Brant Short talks with Rick Ardinger about Limberlost Press, independent publishing in Idaho, and oldschool chapbook production.


 

BRANT SHORT: Please describe the history of the Limberlost Press and The Limberlost Review.

RICK ARDINGER: Well, my wife Rosemary and I started The Limberlost Review as a very small press literary magazine in 1976 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Rosemary landed a job out of college. She was born and bred in Massachusetts, I was raised near Pittsburgh. We met at Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania, where we went to school in the early 70s.  On the heels of the mimeograph mag revolution of the 60s and during the real heyday of literary magazines in America, I wanted to launch our own magazine to publish young promising writers we already knew and venture into that wide world of poets with something new, unique, for however long it would last. Lawrence was near Lowell, Jack Kerouac’s hometown, and I was a diehard fan of the Beat Generation writers, still am. Kerouac died in 1969, just a few years before, and is buried in Lowell. I liked visiting his old haunts in Lowell, meeting people who knew him in the bars there, interviewed the Catholic priest who knew Kerouac as a kid and buried him, met members of the Sampas family, Kerouac’s Greek in-laws, nice people.

The second issue of The Limberlost Review (spring 1977) featured a remembrance of Kerouac by John Montgomery, a California librarian friend of Gary Snyder who went on the mountain climbing trip with Snyder and Kerouac that Kerouac mythologized in his novel The Dharma Bums in 1958. The third issue of the Review (summer 1977) featured an interview with Carolyn Cassady (Neal Cassady’s widow) who had just published a short memoir.  It also featured poems by Beat Generation writer John Clellon Holmes, whom we met and used to spend weekends with in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

We headed west in a VW bus in August of 1977 to graduate school at Idaho State University in Pocatello, where we took the Review and continued to publish it sporadically for years.

This was back in the typewriter days, of course. We were pretty student broke for about a decade, publishing issues of Limberlost when we should have been buying tires or groceries. Different priorities. Life then was a great flurry of correspondence with writers all over the country. I remember receiving poems in the mail for the first time from Charles Bukowski, Edward Dorn, anti-war presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy, and discovering the great poets here in the American West, many who became great friends. We organized poetry readings in bars and coffee houses, eventually on our own front porch. Our spare bedroom always had visitors. We worked a variety of jobs, but our “real work,” our identity, was always Limberlost, which never made money, but instead many friends.

 

Short: You publish chapbooks using old-school printing and binding methods. What motivated your commitment to preserving this art form?

Ardinger: When we got to Pocatello in the summer of 1977 for me to begin work on an M.A. in English, we learned there was a letterpress printing lab with a proof press and drawers of type, and an old -school journalism professor who believed his journalism students at least should learn to set headlines and learn the jargon of typography and the print trade, the names of type fonts, point size, and all, even if offset printing was making letterpress obsolete by then.  One of my English profs in a class called “The Methods of Literary Scholarship” announced that if any of us wanted to learn to set lead type and learn the basics of printing, we could do that in lieu of one of our research papers for the semester. I jumped at the opportunity, and Rosemary and I and another grad student handset type for an edition of the Limberlost Review.  Rosemary and I were immediately taken by the tactile nature of “the black art,” and the seed was planted to someday get our own press.

Eventually, in 1985, we bought a log house in the mountains north of Boise and one day saw a classified ad in the newspaper. A Baptist minister was moving to New York and had a printing press, typesetting stone, cabinets of type, everything for sale for $500. I borrowed money from my brother, rented a U-Haul, and we winched the equipment into our garage.

About that time, we paused publication of The Limberlost Review and devoted our efforts to publishing books and chapbooks by individual writers. Our first letterpress-printed chapbook of poems, No Wild Dog Howled by Bruce Embree of Inkom, Idaho, came out in 1987, and we devoted the next several decades to letterpress printing chapbooks of poems in lieu of the Review.

 

Short: Do people ever share the aesthetic experience of reading and owning these classic forms of literature?

Ardinger: I’ve long admired letterpress printed chapbooks done by Sam Hamill and Tree Swenson of Copper Canyon in Port Townsend, Clifford Burke of Cranium Press in San Francisco, Tom and Barbara Rea of Dooryard Press in Wyoming, Sam and Sally Green of Brooding Heron Press on Waldron Island, Harry Duncan of Abattoir Editions in Nebraska, and many other printers. Books from those presses are the real prizes on my bookshelves today. I admire their books, used them as design models when we were just getting started.

Writers get the grants and the attention, but my literary mentors and heroes have always been the editors, publishers, and printers–even those who hand-cranked out the mimeo pages on the tabletop Gestetners, poets like Ed Sanders (Fuck You Press), Gino Sky (Wild Dog), Ted Berrigan (“C” Press) and so many others.

People who buy Limberlost Press chapbooks often don’t know the poets. They are just interested in having the letterpressed books in their hands, the same way I admire good letterpress work, knowing the work behind it, the care with type that just bites into the paper, the quality of the paper, the design.

 

Short: Limberlost Press has published works from many noted authors over the years. Can you identify two or three works you are especially proud of sharing with readers? Why do these particular pieces stand out for you?

Ardinger: Every book has its story. Every book is a special relationship. But if I were to note just several that I’m so close to because of how they came about, a few stand out.

Allen Ginsberg’s small chapbook of writing prompts and inspirations, Mind Writing Slogans (1994), is one. We brought him to Idaho to read in three towns.  The night before his Boise reading, he slept in our spare bedroom, came down in his PJs, and Bob Dylan just happened to be on TV for some special. “The true poet of the Age,” he said. The next morning he signed all my Ginsberg books with elaborate drawings in each. I told him I’d love to do a chapbook sometime, and when he got back to New York he sent me the manuscript for Mind Writing Slogans, which we printed in time for a huge gathering at Naropa in Boulder honoring him in the summer of 1994.

