The achievement of Jessie Lendennie

Book review: Even The Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry

Jessie Lendennie.

Jessie Lendennie.

THERE IS a memory, somewhat hazy, probably romanticised, of the shop door opening one morning in the early eighties, and a young, statuesque, lady sailing in, wearing a flowing colourful cloak, somewhat reminiscent of an Adrienne Monnier or a Sylvia Beach.

She had what looked like a small number of badly printed pages, roughly stapled together which, with an air of pride and dignity, she presented to the mother. The mother graciously accepted the offer, took the leaflets from her hands, priced them carefully with a pencil ,and placed them with great care on the counter. There was a short conversation full of expectation and hope. Then the statuesque lady triumphantly left the shop. The ceremony, for ceremony it was, was imbued with a tremendous sense of joy and dignity and lasted all of two minutes.

What Jessie Lendennie, the lady in the cloak, handed in, was the first issue of Poetry Galway, which in a few months became The Salmon International Literary Review, which in turn became Salmon Publishing, and is now Salmon Poetry and this is its 35th year. By way of celebration, it has published a comprehensive anthology of Salmon published poetry - Even The Daybreak 35 Years of Salmon Poetry.

After a stint working for The Poetry Society in London, Lendennie moved with her then husband Michael Allen to Galway in 1981. In her introduction to this anthology Lendennie reflects on the state of poetry in Ireland during the 1970s:

“In the 1970s Irish poetry was...moving into new territory. There were few literary presses in the early 1970s. Liam Miller’s Dolmen, established in 1951, had a well deserved reputation for excellence. Peter Fallon’s Gallery Press was starting out. However, it took the women's movement and a broader view of what literature could accomplish to reflect the changes that were taking place in Irish society.

"Dermot Bolger’s Raven Arts Press established in 1977...was a great step in moving poetry out of its academic and historic restrictions. Arlen House, founded by Catherine Rose, focused on writing by women as did Attic Press, founded by Roisin Conroy and Mary Moran in 1978. The Writer’s Co-Operative, founded by Fred Johnston, Neil Jordan and Peter Sheridan, published fiction by new writers. Beaver Row Press...published initial poetry collections by Paula Meehan, Anne Le Marquand Hartigan and Brendan Kennelly."

All this activity, however, was in Dublin. There was virtually nothing happening in the provinces. Shortly after moving to Galway, they saw an advertisement for a writers' workshop in UCG. There was a hive of literary activity in Galway but writers had no outlet for their work. Within months of their arrival, the first issues of Poetry Galway were published and the rest is an integral part of Irish literary history.

In his blurb at the back of the book, Dermot Bolger writes: “Literature needs great writers, but just as importantly it needs great encouragers of writing...For 35 years Jessie Lendennie has been such an encourager and instigator; a motivator, lynch-pin and unstoppable force presiding over the miracle that is Salmon Poetry.”

Even The Daybreak is a proud witness to the achievement of Jessie Lendennie and Salmon Poetry. In it there are the first published poems of Rita Anne Higgins, Mary O’Malley, Anne Kennedy, Moya Cannon, and Patricia Burke Brogan, who now enjoy international reputations. It is a veritable feast of Galway’s literary output, as well as containing a wide variety of contributions from many other poets.

This comprehensive anthology brings the last 35 years of Galway writing back to life, allowing the reader to relive the extraordinary poetic energy and creativity that Salmon has harnessed since that day in 1981 when the statuesque lady walked through the shop door with her sheets of printed paper.

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