An intricate collaboration, The Salmon’s Tale is prefaced by two preliminary texts. The first evokes the literally wonderful Fionn Mac Cumhaill story of how the salmon became The Salmon of Wisdom, with its affirming worldview of all the parts partaking of a whole – an entirety of plants, birds, animals, fish, land, people, and weather. Robert Graves “Song of Amergin," which follows, becomes stirring in its inclusions, including these lines: "I am a salmon: in a pool, / I am a lure: from paradise, / I am a hill: where poets walk,…"
With such mythic contexts in place, The Salmon's Tale works as a dialogue, a back and forth between the Salmon of legend, and the textual person easily identified with Jessie Lendennie herself. It’s the intertwining of these two voices that becomes so compelling, including that sense of the timely and the timeless, the mundane and the all-encompassing. Early on, the Salmon is disturbed by an effort to inquire into its affairs, and, like a crow, none too happy about it. Yet permission is given, “…tell the story,” despite what is “the saddest thing [namely that] I cannot give my knowledge, no matter how much you poets may want it.” As the dialogue proceeds, T. S. Eliot (of all people) comes into it, and later, Yeats. And so it goes, two voices, each insistent.
Eventually the Salmon's voice shifts from acquiescence, acknowledging "…Eva. So beautiful with her shining hair.” And it is Rita Ann Higgins who at last turns the Salmon’s voice to something like a fuller appreciation: “…So much of my dark humour is in her laugh and in her words.” From then on, the Tale become Whitmanesque, as the telling moves to include the Pacific, and Alaska, and so on and on. What’s fascinating is the way that Salmon Poetry's publication history is woven in, the way the documentary elements become a third part… an insistence of something fundamental: namely that the effort to write and the effort to publish are parts of the same driving wish. “Poetry is the appreciation of what is!"
Overall, The Salmon’s Tale makes an astounding journey, not least due to its design and presentation, the placing of photographs, the artwork at the bottoms of many pages, all the decisions about what makes a page. Such elements combine in ways that had to have been worked on with great care and love, worked on and eventually worked out so as to culminate in this very large, eloquent, and gorgeous little book.
The Salmon’s Tale is one of a life-work ongoing. A story of many individual voices and deep collaborations, and always a story of pursuit, a pursuit that as much an effort to listen, to hear, as to it is to chase after. Ultimately the driving force in The Salmon’s Tale is that profound, enduring impulse to act on one’s experiences, one's emotions and thoughts, one’s abiding, ever-thirsty curiosity. It is an impulse to understand, even as it is also an impulse to align oneself with something large, something that the Salmon voices and represents, at once natural and profound.
Last year Salmon Poetry celebrated forty years of publishing poetry from their Galway and, later, Cliffs Of Moher location. They have produced 630 books from 300 poets and contributed to the emergence of women poets and American Pacific poets.
The driving force and co-founder of Salmon is Jessie Lendennie from Blytheville, Arkansas, who settled in the early eighties in Galway. Galway was the gateway to Connemara and the wild imagination of an elemental place, where for many the pace of life was not as frantic as the rain and the wind that lashed in over Rahoon, as some poet eloquently said.
Back in the Eighties, I visited Galway regularly to see plays, the emergence of Druid and the Irish plays at the Taibhdhearc - National Irish Language Theatre. The Galway Arts Festival was a wonderland for visiting American and English theatre companies. The artistic and festival life extended about six streets that led from Eyre Square and crissed-crossed down to the Claddagh. I saw work that I wouldn't see anywhere else in Ireland. I saw art exhibitions to blow your consciousness and still remember a Joni Mitchell exhibition of her paintings.
At poetry readings, there would be small Salmon collections, and I never imagined this publishing effort would survive and become a vital literary force in Ireland and much further afield. My senses were alive and open for further experience - raw, creative, pretentious, provocative and often powerful.
Last year as part of the celebrations, Jessie Lendennie brought out a poem - The Salmon's Tale, a book designed by Siobhan Hutson. It was for me, filled with memories, as Jessie wove a tale of wonderment. The photographs touched a deep nostalgia that I usually fight against.
There was the poet, Fred Johnston, a fierce activist for writing. Michael Allen was at Jessie's elbow. Some of the early covers were recognisable, and I only wished I had saved them. I first heard Rita Ann Higgins read from her first collection, Goddess On The Mervue Bus, at the Quays Pub, and I went with others to journey on that Galway bus.
There is a photo of Ray Bradbury whose books and plays I loved. He came to Ireland to work on the script of Moby Dick for John Huston and wrote a crazy book about that experience. Salmon published Bradbury's collection I Live By The Invisible.
The Salmon's Tale is a leap of faith, a shimmer of scales from the invisible, and this Salmon returns again and again with more poets and more wild imaginings.