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Washing Windows? Irish Women Write Poetry

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Arlen House
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EXTRACT COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

From the Introduction: Publishing Women by Alan Hayes

This anthology is a snapshot of the contemporary writing scene among Irish women who write poetry, and is compiled in honour of the 'foremothers' who, from the 1970s onwards, developed opportunities for women to express themselves creatively and publicly. Inspired by the original policies and publishing strands of Arlen House, this book focuses on new and emerging writers, alongside established names and reclaimed writers whose work had been lost to history. It is a unique honour to publish the first poems of many writers in this collection, alongside a poem from Edna O'Brien, the biggest name in Irish literature and one of the greatest international writers of the past century. This anthology is the beginning of a larger project to map the breadth of talent among Irish writers who are women.

Arlen House was originally founded by Catherine Rose in 1975 and that September in Galway she published her first book, The Female Experience: The Story of the Woman Movement in Ireland. Interestingly, Virago, the world's most


famous feminist press, also published their first book in London in September 1975, Mary Chamberlain's Fenwotnen: A Portrait of Women in an English Village; however, The Female Experience was the more radically feminist of the two books. Arlen House's second book in 1977 was Janet Martin's The Essential Guide for Women in Ireland, which left both writer and publisher liable to a fine and imprisonment for providing information on contraception and abortion.

Catherine Rose moved to Dublin in 1978 and quickly expanded the press with three new worker-directors joining: Janet Martin, former women's page editor of the Irish Independent, Terry Prone, communications expert, and Dr Margaret Mac Curtain (Sr Benvenuta), historian and educator, who published her Women in Irish Society: The Historical Dimension (1978) with Arlen House, the first Irish women's history book, which became a massive success. Later, other people connected to the press included Mary Cullen, Ann Murphy, Eleanor Murphy, Janet Madden-Simpson and Louise Barry (Louise C. Callaghan).

In 1978, prominent poet and critic Eavan Boland also became involved as an associate editor, working on the first ever creative writing competition for women in Ireland, which was judged by Eavan, Mary Lavin and David Marcus. The resulting book, The Wall Reader, became a No. 1 bestseller in 1979. It contained a spirited introduction by Eavan on the concept of the 'woman writer' and marginalisation, and the need to mainstream great writing into the Irish canon. The book received a backlash from sections of the media, yet was a huge success and spanned two more annual competitions and anthologies. The second, published as A Dream Recurring (1980), was also judged by Eavan and included poetry as well as short stories, with a third anthology, The Adultery, appearing in 1982.

By the 1970s Eavan was already regarded internationally as one of the most outstanding young Irish poets, with her second collection, The War Horse, being published in London in 1975 by Gollancz (in autumn 1980 Arlen House reissued The War Horse in paperback and hardback). Arlen House in early 1980 published In Her Own Image with drawings by Constance Short. Quite simply, this book, along with 1982's Night Feed, changed the face of Irish literature. Although met with some media silence and ignorance, these books were major successes and opened up new pathways in Irish poetry.

In 1980, Eavan became editor of the newly-created Popular Classics series, and wrote the introduction to Kate O'Brien's novel, The Ante-Room, which led to a revival of that neglected writer's work. She spoke at the first Kate O'Brien Weekend in Limerick in 1984 which Arlen House organised to mark the tenth anniversary of Kate O'Brien's death.

In 1984, Arlen House founded Women's Education Bureau (WEB), the national organisation for women writers, with Eavan Boland as creative director. WEB organised the Annual Workshop for Women Writers, workshops around the country and the Writers and Readers Day, alongside research, advice and mentoring services. It had a large membership, published a newsletter and launched, in 1987, the first issue of a journal, The WEB: New Writing by Women. Eavan Boland was the general editor, with guest editors Mary Rose Callaghan and Evelyn Conlon. Reflecting on earlier WEB workshops since 1984, Eavan wrote: "it struck me too often and too forcibly that women had to struggle at a physical and metaphysical level to be writers in this country". A WEB writing group still exists in Dublin to the present day.

In December 1986, Arlen House launched The Journey and Other Poems, a co-publication with Carcanet who


published in the UK in February 1987. And in autumn 1989 Carcanet published, "in association with WEB", Eavan's Selected Poems, with WEB organising a media and advertising campaign in Ireland to promote the book. Catherine Rose had worked as co-ordinator of the National Year on Ageing and in 1990 she founded and became CEO of Age and Opportunity, the national body promoting creativity in older people. Thus Arlen House and WEB came to a natural end - that is until, in 2000, Arlen House was relaunched by myself, with encouragement from Catherine Rose and Margaret Mac Curtain - but that's another story entirely.

Eavan Boland's career and reputation has continued to grow internationally and she has added substantially to her body of work. It is an honour for Arlen House to publish in 2016 a major collection of essays and poems, Eavan Boland: Inside History, edited by Siobhan Campbell and Nessa O'Mahony. Catherine Rose retired recently from Age and Opportunity and lives in Dublin. She is Ireland's first feminist publisher and has made a monumental contribution to the lives of women and in creating change in Irish society.

Washing Windows ? Irish Women Write Poetry, compiled in honour of Eavan Boland and Catherine Rose, is a wide-ranging, inspiring, moving and insightful collection of poetry by contemporary Irish writers who are women and who have something to say.

Arlen House Dublin/Gal way/Syracuse, NY