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This poem is taken from PN Review 56, Volume 13 Number 6, July - August 1987.

Virago's reputation for publishing outstanding women's writing was already established before we turned to publishing poetry in the 1980s. The demand for poetry had long been apparent to us both by the amount of unsolicited material we received in the office and by the wealth of new poetry appearing in feminist magazines, in collections put out by women's writing groups, by individual women involved in selfpublishing and by small presses.

Virago began by publishing several anthologies, the first of which, Scars Upon My Heart: Poetry of the First World War edited by Catherine Reilly, appeared in 1981. A moving record of women's consciousness at a momentous period of history, it was succeeded by its equally impressive companion volume, Chaos of the Night: Women's Poetry of the Second World War. Here was the work of protest and pain, but also of hope, by women both known and unknown, among them Vera Brittain, Edith Sitwell, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Rose Macaulay and Frances Cornford.

1982 saw the publication of Bread and Roses: Women's Poetry of the 19th and 20th Centuries edited by Diana Scott. This collection grew out of her interest in the nature of inspiration and the creative process in women's writing. Wide-ranging in its selection of poets, and with informative introductions to its four sections, it is now a set-text on 'A' Level courses. In 1984 a new series of individual collections, Virago Poetry, was launched. We saw this as a way of offering poets more space for their own work and readers the chance to enjoy a deeper acquaintance with individual poets than anthologizing allows. The series reflects a commitment to work by lesser-known poets as well as those with an international reputation, such as Judith Wright and Maya Angelou. Of the ten poets represented in the series, each has been chosen because of the distinctiveness of her voice and the particularity of her vision. Some have long had a constituency among feminist readers; others have become known on the poetry-reading circuit of pubs, small clubs, schools and festivals, and two of the poets, Grace Nichols and Amryl Johnson, have each gained for themselves reputations as two of the finest black poets writing in Britain today.

Alison Fell, Judith Kazantzis and Grace Nichols were the first three poets in the series. In Kisses for Mayakovsky, Alison Fell declares herself with marvellous directness, sensuality and a wry wit (in 'Pushing Forty' she vows to 'henna our hair like Colette . . . and go out in a last, wild blaze'). Judith Kazantzis, in Let's Pretend, is intimate, fearless and ironic. And she digs slyly at those who think it 'the way of a brave, wise thatcher/ that their fellows are icy and cold/ in an inhuman country'. Grace Nichols received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1983 for her i is a long memoried woman. The Fat Black Woman's Poems are joyful, questioning, accusing; one of them, 'Like a Beacon', has featured in London's 'Poems on the Underground'.

In 1985 Amryl Johnson, Stef Pixner and Denise Riley joined the list. Amryl Johnson came to England from Trinidad when she was eleven and Long Road to Nowhere grew out of a return trip to the Caribbean many years later: a visit that was both a celebration of rediscovery and an elegy to the culture she had left behind. Different again is Stef Pixner's Sawdust and White Spirit: her surrealism and playfulness express themselves through her descriptions of everyday objects and feelings. Denise Riley is a modernist poet and in her collection, Dry Air, her work is committed both to the music and the risks of speech, taking apart the language of femininity.

1986 was a more international year with Maya Angelou's bestselling And Still I Rise, Astra's Back You Come, Mother Dear (poems dedicated to her relationship with her mother) and Judith Wright's outstanding collection, Phantom Dwelling, reviewed in the Guardian as 'various, alert, inventive and alive. The poet may be past seventy: her book isn't'. In this new work, Judith Wright turns again to her 'landscape' images of Australia, to questions of reconciliation and love for the earth and its 'wild dreams'.

Published to coincide with Poetry Live, Beginning the Avocado by City Limits' poetry editor, Gillian Allnutt, explores what is real both within and outside the self. Denise Levertov has described her 'as a poet of very considerable promise, whose best work is at once hard and delicate, like wrought iron'.

In the autumn we return to an anthology with Illona Linthwaite's collection drawn together from her dramatized dialogue between a black and a white woman and titled after the black abolitionist Sojourner Truth's challenge: 'Ain't I a Woman'.

And in 1988 we shall be publishing an anthology of lesbian poetry, Naming the Waves. We plan to continue with individual collections and anthologies in future years.

Beginning the avocado

My heart is an avocado
stone in a pot
of earth

but my old truth
my stubborn Elizabeth, my queen

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