Dec '17 23
I’m absolutely thrilled that the delightful Jerome Rothenberg has featured my rescued poetry on Jacket2, a leading online journal that offers commentary on contemporary poetry and poetics. You can read it over here.

Jerome is an eminent American contemporary poet who started his career as a translator of poetry. He is also a highly regarded poetry anthologist, editor and poetic theorist. One of the most well-known anthologies for which he is responsible is the beautiful Technicians of the Sacred, a collection of poetry and incantations from indigenous peoples around the world.

You can read more about Jerome on the Poetry Foundation website. Thank you, Jerome.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

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 (Gráinne Mhaol—pronounced Graw-nya Wail) interspersed with what I call 'rescued' poems. (My other website lists the steps of this process I developed, and features several examples.)

Gráinne 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 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 in great detail Gráinne'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 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! The Brownes, who are the direct descendants of Gráinne'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 Gráinne compositions and 50 'rescued' poems. In the Gráinne compositions I placed Gráinne 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 Gráinne—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 Gráinne'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 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 another rejection closer to being published!

*Full thesis titles.

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

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

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Aug '17 15

I'm really excited to be a part of this innovative project masterminded by my lovely friend Camille Roulière and her friend Marianne Braux: these ladies have quite literally brought art to the streets of Adelaide.

Inspired by the Raining Poetry project in Boston, Camille and Marianne - both PhD candidates at the University of Adelaide - used a laser at Adelaide's digital fabrication workshop Fab Lab to create stencils of 18 poems from a selection of Adelaide poets including Jill Jones, Alison Bennett, Banjo James, Avalanche, and Sergio Holas. They then spray-painted the poems through the stencils onto various footpath locations around Adelaide CBD.

The cool thing is, the tagged poetry only appears when it rains thanks to the water-repelling properties of the paint they used to stencil the words to the pavements. The result? If you’re standing on the western corner of North Terrace and Pulteney Street and it starts to rain, my poem will magically appear to entertain you while you wait.

You can read about the project in more detail in this article in InDaily.

This map shows where each of the poems is tagged.

The project will be launched this Friday 18 August, and is supported by the University of Adelaide’s J M Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice.

Thank you for including my poem in this exciting project, Camille and Marianne!

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 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 5

We bought a frying pan at IKEA yesterday and I was reminded of how much I love reading their catalogues. As a copywriter myself, I love to read good advertising copy and IKEA's ticks all the boxes for the win. I decided that I would 'rescue' a poem from the 2015 catalogue.

You can read about my 'rescue' process here.

Basically I write a poem using only the words from a limited amount of text I have transcribed – that might be a couple of pages from a novel/novels, or in this case, seven 'blurbs' from the 2015 catalogue.

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, then, because I take the words out of their original context and impose my own creativity on them, combining them to give a new twist – as is the case with this little rescuee.

little people of IKEA

even the tiniest children are complicated
up and down in a million moments
these unique little freaks
lost in worry-free space
home in happy safe place
ideas become needs
become want want want
getting and giving
getting and giving
high on make-believing every day
hide in giggling sleep every night

and you think
you can stack time
in smart storage
but that's not the way
it seems to play out
and one day
the world takes these
little people

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Nov '14 29
A shiny new website about my rescued poetry is now live over here.

You can read sample rescued poems there and read about how I came up with the idea. I will be adding rescued poems regularly.

You are most welcome to visit and comment!

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '14 24

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

The inspiration for today's poem is two literary hoaxes; one in Colombia and one in Australia.

Gabriel García Márquez, Colombian novelist and winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, died last week (17 April). Back in 1999 he was treated for lymphatic cancer. On 29 May 2000 a farewell poem, titled 'La Marioneta' or 'The Puppet' and supposedly written by him, was published in the Peruvian daily La Republica. The poem was in fact written by Mexican ventriloquist, Johnny Welch, for his puppet sidekick 'Mofles'. Read about it here.

The Autumn 1944 issue of Australian avant-garde magazine Angry Penguins published a set of poems by Ern Malley. They turned out to be hoax poems written by poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart as a "literary experiment". Read about it here.

