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EVEN THE DAYBREAK:
35 YEARS OF SALMON POETRY
Matthew Geden reviews a new anthology edited by Jessie Lendennie
Born in England, Matthew Geden moved to Kinsale in 1990 and still lives in the town. He co-founded the SoundEye International Poetry Festival. His poems have appeared in several publications both at home and abroad including Something Beginning with P, Poets of the Millennium, The Backyards of Heaven and Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland. Lapwing published his Kinsale Poems as well as Autumn: Twenty Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, translations from the French. His first full length collection, Swimming to Albania, was published by Bradshaw Books in 2009. A new collection, The Place Inside, was published by Dedalus in 2012.
Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry
Ed. Jessie Lendennie
(Salmon Poetry, 2016)
Buy from Salmon
Ireland has rarely, if ever, suffered from a dearth of poets, but it has frequently lacked outlets for publishing poetry be it magazine or book publishing. This has forced many of the country’s best-known writers to join forces with British and American publishers leading to a situation where such writers are less well-known in their own country than they should be. So, Faber publish Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Bernard O’Donoghue whilst Bloodaxe publish Leanne O’Sullivan, Rita Ann Higgins and Matthew Sweeney, and Carcanet have taken over the poets previously published by Anvil Press such as Martina Evans and Thomas McCarthy. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se, although how Brexit will affect them remains to be seen, it might have diluted the poetry waters here. Happily, this has not been the case and Salmon, along with Gallery Press and Dedalus Press, have ensured that Irish poets have a platform in Ireland too.
Salmon began in 1981 as The Salmon International Literary Journal based initially in Galway, meeting at the Ladies Club of what was then University College, Galway. Jessie Lendennie, editor and poet, served her apprenticeship at The Poetry Society in London during an infamous period in the 1970s when, under the guidance of Bob Cobbing, the Society repeatedly clashed with the British Arts Council. It is no wonder that Lendennie relished the rather calmer literary waters on the west coast of Ireland. The journal survived for ten years until it closed down due to a lack of funding but, fortunately, the publishing arm of Salmon kept going and, in fact, judging by this anthology is moving from strength to strength.
Poetry magazines, whether online or hard copy, are a vital bridge between the reader and the writer, also providing a forum for new writers to gain an audience. In The Salmon Guide to Poetry Publishing in Ireland, also edited by Lendennie, she notes that every “literary magazine has a certain ethos, stated or unstated” and this new anthology at nearly five hundred pages showcases a wide range of concerns but with recurrent themes and styles naturally reflecting the editor’s own tastes and interests. The first poem in the anthology is by the editor herself and appeared in the very first issue of the journal. The final stanza of this poem, ‘Misunderstandings’, is nicely paced and almost hesitant with the poet attempting to communicate amidst the rain and doubt:
Days that find me
light and shadow
clouds and doubt;
a stormy day’s
From a weak sky
This is a brave way to open a book of this size, but these halting lines give the reader pause for thought and that is no bad thing. In fact, such an approach is most welcome and preferable to the stridency and self-centred showiness evident in much contemporary literature. Some poems, such as ‘Peaceful the waves…’ by Mike Watts, are so slight as to almost shimmer and disappear in a heat haze, if such a thing were possible in an Irish summer. Elsewhere, the selection from the ten years of the journal includes more familiar names and even poems that have become part of the wider consciousness. So, for example, Thomas McCarthy’s poem ‘Ballot Box’ with its fine opening line:
Der Fallon took the black box in his arms
and stepped outside.
McCarthy’s poem somehow manages to negotiate a romantic breathing space amidst the darkness and “fate” that waits in the shadows on Election Day. Similarly, Greg Delanty’s poem ‘The Alien’ where the poet stares at an ultrasound to spy not a foetus but:
Our alien who art in the heavens,
Our Martian, our little green man,
Such poems, along with other fine work from Carol Rumens, Matthew Sweeney, Roz Cowman and Eavan Boland amongst others, demonstrate the importance a journal has in broadening the horizons of Irish writing.
The bulk of the anthology, however, focuses on the development of the publishing side of Salmon with a poem from each poet who has published a collection with them. I counted over two hundred and forty different poets which is an astonishing number and illustrates just what a dedicated and hard-working job Lendennie and her designer, Siobhan Hutson, have done over the years. Just under half of the collections are by female poets, a figure which, I imagine, compares favourably with other publishers in Ireland and Britain too. There may be few household names, with the exception of a certain Michael D. Higgins who has gone on to bigger and better things, but there are some notable figures here. Poets who published with Salmon in the early years include Eva Bourke, Mary Dorcey, Mary O’Malley, Desmond O’Grady and Theo Dorgan whilst in recent times Dave Lordan, Sarah Clancy, Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Adam Wyeth have all brought out collections.
In an anthology such as Even the Daybreak the sheer volume can be a little bit intimidating but, like the modern supermarket, there is at least plenty of choice. This book is a marvellous testimony to what a small but passionate publishing house can achieve. Ironically, their strength lies in their size and the fact that they have managed to retain control of their destiny without compromising on their belief in poetry and their championing of writers who would otherwise not have been heard. The writing here, like the editor herself, is open to new horizons and vistas even as its origins very often lie in rural Ireland. The hesitancy of the opening poem is, in the last poem of the anthology by Devon McNamara, replaced by a quiet certainty demonstrating the kind of journey Salmon has been on:
In the pub
the loud men say
you didn’t walk that far.
Salty, we know the truth,
outside, savor its
swart touch, before
we find the bus stop
in the silent town
grown silent ourselves
as if we’d been singing.
©2016 Matthew Geden
Buy Swimming to Albania
Buy The Place Inside
Other work by Matthew Geden in Southword