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The Poems She Gathered Along Her Path

Deborah Fries reviews Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007, edited by Jessie Lendennie

Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007, edited by Jessie Lendennie.When the thick copy of Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007 arrived at my suburban Philadelphia home, posted from County Clare, I was more than a little enchanted by its return address and the path it had taken to arrive at my door. The package had been sent to me by Jessie Lendennie, co-founder, managing director, and commissioning publisher of Salmon Publishing.  No one had ever before sent me anything from Ireland, and surely not from rural terrain just north of the Cliffs of Moher.

Known to me only from her fresh-scrubbed web photos, where she can be seen hugging border collies and sheep, Lendennie is an editorial board member of Terrain.org, a woman of my own generation, born in Arkansas, transplanted into the northeast corner of another country—one that she journeyed to 26 years ago, loved, and did not leave.

She is a poet, teacher, editor, and publisher.  Lendennie’s ever-widening journey in poetry was captured in a 2001 Terrain.org interview with Simmons Buntin.  From starting The Salmon International Literary Journal in 1982 to publishing more than 200 volumes of poetry through Salmon since 1986, her trip has become increasingly inclusive: first, providing a venue for Ireland’s under-published women poets; then adopting the work of other English language poets until Salmon became the international publishing house that it is today.

My own venture through almost 500 pages of Salmon poets was in many ways made as a foreigner, an awestruck linguistic outsider.  Lendennie has assembled a democratic anthology of three poems from each of 106 poets she’s published—well-known and lesser known—and provided us with bios, then sent us on our way to identify with the familiar or sample new voices from beyond the breakwaters.

At first, I grabbed onto familiar landmarks: James Liddy and Nuala Archer, known from the time I spent as an undergrad and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. And Simmons Buntin, R.T. Smith, and other poets who reference familiar places: Americans and ex-pats writing about being in Kentucky, Nebraska, Florida, New Jersey, Boston, New York, even Northfield, Massachusetts.

But this anthology is so much a product of place, there is no way to read its poems without becoming a traveler.  I crossed over, immersed myself in its transatlantic landscapes: places filled with wind and light, the rough Atlantic coast, cold sea, moonlit hills, its painterly, elegiac world of longing.  The poems she gathered together map out a lyrical odyssey of place names: Shellybanks, Calf Bay at Lumb Bank, Lughnasa, Kinvara, Connemara, Knockanure, Renvyle, Achill Island. 

Our poet guides on this journey seduce us with delicious diction—fresh, Hiberno-English, sculpting a world that includes the Nemeton, furze and briony, clasai snow and windolene, where people chunter and recite the angelus.  Music replaces context, and we nod along—not fully understanding, but willing to be taken there—to listen to talk of Mullenfad, Erannach, and Eidolan.

And when we get there, experience seems familiar: there is love and loss, history and modernity.  They often meet in the same poem, as in Eamonn Wall’s “Ballagh,” from the forthcoming A Tour of Your Country:   

This montage finds you sitting on buttercups and grass
On your memory card’s faint photo.

Over your shoulder, two banks of sea sand.  Between them,
One deep arroyo the spine-thin particles are falling away from.

Overhead, the sun seeks to find its space through low clouds
To bring the sea, over your other shoulder, into quadrille coastal time.

You do not reckon the bounty lost to water; these lone &
Level strands are stretching far away.

You touched the grass when you rested, counted rusted gates
On the journey, quietly pressed your words on the paved streets.

As the sun traced a path, you climbed the old & graded hills,
You heard each measure crafted on this, our slow, brief watch.

Born to a village between Oulart and Enniscorthy, the route
You took to town was your way forward.  And the way itself.

At the end of the reader’s brief visits with more than 100 contemporary Irish, British, American, and Canadian poets, there are places I want to revisit, other Salmon volumes I want to read.  I want to linger longer with the poems of David Cavanaugh, Theodore Deppe, Melanie Frances and Michael Heffernan. 

I want to hear Rory Brennan tell me about a placewhere On past / The smart new housing for the unemployed the diesels / Churn and hiss, trailing a dragon tang out to / The crane-forested docks and the ferry’s leviathan jaw.  Want Heffernan to keep on describing a gray abyss the lacy disks / of the wild carrot where my peppers were / stir into spots of incandescent white / between the river meadow and my eyes.  Hope to again hear the voice of Richard Tillinghast, much as it begins “A Quiet Pint in Kinvara”:  Salt-stung, rain-cleared air, deepened as always / By a smudge of turf smoke.  Overhead the white glide / Of seagulls, and in the convent beeches above the road, / Hoarse croak of rooks, throaty chatter of jackdaws.

In this anthology, Jessie Lendennie brings us 318 poems she has gathered along her path from Arkansas to County Clare—and at journey’s end, we want more.


Deborah Fries works in multiple genres—including poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction. Her poems and poetry reviews have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Cream City Review, North American Review, Cimmaron Review, Valparaiso Review, and Terrain.org, where she has been a contributor since 2000. Her first book of poetry, Various Modes of Departure, was published in 2004 by Kore Press, Tucson. Her second book, A Field Guide to Temporal Habitat, will also be published by Kore. She is the editor of the online publication, New Purlieu Review.
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Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007

Edited by Jessie Lendennie

   Salmon Publishing
   ISBN 1-903392-57-8


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