In 1995, a not-yet-all-that-famous poet Sherman Alexie attended the summer Fish Trap gathering near Enterprise, Oregon, where a lot of our books were on display for sale. Out of the blue, he sent an unsolicited manuscript of poems asking if we’d be interested. We were, and his Water Flowing Home remains one of the bright lights for me. We’ve since done three other limited editions with Sherman.

A lifelong fan of Gary Snyder, our letterpressed edition of Three on Community (1996), featuring essays by Snyder, his late wife Carole Coda, and Wendell Berry, remains a highpoint in the canon, probably the most elaborately designed book we’ve done.

Books by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Creeley, John Haines, John Updike, Jim Harrison, Margaret Aho, Ed Dorn’s last collection before he died, are particularly special to me, some others I wish we had printed in larger editions.

 

Short: You revived publication of The Limberlost Review as a literary annual in 2019. It is a voice for writers, poets and artists who have a deep connection to the American West, especially the Intermountain West of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and surrounding states. Was this a conscious decision on your part when you decided to publish an annual literary review? What are the advantages of having a regional identity? What are the challenges?

Ardinger: I worked for many years as director of the Idaho Humanities Council, and the idea of reviving the Review came to me in a dream in the middle of the night shortly before I retired in 2018. I woke and sketched out a list of contents on the back of an envelope. Working with 40-50 contributors for an edition takes a lot more time than working with one writer at a time but I would soon have that time to devote to it. We had published a lot of writers over 40-plus years, and through my work with the Humanities Council I got to know a lot of potential contributors to the journal. We began with a big stable of potential contributors and we felt we could create a unique journal from our region.

We have published a lot of books and chapbooks by writers from the Intermountain West, and we have an affinity for writers from the region. But contributors to the Review are from all over–New York, Vermont, Mississippi, Ohio, Newfoundland in the 2024 edition. But it is true the Review offers a forum for a lot of writers from the mountain west. I always thought of poets in the West like Forest Service lookouts offering their “reports” from various peaks. The Review fills a need for the region.

 

Short: Wallace Stegner once described the Intermountain West as the “most politically reactionary part of the world.” Do you find any challenges working in the current political climate of Idaho and surrounding region? Do you see any impact of conservative politics on the literary communities you inhabit?

Ardinger: Well, Idaho has drifted politically further and further rightwing over the last 30 years, and it is appalling what Frankenstein legislation is being proposed these days. Across the country the recent vilification of teachers and librarians and book-banning legislation is particularly appalling. I comment on that in my own introduction to the 2024 Review. I don’t see the rightwing politics altering what we’re doing in the region or what other writers in the region are doing, other than maybe inspiring some work to combat the idiocy.

 

Short: Do you actively solicit contributions and use invitations to populate annual Reviews.  Do you find any difficulty finding the best mix of content each for the review? Do you use any readers/associate editors in making editorial decisions?

Ardinger: When we first launched the revival of The Limberlost Review I very actively solicited contributions from the stable of writers we knew. But the Review is open to unsolicited work now. We advertise deadlines in the back of the edition.

But I’m always soliciting, especially for essays and “re-readings.” If I know someone is a real fan of a particular writer or some special book, I’ll coax and encourage a “re-reading” out of them.

Most all decisions on content are my own. Occasionally, I’ll ask contributing editors to read work and give me their opinion.

For Limberlost Press books and chapbooks, however, I usually solicit the work. Letterpress printing is so labor intensive I usually make an invitation to a poet if I am going to devote such time and energy to a project. Occasionally we’ve received unsolicited collections of work we thought remarkable. But most of the chapbooks have been solicited.

 

Short: You have maintained independence from external institutions for sponsorship/funding. Do you envision seeking support in the future from a university, a foundation, or an endowment?  If not, are there other strategies you have to keep the press sustainable?

Ardinger: Limberlost Press is not an official nonprofit with a board of directors, so we are ineligible for most grant support. We are certainly not for profit. I don’t see that changing in our septuagenarian years. Poets, writers, artists are eligible to apply for certain kinds of grant assistance, but there are fewer such opportunities for editors/publishers. People who do our taxes each year don’t understand why we’re doing the press. It makes no fiscal sense. Some people have boat and cars, some have good causes they devote their money to. Limberlost is ours. The press is sustained by our own crazy sense of priorities. Even when we were broke grad students in the 1970s and 80s, we’d find a way to postpone buying new brakes or tires for the car and purchase paper for a book or chapbook instead.

 

Short: You were the Executive Director of the Idaho Humanities Council for many years and have continued to support writers through the Limberlost Press. In your view, what does the future of literature look like in places like Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming? How will writers and publishers need to adapt to maintain their artistic voice in such a world?

Ardinger: This is a very tough question, and I am not sure I have a positive outlook about maintaining a growing, thriving readership for literature as the world focuses more and more on the phone in front of the face. Rightwing state legislatures have little use for the arts and humanities. People with educations increasingly are considered elites and out of touch. It used to be you could not graduate from a university without coursework in literature and history as part of your educational foundation. But that is changing, and not for the good. Who would have thought a couple of decades back that book banning would be such a major topic in the daily news in 2024.

And who knows the what impact artificial intelligence  will do to our study and appreciation and creation of literature.

Story is powerful and we’re in the business of story, and we’ll carry on with what we do for as long as we can in this decade. Writers in the West, like lookouts, will continue to make their “reports.” And we’ll nurture that culture for as long as we can.