Tag Archives: Grace of the Gamblers

Grace of the Gamblers: A Chantilly Chantey

Naomi Foyle

Naomi Foyle was born in London, England, grew up in Hong Kong, Liverpool and Saskatchewan, and now lives in Brighton a short walk from the sea. Originally trained in theatre, Naomi has collaborated with artists, musicians and filmmakers on award-winning projects including the video poem Good Definition (2004) and the Canadian opera Hush (1990), while her international readings include appearances at The Cuisle Festival in Limerick, and Tacheles Art House in Berlin. She brings both literary and performance skills to her debut collection The Night Pavilion — a scintillating cabaret of ballads, riddling lyric verse, and erotic prose poetry, and an Autumn 2008 Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Naomi is also the author of several pamphlets, including Red Hot & Bothered (Lansdowne Press, Hove, 2003), which won the Apples & Snakes 2008 ‘The Book Bites Back’ competition, and Grace of the Gamblers: A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press, 2009), the latest fruit of her long-standing interest in Irish history and poetry. Naomi holds an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College, and is currently working towards a doctorate in Creative Writing from Bangor University.

Grace of the Gamblers
A Chantilly Chantey
A ‘Waterloo Slims’ ballad pamphlet by Naomi Foyle
Illustrated by Peter Griffiths
Gráinne Ní Mháille, known in English as Grace O’Malley, is a legendary Irish figure. Pirate, chieftain, gambler, sea-trader, and near-exact contemporary of Elizabeth I, she ruled the West Coast of Ireland for over forty turbulent years. In the spirit of the urban broadsheets that kept tales of early modern female adventurers alive and singing, this strikingly illustrated ballad pamphlet is a vigorous and musical account of Gráinne’s notorious deeds.
Grace of the Gamblers is a bravura performance. Foyle captures the swash and buckle of Ireland’s greatest sea-faring heroine with a poetry that is charged with wit and vivacity. Herstory is brought vividly to life as Foyle charts Grace O’Malley’s remarkable journey from the dangerous seas off the West Coast of Ireland to the even more treacherous court of Queen Elizabeth I.”
– Nessa O’Mahony
“Naomi Foyle’s exuberant, resonant new work treats us to the wonderfully feisty Grainne Ní Mháille ‘s adventures in a ballad – a form long associated with women singers, composers and sailors – written here with bang-up minute freshness and verve. ‘Grace of the Gamblers, wanton and bold’ … springs off the page and into the reader’s imagination with characteristic courage and energy.”
– Catherine Smith

Grace of the Gamblers
A Chantilly Chantey
O come to the convent, young ladies of Mayo,
     We’ll arm you with needles and thread.
Outside in the trenches, a summer of spuds
     Is rotting away like the dead…
                                             in their beds …
     Is rotting away like the dead.

Along the grey sands, an ocean is foaming
     Like spit on the lips of the starved.
But girls who can stitch white lace in fine patterns
     Will be fatter than cows due to calve.
                                                       To carve!
     Fatter than cows due to calve.

And when you are working your edgings and sprigs,
     Spinning your bobbins and nets,
Remember you’re not the first canny colleens
     To unravel the Englishman’s threats.
                                                       Don’t forget
     To unravel the Englishman’s threats.

For this is the ballad of Gráinne Ní Mháille,
     Queen of the West Irish Coast.
At ten years of age she hacked off her hair
     And blazoned the air with a boast:
‘Me Ma must let me set sail to Spain,
     For I am me father’s daughter.
One day I’ll captain his galleys and men
     And govern the stormiest water.’
The old fella guffawed, took her aboard,
     Glad of a girl with gumption;
Under his wing she studied the stars,
     The tides and perfect presumption.
For Pa was a Chieftain, his hard-won crown
     A silver sea studded with islets,
And if Gráinne could swagger on deck like a man,
     She’d be after commanding his pirates.
Wind at her neck, salt stinging her lips,
     The crop-headed lassie in britches
Grew into a woman named Granuaile,
     Intent on increasing her riches —
Galley bellies groaning with goods,
     Spare cutlasses stashed in the flax,
In between bartering wool for wine,
     She was rifling wrecks on the rocks!
But a good Gaelic girl must marry and mother,
     The womb is a powerful smithy ―
When Granuaile wed an O’Flaherty man
     The whiskey it flowed like the Liffey.
She bore him three tiddlers, collected his rents,
     Defended his land with her vessels;
But Donal, that eejit, died in an ambush,
     Leaving her trapped in Cock’s Castle.
O Granuaile’s story is shaping up swell,
     Like a river of Limerick lace,
It toiles and billows, tumbles and sprays,
     Til history’s calling her Grace.
                                             Her Grace…
     Now history’s calling her Grace.
Order Grace of the Gamblers (Waterloo Press, 2009).