Dymocks bookshop in Adelaide is hosting an Ern Malley tribute reading this evening at 6 pm.

For today's rescued poem (you can read about that process I've developed here) I used two source texts: the first is the actual poem, 'The Puppet', purported to have been written by Marquez. The second is the text of the preface and statement to the Ern Malley poems (collectively called The Darkening Ecliptic.) The poem title is a combination of two interesting images I chose from the poems: 'black swan of trespass' and 'trembling intuitive arm'.

Trembling black swan

Sleep light and dream of cream things
wait for the genuine moon
to serenade the stars;
let each line loiter, knowing
that wings teach man to walk
all the way, exposing
him to tears and sun
and poems; he will live
his tiny span of life
and at a certain dying moment –
when his little rag
of soul is falling, falling –
he will fly.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '14 23

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

Today I was browsing the book Adventures in Form for inspiration for today's poem and I came across a footnote which said that Reginald Fessenden broadcast the first human speech over a radio with the message "1, 2, 3, 4. Is it snowing where you are, Mr Thiessen? If it is, telegraph back and let me know."

So I fell down another rabbit hole and found this article about him .

I decided to write a 'rescued' poem (you can read about that process I've developed here). I rescued today's poem from the IEEE article and a Wikipedia article about snow.

This rescued poem is different from most of my other rescued poems in that the subject doesn't deviate significantly from the original source texts; that's probably because I was intrigued by Mr Fessenden the innovator and how unacknowledged he was/is.

Is it snowing where you are, Mr Thiessen?

The voice he heard was crystalline and thin
like the air of thundersnow and cloud
through which the waves of sound were broadcast.
Mr Thiessen was indeed astonished
by the miracle of wireless speech:
prescient question about that stormy coast
and its thick and frozen landscape; acoustic echo
from the gifted Mr Fessenden.

And a man's own story is like snowflakes:
unique and thin words wafting in the ether
trapped in a transmission atmosphere
settling onto giant private icebergs;
or even snowflakes hardened into hail,
crushing and dampening a private dream.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '13 27
Day 27. A suggestion here prompted me to plug my name into this anagram generator. I set a limit of a minimum word size of three. It generated 1,633 words and I eliminated repeating words using this tool. Then I randomised the list 14 times (the number of letters in my name).

I rescued poem number 27 from the pool of words.

Enter, not for its life

Soften sire,

Felons loiter,
felines trifle
jot notes
sort linen.

Foes riot, flee.
Lone son stolen.
Stonier inner filter
tenor tones.

Lifers sneer.

Sinner risen,
feels soft,
frees son.

elfin seer siren
silent for eons!

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '13 20
I usually rescue a poem from prose texts (read here about my rescue process).

Today, however, I thought I'd rescue a poem from two poems, each called 'The Fish'. One is by Marianne Moore and the other is by Elizabeth Bishop.

I read Elizabeth Bishop's poem once, quite some time ago, and I still haven't read Marianne Moore's poem, so I am not yet familiar with the content of either poem.

The surprise with the poem I rescued is that it's not about fish at all.

I love surprises, and I love this rescue process.


terrible things
in an ancient, sun-cracked face
age burns like hatchet sun
its swiftness, weapon-like:
                marks not mine are mine.
orange crimped feathers
white lilies
big spread rainbow of shiny glass
are rusted tinfoil.
                marks not mine are mine.
crisp yellowed stare
from my eyes like medals –
not medals,
like barnacles,
like sea stars;
my grim wisdom, grunting,
lip down, sullen,
shafts of fight
abuse my aching jaw,
rainbow strokes the turquoise water
rainbow shapes speckled jelly-fish
rainbow keeps fish of youth submerged.
                marks not mine are mine.
everything is here:
my strips of tarnished skin
are rust-brown evidence
of a shiny edifice
tremendous heavier flesh
attached to tiny little bones.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '13 9
Last night I went to the 10th anniversary celebration of Poets' Corner, a wonderful poetry group that hosts guest poets every month (Alison Flett and I were guest readers at the most recent one in January, which was the evening before friend and poet John Pfitzner passed away). Yesterday's celebrations included a tribute to John. Sean Gilbert delivered a moving opening speech about poetry and prayer, and how poetry, like prayer, is a 'reaching out'.

