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"Since 1981, Salmon has been a small miracle. Like the other small presses of recent decades, it is an index of cultural independence. And it is astonishing to see how many books Jessie Lendennie and, since the 90s, Siobhán Hutson have published – more


Review: John McAuliffe reviews Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry for the Irish Times.  Sat, Dec 17, 2016

In her introduction to Even the Daybreak Jessie Lendennie promises she is writing a memoir: but anyone can now see the story of her life as a publisher in this big anthology, which begins with poems by her, her partner in Salmon’s initial life as a magazine, M.G. Allen, and their son, Timothy Allen (Jeanotte). Since 1981, Salmon has been a small miracle. Like the other small presses of recent decades, it is an index of cultural independence.

And it is astonishing to see how many books Lendennie and, since the 90s, Siobhán Hutson have published – more than 400 poetry collections. Among the established poets whose work they first aired, Rita Ann Higgins remains a defining figure, but in the index, readers will find old friends, books like Anne Kennedy’s The Dog Kubla Dreams My Life, Eva Bourke’s Litany of the Pig, Moya Cannon’s Oar, Michael Gorman’s Up She Flew, Leland Bardwell’s The White Beach, as well as a brilliant series of occasional Salmon poets, who include Jean Valentine, Andrea Cohen, RT Smith and Dorothy Molloy and those poets now better known as novelists like Nuala Ní Chonchúir, William Wall and Paul Kingsnorth. I will not be the only reader using this anthology as a buyer’s guide to Salmon’s extensive back catalogue.

It would be impossible, even for a book as large as this which includes both excerpts and new work, to be wholly representative, but the originality of Rita Ann Higgins’ work stands out as she relishes how the sounds words make conjure meaning. Her punchlines, often brutal and very funny, are only one part of her best poems’ effects. Among its more recent publishing adventures, the strong performance work of Elaine Feeney, Sarah Clancy and others defines one strand of Salmon’s continuing contribution to Irish literature, but this is not a single-minded publisher.

The anthology actually showcases for the most part the more lyrical work of its contributors. Other recent finds include John Murphy’s finely detailed and musical poems, while Salmon’s debut books this year include Kerrie O’Brien’s Illuminate (Salmon, €12) represented here by a poem which imagines the suicide of the artist Mark Rothko. The poem has a striking opening, “They found him / Hunched over a / White sink”, although its respectful and interested shift to a description of Rothko’s work sets itself a tougher task: “Weighted hum / Solemn yet violent / Fire, heart / Bloodsweat” (Rothko).