‘Does poetry have a gender issue?’
Sir, – It was good to read Deirdre Falvey’s article on gender bias in publishing last Saturday but sad to read that in relation to the topic of discrimination towards women poets that the only two publishing houses interviewed were run by two men (“Two-thirds of published poets are male, so does poetry have a gender issue?”, Culture, August 17th). Salmon Publishing, founded and run by a woman, Jessie Lendennie, was not consulted. The two publishing houses mentioned also receive the biggest Arts Council grants while publishing the fewest women writers.
It is time that the Arts Council revealed its policy in relation to funding. There are many independent publishers struggling for survival while doing a huge service to writers across the genres. To name one, let me mention Alan Hayes of Arlen House. This imprint has published more women writers across the genres than any other Irish publisher and he receives no grants from the Arts Council. Where is the funding equality in this? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Deirdre Falvey’s article on poetry and gender in Ireland bases all her findings on interviews with presses east of the Shannon. She refers to the Meas (Measuring Equality in the Arts Sector) report but neglects to spell out the most important and shocking finding, namely skewed allocation of funding by the Arts Council to various poetry presses in Ireland, a topic discussed at the American Conference for Irish Studies in Boston in spring 2019.
Many female poets are aware of those male editors who consider themselves the curators of female talent and set themselves up as gatekeepers in various ways. What’s disheartening is that Deirdre Falvey, a woman, indulges them and excludes Jessie Lendennie from her research, the only female editor of a literary imprint in Ireland, Salmon Poetry, a publication house which changed the publishing scene in Ireland for women at a crucial time in the 1980s.
Doing the sums, if you combine the allocations to presses west of the Shannon, we see that all of them together receive less than half of what Gallery Press is awarded alone. And if we compare all the presses east of the Shannon in the Meas report (Gallery and Dedalus combined), we see that they receive €252,000 for the publication of only 14 books while all the presses west of the Shannon combined receive a mere €57,900 for 55 books (37 of those from Salmon).
This funding allocation does not reflect the quality of the poets per se, since all presses have generally a very high standard.
So why the anomaly in the allocation of funds?
Salmon continues to have a very strong record in supporting the emergence of published women in Ireland. The discrepancy in funding may very well point to a gender bias with respect to editors but there is no hint of this in the article.
Since the money comes from the public purse, Deirdre Falvey ought to have asked the Arts Council about the criteria for funding. We all deserve to know the logic of how the process works. It needs to be transparent.
I know I speak for many of my fellow writers and I also know that many of these writers are intimidated into silence for fear of being refused publication or funding. I hope my remarks are received in the spirit of dialogue in which they are written and the desire to contribute to a better writing culture for all poets, men and women, in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Villanova University Centre,
Sir, – In response to Deirdre Falvey’s article, I want to clarify Salmon Poetry’s position in relation to publishing poetry by women. Salmon Poetry began in 1981 with the Salmon Journal. We started publishing books in 1985. In our first years, we published books by Eva Bourke, Rita Ann Higgins, Joan McBreen, Moya Cannon, Mary O’Malley, Anne Kennedy, Mary O’Donnell, Catherine Phil McCarthy, Roz Cowman, Jo Slade, Claire O’Connor, Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons, Leland Bardwell and Anne Le Marquand Hartigan – to name just a few. Since 1985 we have published books by 166 women and 194 men. No startling discrepancy there. We’re committed to the poets we publish and the majority have published more than one book with us. Their output is, of course, at different rates and not according to gender.
Finally, I can’t help but notice that of the three main poetry publishers, the two male publishers were interviewed for the article, while the woman publisher was not. Bias? – Yours, etc,
Salmon Poetry Ltd,
Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare.
Sir, – Deirdre Falvey’s piece on whether the female poet has been excluded through conscious or unconscious bias was interesting. However, the unnamed established poet who commented on the subject was surely speaking common sense: “ . . . if I read a poem I don’t consider the gender of the writer but the quality of the poem”.
If gender promotion of female poets over male becomes a prerequisite, where will that leave the volumes of bad poetry published? Just bad poetry or bad female poetry? – Yours, etc,