Salmon grows by leaps and bounds

The poetry imprint’s founder has just opened a bookshop and literary centre in Ennistymon, Co Clare, says Colette Sheridan

JESSIE Lendennie, the founder and managing editor of the Salmon Poetry press, says poetry is sexy. She recently opened The Salmon Bookshop and Literary Centre in Ennistymon, County Clare, though the official launch is Feb 2. Established in Galway 31 years ago, Salmon Poetry was based near the Cliffs of Moher for the last 17 years, but is now in the new centre.

Ennistymon’s literary claim to fame is a Dylan Thomas connection. The Welsh poet’s wife, Caitlin McNamara, was the daughter of the man who owned what is now the Falls Hotel.

Lendennie, who is American and a poet, was keen to expand her interests and provide Salmon Poetry with a focal point. In September, the owner of Banner Books, in Ennistymon, announced that he was retiring.

“It had been on my mind for a long time to have a bookshop, so that Salmon books would always be available. I bought the stock from Banner Books and I’m renting the premises, which is a big old house across from the Courthouse Gallery,” says Lendennie.

“We’ve moved the press there. My office is above the bookshop. The centre will have workshops, seminars, lectures and book clubs. The house had been turned into flats. I’ve taken everything out, so that it’s a house again. There is accommodation for visiting writers and workshop facilitators.”

Salmon Poetry receives €42,000 in funding from the Arts Council. The Salmon Bookshop and Literary Centre are independently funded. Book sales and money from workshops will go towards the running costs and Lendennie is putting her own money into the venture.

“Being second-hand, the bookshop stocks a lot of unusual books that are quite esoteric, as well as everything from self-help books to Cecelia Ahern. The front part of the shop is Irish, with biographies, fiction and travel. The second room in the shop is general, with books on history and art,” Lendennie says. The bookshop has 8,000 volumes in stock.

President Michael D Higgins’s first collection of poetry was published by Salmon. “We have one hardback first-edition copy of it in the bookshop. It’s called Betrayal, and we published it in 1991. It would be very symbolic to have the President launch the centre, but he probably wouldn’t have the time to do it.”

Lendennie says the audience for poetry “is growing phenomenally. Thirty-one years ago, there were hardly any Irish women poets being published, apart from Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Máire Mhac and tSaoi and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

“In the mid-1980s, it was a campaign of mine to get more women published; people like Rita Ann Higgins, Mary O’Malley and Moya Cannon. If you said this to younger women poets today, they wouldn’t be able to relate to it.”

Salmon was labelled as a feminist press. “That was great, at the time. There was a need for a feminist outlook. But society has changed. It’s much more acceptable for a mother of three kids to write poetry and be published. But it was unusual to be publishing women in the 1980s,” she says.

Lendennie says back then “there was no performance poetry in Ireland. Now, there’s a battle about what constitutes the Irish poem. At one end, there is Gallery Press, and, at the other end, there’s Salmon. I’d be much more eclectic than Gallery, incorporating lots of different forms of expression. In recent years, the performance poets have come into their own, people like Colm Keegan and Sarah Clancy. Interestingly, they are now publishing with us and the books are selling very well. Performance poetry is big. Poetry isn’t something airy fairy; it’s about life and living.”

Lendennie, who came to Ireland in search of a literary life, is still in touch with the literary scene in the US. “I have extensive international connections, particularly in the US. A lot of people I know bring their students over here and there will be more of that, with talks being given in the centre,” she says.

Salmon Poetry has introduced “cross-cultural international literary dialogue. The focus doesn’t have to be so much on women now, because that is ticking over nicely. We have always published a few British poets and the odd European.

“We’ve done anthologies of Spanish poets, as well as German and Scandinavian poets. We’re getting a lot more manuscripts from the US and Canada. Initially, these were Irish-American poets who had something to say. But in recent years, we’re getting poetry from Americans — and others — who don’t know anything about Ireland. They just see Salmon as a good literary press,” Lendennie says.

* www.thesalmonbookshop.ie

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