I was thinking more about this, and about how some prayers are poetry in and of themselves, if you slough away the heavy chains of association with man's religious prejudices.

Raised a Roman Catholic, my childhood was sprinkled with learning and 'reciting' prayers. I wondered what poem I could rescue from a selection of prayers that I know so well. I chose seven: the 'Our Father', the 'Creed', the 'St Patrick's Breastplate', a 'Guardian Angel' prayer, the 'Salve Regina', Psalm 23 ('The Lord is my Shepherd') and the 'Act of Contrition'. To be consistent I took the text from here.

you are the banished

Almighty guide descended
eyes of earth toward evil resolve.
In the darkest valley of temptation
a quiet stranger

Spirit me to forgiveness
beside rose waters,
beneath the light of grace,
behind gracious power;
restore me to hope
above buried heaven
near a hallowed presence
through days of mercy;
lead me to believe
that the worthy shall lead,
that a god shall comfort,
that tears for a mother and father
are tears of an angel,
that to walk above waters
is communion with earth
and that when life and light are done
I shall come
in from exile.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '13 8

I just read today that yesterday, 7 April, was William Wordsworth's birthday – he was born in 1770. He figured heavily in my introduction to poetry: my mother and I used to recite together 'Lucy Gray' and 'Daffodils' when I was about six or seven years old.

The two poems are very different: 'Lucy Gray' tells the story of a young child who goes missing in a snowstorm, while 'Daffodils' recounts the joy experienced by the poet when he comes across 'a host of golden daffodils' when he was out for a walk.

So I decided to shake up the text of these two poems and see what poem was waiting to be rescued. Here's the result, which is definitely influenced by how well I know the subject of both poems.

Happy birthday, William. Thank you for your poetry. I hope you're not turning in your grave at this.

She is all, and night is just

Sound never looks this lonesome.
She wandered, small,
overlooked, scarcely there.
She was inward, broken,
dancing vacant
on solitary wild.
Night was tossing
the wretched daffodils.
She danced, wanton,
chanced a glance
at lantern moon
shine sprightly golden
reached downwards beside
on milky snow.
She gazed wide at lonely heaven
and through sparkling
stars tracked waves of twinkle.
She danced, pensive,
yonder mother mountain
a steep, stormy rise homeward.
She danced, wept,
her footmarks lost,
never to be seen.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Apr '13 4
Today's poem had an interesting birth. Earlier in the day I was reading 'The Ubuweb: Anthology of Conceptual Writing' . The article discusses the idea that conceptual poetry turns its back on traditional 'romantic' notions of poetry being a vehicle for emotional expression and instead, embraces procedure and logical process.

Later I was thinking about ideas for today's poem. I decided to go through my 'rescued' poem process (read more about that here) using the Ubuweb article about conceptual writing as my source text.

Here's the rather interesting result: a conceptual/constrained piece about itself.

art crossings

poetry experiments
misapplied language
the presented form
extraordinary writing abstractions,
which the story words,
string legible pleasures and
bleed verbal probabilities,
reengineering écriture possibilities;
a collection of cannot language
a recall to chance concept
vibrate structures
into sculpture:
the idea of
truth itself
in rigorous procedure
and derived into presence

Posted by Jennifer Liston

May '12 1
Mayday Mayday, it's Rescue Tuesday!

I rescued this week's piece from My Life in Advertising by Claude C Hopkins (p 205) and The sea by John Banville (p 143).

Freeze frame

Summer afternoon pocketing thunderous idleness in the dark.
Erotic encounter
covert kiss
black-and-white screen
ghosts of desire sitting in pitch-dark intensity
for hours,
manic fumbling,
twitched satisfaction
deprive primal intensity;
balls for breakfast
conscious phantoms lurch
from joy to grey
approve to disreputable
filled fingers to wanton waste,
picture-house main feature to forgotten poverty.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

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