Jul '21 16
Plans to tour my solo show of poems and songs about Gráinne Mhaol after the sold-out Adelaide Fringe 2020 season were somewhat foiled by the advent of COVID-19. Who knew a global pandemic was imminent?! So when we had the opportunity to bring the show to the beautiful town of Penola in July 2021, we were a bit apprehensive because of course we had to be ready to cancel at a moment’s notice. Penola is almost 400 kms south-east of Adelaide, in a winery region called the Coonawarra.

Anne and Leigh Miller, our wonderful hosts and people ‘on the ground’ there, did all the legwork, all the promotion, organised the venue, and invited us to stay in their lovely self-contained studio/flat. We packed our car to the roof with lights, mixing desk, and all the associated light and sound gear, and took to the road. It was a good exercise for us to prove to ourselves that we could be completely self-contained and not need anything to set the venue up the way we wanted. We even brought our own ladder! It was looking like a reasonably late arrival (by Adelaide standards, not by ours!) at our generous hosts’ home, so we were delighted that we arrived slap bang in the middle of one of their regular music sessions – a great start to the weekend.

Robert and I spent all of Saturday setting up the lighting and sound in the RSL hall. We decked it with candles to make it cosy and inviting – it really was the perfect setting to regale everyone with songs and poems about this amazing woman’s exploits. About 30 souls braved the chilly weather to see the show on Saturday evening. With full bellies from delicious suppers plus ample supplies of wine and beer, the audience was wonderfully receptive and warm and offered very kind feedback about the show.

Thank you to my talented right-hand man, Robert Rath, who seamlessly integrated lighting and sound in his wonderfully exacting way. Thank you particularly to David Milton for recording the show, which will be useful for me to review and improve or change aspects of it for future showings. We were extremely grateful to those who helped us move things around in the hall to prepare for the show, and who helped return it to its former state afterwards.

On Sunday we visited a few of the gorgeous local wineries. Some wines from Zema and Majella may have travelled back with us to Adelaide!

As I’ve said before, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to bring Gráinne to life through my original poems and songs, and to be able to share them with such a diverse and willing group of people. I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve had along the way.

Again, tremendous gratitude, particularly to Penola residents Anne and Leigh Miller, and to all those who came to the show that evening.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Mar '20 6
Thank you, all of you, who came to one of my five Adelaide Fringe solo shows, 'Grace Notes: Grace O’Malley, Irish rebel, pirate queen', at the Gilbert Street Hotel. My sold-out season has now finished. I am particularly grateful to those who came from quite a distance specially to see the show: Sydney, Hobart, and Kadina, among others.

I have had fabulous feedback from the audience (on the feedback forms) – thank you so much! And thank you to the reviewers who came (from the Advertiser, Tulpa magazine, and the AU Review) and who wrote really great reviews (you can read the complete reviews in earlier posts here). Thank you also Emily Sutherland for interviewing me on your program 'Kaleidoscope' on 5MBS.

To those who didn’t manage to get tickets before they sold out, I’m really sorry. There’s a good chance we’ll put on a couple of more shows in regional South Australia, and who knows, maybe even further afield!

Thank you Robert Rath, my main man, my technologist, production manager, lighting and sound director, and general creative critic. You helped shape the show and brought it to another level with your eye for detail and your ‘no compromise’ attitude. Thank you, Geoff Perkins, for giving us your precious time and valuable advice when we weren’t sure what we were doing. And thank you, Brian Gilbertson. It was your idea, and you helped me believe I could.

Many thanks too, to Madeleine Seys for your invaluable wardrobe advice and to Michelle Wheare for hair care; to Cathryn Charnock; to Alexandra Roberts, for bump-in, bump-out, and front-of-house duties; and to Sam and Steph at the Gilbert Street Hotel for being so lovely and helpful.

I've had an absolute blast. It’s been a privilege to have the opportunity to bring Gráinne to life through my original poems and songs, and to share them in the Adelaide Fringe.

Thank you all again for your support; I’m ever so grateful.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 27

Thank you so very much to Kayla Gaskell of Tulpa magazine for coming along to my show and for giving it such a positive and thoughtful review. I'm glad you're still hearing the echoes of the chorus of 'It's a Brehon law, it's the Brehon way' tune!

Click here to read the review in Tulpa magazine.

Here's the text of the review:

In a captivating feat of storytelling, Jennifer Liston entrances her audience with a combination of spoken word and song. Liston’s talent for drawing in her audience is impressive as she tells the tale of a distant ancestor, the legendary Irish rebel and pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Grainne Mhaol).

