoms;
he had whispered to her: l o v e.
Then he had laughed, and left her.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 25
Today's little rescuee is quite extraordinary.

Not for the quality of the poem itself, but for its content and focus.

Robert and I had what you might call quite a vigorous conversation earlier in the evening about the Catholic church (within which I was raised) and my anger at, and feeling of betrayal by, this institution which has shown itself to fail so terribly in living up to its own teachings and in caring for its congregations.

The bundle of jumbled vocabulary available to me today happened to contain some key words relevant to the topic and voilà! a rescued poem mysteriously relevant to my present state of mind.

This poem incanted its way from pages 167 and 26 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

I remember a caring Lord

I wake and pray to a doubtful God
How bitterly I talk that lovely language:
Say His name devoutly! Be afraid!
I have held him tightly to my heart.
Now my eyes are full with tears of poison.

He was all to me; He was my all:
My soul a golden morning in His prayer;
His voice a turquoise evening in my home;
A time when love would keep and would not leave.
Now my eyes are full with tears of poison.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 24

And just to interrupt the poem-a-day flow for a moment: thank you to online journal Verity La and its lovely and talented poet/editor, Michele Seminara, for publishing two of my poems today.

'Deadspeak' and 'Lycanthrope' are both quite dark and otherworldly pieces.

You can read them over here.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 24
When I started to write today's poem I didn't hold out much hope for it at all, which makes the result all the more surprising. Useful pronouns were fairly limited; there was no 'you' or 'your', no 'we', no 'them'. But again, I never know what to expect from the rescue process, and even with all these constraints and challenges, salvage was possible!

As I've said before, I stay true to the words and forms that are in the source text, which is why the poem includes an American spelling of the word 'favourite'.

This little rescuee played out from pages 99 and 147 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.


The tones of her voice were golden with yes
but the glow in her eyes was my favorite;
her hand was a rudder, drawing her to me;
her fingers were rippling cloud.

She played me, boy, red-gold and easy,
she played me, as pure and as fair
as a sheet in the wind
as a thought in the mind,
she played me, boy, red-gold and easy.

She clasped me to her, lightly and eager.
I felt her young solemn shiver.
Her heart dipped into me, over and through me
I purred in the black-gloved silence.

She played me, boy, red-gold and easy,
she played me, as pure and as fair
as a sheet in the wind
as a thought in the mind,
she played me, boy, red-gold and easy.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 23
Today's poem is quite surreal. Finding verb/tense combinations that would work was challenging; for example, there was no 'am', 'are', 'they', 'there', or 'will'.

This rescuee materialised from pages 97 and 89 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

end note

At night you always dream the same dream:
you write in your overheated notebook
work on your overlighted masterpiece
drink scarlet wine from the broken inkstand
breathe the evening air strange with music
swing in the ballroom with the dancing piano
meet a violet-haired woman
who smiles at you, growls at you, and forgets you
all in one day.
You eat, you live, you walk, you think,
month after month,
year after year.
At last you put away the pen
that sang your round, fat, end note.
Here is your landing-place.
This is the view from your mansion, your summit.
And it is enough.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 22
I have nothing to say about today's rescued poem except that it caught me completely by (tearful) surprise.

It appeared from pages 164 and 111 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

They called her 'the girl with the hair'

I find my mother in the blue-edged garden
at the front of the white house of my childhood,
oh so innocent!
She speaks: I remember my children, you know.
I remember you, my own one.
I remember your father.
I ask her how she is.
I ask her where she is.
I ask her to forgive me.
I fear she will leave too soon.
Surely she had more life to live?
I know then that this is the past:
that those flowery pathways to her are broken for ever;
that I can unbandage any wound but it will end up withered;
that an angelic death-bed does not care
about her, about me, about anybody;
that my dreams are a sinister prison.
I run after her, but already she is shadowy, dying.
Then I wake with the bitterest tears and a sorrow-touched heart.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 21
Today's rescued poem turned out to be an age-old story waiting to be told – although it wasn't without its vocabulary challenges. In particular, there was no 'him', hence some unwieldy construction/repetition, but that's how it goes.

And a reminder: none of these daily poems are heavily edited. To do so would require spending a lot more time to rework while staying true to the rules of using only what words are available in the jumble from the source texts.

This one ascended from pages 100 and 168 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

Lure of the lakes

My friend the pale octopus
dreamed me up from the abyss.

He read me a story
from the Book of Desolation
of a passionate knight from long ago
who had the eyes of a scorpion
and the heart of a lover;
who had sat by those lakes for years
watching, watching,
staring, staring.

The depths whispered to the knight
with their shadowy voice.
They took his blood and breath
for their own.
He drowned
but his soul bloomed in gladness at their gates.
The lakes filled up his spirit
and then he saw what had never been seen.

He had given them his soul.

My friend the pale octopus
rubbed his old eyes,
rubbed my old cheeks.

When I had sunk back to the depths
I gazed up in reawakened desolation:
That man was me.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 20
Trigger warning: personal/domestic violence

Today's rescued poem was difficult to pin down and it ended up going to a difficult place – hence the trigger warning. I have never been in this situation myself, but the poem wanted to go there anyway.

This poem called out from pages 42 and 85 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

the blight of yet another moment

with a child’s heart
and the hands of a mother
I face danger
singing aloud
like a poet adored
yet voiceless
my blood is a spoonful of soup
for your luncheon
eat, my love
eat my love, love
why don’t you
you are hungry again
so now you are beckoning me
now you are hammering your clenched fists
like a jealous boy
I have feared you for years
hammering your clenched fists
day in day out
hammering your clenched fists
to my head, my throat
singing aloud
I face you
the swinging danger

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 19
I had quite a bit of trouble with today's poem: the tenses of some verbs didn't suit, there was no 'is' or 'am', and the nouns and adjectives were rather pedestrian.

The resulting rescuee is somewhat surreal and has the hallmark darkness of most of my rescued poems – so different from the musicality and flow of yesterday's 'Bravura'.

This rescued poem floated from pages 295 and 14 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.

how inevitable, the silent despairing

she murmured her tone-poem under her breath
no sound but the not so merry-go-round

her days swung by in a confused dream
his afternoon hand on her tender head startled her

she said: tell me, was there a promising us?
she touched his heart, but it would not remember

she spoke his name, but it would not answer
she drowned in a troubled stream of music

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '18 18
Today's little rescuee seemed to be ready and willing to perform for me. I thought I was in trouble when I realised the words 'play', 'played', 'his' or 'their' weren't available, but 'playing' was there so that had to do.

I didn’t even consider the title until the end; the word ‘bravura’ played (pardon the pun) beautifully into the little story I had told.

This poem sang its way out of pages 285 and 67 of The Devourers and Marie Tarnowska respectively, both by Annie Vivanti Chartres.


Father’s fingers own the audience:
bow on strings like spine of wing in flight,
like fireworks that break through the deep-blue night;
in the dream-light, spirit shivers, drunk
on difficult but clear and fragrant notes;
no penumbra in the sky, now, even
stars are watching, fixedly, playing through
the heart and hands of this one, gentle man.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

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