A poetry list

I thought I’d share a few poetry titles I’m looking forward to reading this year. Some have recently been published, some are not yet available. If you’re interested in buying copies online, do make a note of their publication dates or ask your online book store to let you know when they become available.
Four of the poets are relatively new to me – Elisabeth Bletsoe (Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works), Mary O’Donnell (The Ark Builders), Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Inroads) and Anna Robinson (The Finders of London) – and I’m looking forward to becoming better acquainted with their work.
I greatly enjoyed Naomi Foyle’s bold, imaginative and sensuous collection, The Night Pavilion, and am looking forward to her pamphlet, Grace of the Gamblers – A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press), illustrated by Peter Griffiths.
Philippa Yaa de Villiers’s second collection The Everyday Wife, published by the intrepid South African women’s publisher Modjaji Books, follows her popular first collection, Taller than buildings. As a poet living in South Africa, I’d like to mention how proud I am of the strong, beautiful books sent into the world by Modjaji.
Helen Ivory’s The Breakfast Machine (Bloodaxe), Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren), Katie Donovan’s Rootling (Bloodaxe) and Penelope Shuttle’s Sandgrain and Hourglass (Bloodaxe), have been long awaited. Their previous collections – The Dog in the Sky (Ivory), The Treekeeper’s Tale (Petit), Day of the Dead (Donovan) and Redgrove’s Wife (Shuttle) – are favourites and occupy the top shelf of my poetry bookcase.
Edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra, Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe) will be available later this year. The anthology aims to reflect “the multicultural make-up of contemporary Britain” and to showcase the work of talented poets such as Mir Mahfuz Ali, Rowyda Amin, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Karen McCarthy, Nick Makoha, Denise Saul, Seni Seniviratne, Shazea Quraishi and Janet Kofi Tsekpo.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets, also published by Bloodaxe and edited by Roddy Lumsden, promises to be a feast. I hope, as I’m typing this, my copy is winging its way south from the United Kingdom.
Identity Parade includes poetry from Patience Agbabi, Jonathan Asser, Tiffany Atkinson, Simon Barraclough, Paul Batchelor, Kate Bingham, Julia Bird, Patrick Brandon, David Briggs, Andy Brown, Judy Brown, Colette Bryce, Matthew Caley, Siobhan Campbell, Vahni Capildeo, Melanie Challenger, Kate Clanchy, Polly Clark, Julia Copus, Sarah Corbett, Claire Crowther, Tim Cumming, Ailbhe Darcy, Peter Davidson, Nick Drake, Sasha Dugdale, Chris Emery, Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Farley, Leontia Flynn, Annie Freud, Alan Gillis, Jane Griffiths, Vona Groarke, Jen Hadfield, Sophie Hannah, Tracey Herd, Kevin Higgins, Matthew Hollis, A.B. Jackson, Anthony Joseph, Luke Kennard, Nick Laird, Sarah Law, Frances Leviston, Gwyneth Lewis, John McAuliffe, Chris McCabe, Helen Macdonald, Patrick McGuinness, Kona Macphee, Peter Manson, D.S. Marriott, Sam Meekings, Sinéad Morrissey, Daljit Nagra, Caitríona O’Reilly, Alice Oswald, Katherine Pierpoint, Clare Pollard, Jacob Polley, Diana Pooley, Richard Price, Sally Read, Deryn Rees-Jones, Neil Rollinson, Jacob Sam-la Rose, Antony Rowland, James Sheard, Zoë Skoulding, Catherine Smith, Jean Sprackland, John Stammers, Greta Stoddart, Sandra Tappenden, Tim Turnbull, Julian Turner, Mark Waldron, Ahren Warner, Tim Wells, Matthew Welton, David Wheatley, Sam Willetts, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Tamar Yoseloff.
Are there any anthologies and collections you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on this year?
I’d love to hear what’s on your list.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets,
edited by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)

Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works
Elisabeth Bletsoe (Shearsman Books)


The Ark Builders, Mary O’Donnell
(Arc Publications)

, Carolyn Jess-Cooke
(Seren Books)


Grace of the Gamblers, Naomi Foyle
(Waterloo Press)


The Finders of London, Anna Robinson
(Enitharmon Press)

The Everyday Wife
, Philippa Yaa de Villiers
(Modjaji Books)

The Breakfast Machine
, Helen Ivory
(Bloodaxe Books)

, Katie Donovan
(Bloodaxe Books)

What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo,
Pascale Petit (Seren Books)

Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word
edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra
(Bloodaxe Books) 


Sandgrain and Hourglass
, Penelope Shuttle
(Bloodaxe Books)