Born in the 16th century, O’Malley’s life was different to that of the typical female archetype of the time. A born leader and a wily adversary, O’Malley’s life was ruled by her love for the sea. Having devotedly learned the art of sailing and clan rule from her father, O’Malley returned to her clan after the death of her husband, taking on the role of clan chief and maintaining their reputed strength on both land and sea. With her education steeped in Brehon law, O’Malley’s character is presented as being a highly moral individual both for the good of her family and her clan.

One of the highlights of this show is perhaps the explanation of Brehon law, a cultural norm of the time which bleeds into modernity. Together with explaining the concept and telling us of O’Malley’s afront at this law being ignored, she also graces us with a haunting tune that will stay with her audience for some time yet. Even now I can still hear the echoes of that chorus.

Liston transforms the atmosphere of the Grande Room in Gilbert Street hotel into something almost mystical. With the help of white and red lighting, subtle costume ‘changes’, and the skill of switching between song, narration, and poetry the audience is quickly drawn into this entirely captivating performance.

Born from scraps of history, legend, and a touch of innate intuition, this performance is telling in the way stories can inspire new works of art. If Liston hadn’t heard O’Malley’s story from Sister Peter back in school and if she hadn’t talked with her mother about it after, who knows if Liston would have come so far as to perform this particular show at this particular Fringe Festival far from the wilds of her Irish homelands.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 27

Thank you, Katie Spain, from the Adelaide Advertiser, for coming to the show and writing up such a positive review. It's so encouraging to read: "...let's hope she takes this little masterpiece global"!

Click here to read the review in The Advertiser.

Here's the text of the review:

It’s the year 1530 and Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol as she is known in Irish folklore) takes her first breath in what is to be a life of adventure.

Nearly five centuries later, Adelaide-based, Irish-born performer Jennifer Liston brings the ‘Pirate Queen of Mayo’s’ life story to the stage.

Gráinne whispers tales of yore in Liston’s dreams, resulting in an ode to the fiery-haired warrior.

Her hour-long history lesson is interwoven with animated storytelling, poetry, and traditional Irish songs.

We meet Gráinne’s past lovers, join her fleet of ships as she sails from island to island along the west coast, endure bloody battles, childbirth on the open waters, and an encounter with Queen Elizabeth I.

Liston (an engineer by trade) is a captivating storyteller with a beguiling voice. This is the world premiere of her one-woman show and once the nerves settle and Gráinne’s courageous spirit engulfs the intimate venue, it is a moving tribute. Let’s hope Liston takes the little masterpiece global.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 26

Thank you so much to John Goodridge of the AU Review for coming along to one of my Adelaide Fringe 2020 shows and reviewing it so thoughtfully. I really appreciate it.

Click here to read the review in the AU Review.

I love that people who've never heard of Gráinne Mhaol/Grace O'Malley are intrigued by her! She is particularly fascinating!

Here's the text of the review:

Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol), was a powerful seafaring chieftain in 16th-century Ireland who commanded 200 men at sea, and met with Queen Elizabeth I. Curiously, she is not readily found in history books, so Jennifer Liston has brought her story to life, using original poems, songs and music.

The upstairs room in the Gilbert Street Hotel has an almost nautical feel about it, perfect for the intimate gathering to listen to the narrative. Irish born Liston has a sprinkling of Grace O’Malley’s blood in her. Dressed in a simple white bodice with green trousers and a grey shawl, she leads us seamlessly between story and song, interspersed with Gaelic poems and tales of hospitality and pirates.

Grace O’Malley’s family motto was “Powerful by land and by sea” and the stories reflected the true power of this remarkable woman. Liston is a captivating storyteller and she relishes in the opportunity to tell the chronicles of this extraordinary woman.

O’Malley was a seafarer from a young age and held tightly to the concept of hospitality. During a trip to Dublin, O’Malley was refused entry to Howth Castle. After abducting the grandson in retaliation, an agreement was made that all visitors would have a welcome. To this day, a place is set for her.

She gave birth to a son at sea, yet within the hour was capturing another pirate ship. During the clan wars of Ireland, she requested a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and sailed through the English Channel and up the River Thames. Meeting her equal, she managed to broker a truce (conducted in Latin) which benefited both parties. It is said that she died at a ripe old age in 1603, the same year as Elizabeth.

This performance was a fascinating insight into a remarkable pirate queen, that could easily be expanded upon with the many fascinating tales to be told.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 20

5MBS is one of Adelaide's coolest community radio stations that's been going since 1993, and run completely by volunteers.

I was delighted when Emily Sutherland invited me in to chat about my Grace O'Malley/Gráinne Mhaol Adelaide Fringe show for her Kaleidoscope program.

Click here to listen to the interview - I start at about the 45-minute mark on the 16 Feb 2020 podcast.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

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

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