June 25th, 2008

Review by Lex Runciman

Edited by Jessie Lendennie


Salmon Poetry, Ltd.
Cliffs of Moher
County Clare, Ireland
ISBN 1-903392-57-8
467pp., €20.00

Anthologies can be merely irritating: they often print too few poems by too many writers with too little information or context, all presented on paper that's too thin. The result can be a blurred, curiously flat, and ultimately confusing reading experience. Pity that often enough this is the first experience students may have with poetry. And except for its paper (a standard and serviceable stock) Salmon: A Journey in Poetry would seem guilty of all these sins. It runs to over 450 pages. It presents, in alphabetical order, work from over one hundred poets, from Nadya Aisenberg to Ann Zell--in each case, exactly three poems. Each of these writers has published at least one book with the Irish publisher Salmon Poetry Ltd. As a book on its own, Salmon: A Journey in Poetry measures over an inch thick. It is beautifully designed. And it has no right to work as a reading experience. Yet it does.
Salmon: A Journey in Poetry works in its entirety and in many of its parts. It does so based on the depth and breadth of one person's editorial intelligence and sensibility honed over the course of twenty-six years. The editor is Jessie Lendennie, and her list, Salmon's list, embraces writers from Sligo to Los Angeles, from Dublin to Newfoundland, from Galway to Limerick to Portmarnock to Belfast to Detroit. Yes, Detroit, for Salmon's list is eclectic and global. Yet the poems, drawn from so many writers and so many disparate locales, remain related to each other. They are cousins, though perhaps distant ones sometimes. They build on fundamental experiences of location, weather, family, "...the sound of birds / and the hum of years" (in Lendennie's own poem, The Search). Sometimes these elements offer consolation, but just as often they form the setting for an unfolding and deepening fear--a child gone missing (in Angela Greene's Silence in the Blue Night)--or for elegy (in Sheila O'Hagan's The Wood Pigeon).
These poems notice, inquire of, and celebrate many things:

paper kisses ("A secret invasion of cherubs was what it was like, / This littering of the house with impressions of lips" -- Rory Brennan),
bovines ("given the chance, / they are prone to croon, in a baritone / audible for miles" -- John Hildebidle),
kites ("It was climbing /string thrumming, / burning / letting-out / through my soft hands" -- Gwyn Parry),
Sartre ("We love our friends badly -- / it's all / we can do / between the first tooth / and the last" -- Sabine Wichert),

even a tenor at Carnegie Hall ("and now I see his eyes full / as if suddenly he was millionaire / who had come from the land / where the road to Ballyduff / was made of marble / and a Count sang in the square" -- Ted McNulty).

When one reads a novel or short story or memoir, the aim is clear enough: to find out what happens, yes, but also to hold the setting, language, characters and their arc of action entire in one's mind. And one can work towards a similar reading of a book of poems (Elizabeth Bishop's Geography III for example) -- one pleasure and goal being to hold the speakers and subjects of those poems in conversation with each other. Salmon: A Journey in Poetry is simply too large to attempt this for the book entire. But as an anthology, it allows as many smaller conversations as one wishes to discover. Or think of it this way: a book of poems is an art show by a single painter (who may also be exhibiting prints and water colors). An anthology like Salmon: A Journey in Poetry is an art museum entire. You wander, lose track of time, and get most pleasantly lost.


Lex Runciman author of three collections of poems, including The Admirations (1989), which won the Oregon Book Award, and, most recently, Out of Town (2004). This past April he had the chance to participate in Spokane, Washington’s literary festival GET LIT!. He's done several college writing textbooks with co-author Chris Anderson over the years, and he teaches at Linfield College, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.




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