Little Big Press 

Limberlost Press exists beyond the book

Quietly, save for the sound of evening climbing through the mountains, in an unattached garage flanked by the shouldering corner of a small hill and home with a buffering wood, sits a heavy giant, gently whirring and rolling ink, pressing the clean face of one thick white sheet of paper after the next. The repetitive and soft clanking of the aging Chandler & Price is the heartbeat of an entire world, its slick and silent work the ether of a microcosm in which literature returns to some primal root of existence where the world of book tours and publishers is but a myth.

Standing in the tiny garage workspace that is Limberlost Press, the domination of the word processor fades into the pages of what will become the future as time folds in on itself to find an era when the revolution was the printing press. Drawers of metal type, organized by font and point size, sorted by upper and lower case, alphabetized and categorized, wait for the choosing of the expert typesetter, who will set each line in reverse, reading from right to left. And once they have been inked and pressed, collated and bound, the words right themselves on the page, whispering the musings of local poets, of infamous pens, of well-loved storymakers.

Limberlost the press was born from an Idaho State graduate student's avoidance of a class assignment. "I was studying literature and one of my teachers suggested that anyone who wanted to learn how to set type could do so in lieu of writing a paper," explained Limberlost editor Rick Ardinger. "So three of us did it. It got me out of a paper. I suppose I got the bug then."

Ardinger bumps around in the workshop, stepping around a space heater, explaining the press vernacular as he goes--picking through the furniture cabinet, setting up the chase, tightening the whole collection of wedges with a turn of key and coin.

"I didn't get started until 1985 or '86," says Ardinger while he puts the newly tightened chase into the press. "I bought a marble composing stone to set type on, the drawers and press for $500 from a Baptist minister in New Plymouth."

The press is a 1920's Chandler & Price. The crank once used to put the iron wheels into motion has been replaced with a tiny motor, which rather surprisingly, has the power to move the press's mass as a large metal arm swabs ink from a circular plate onto the chase and then sandwiches the waiting sheet of paper, which must be removed and replaced with a dexterous and methodical hand after each pressing.

However, as essential as the Chandler & Price is to Limberlost Press, the soul of Limberlost far predated the tangible product of the antique press.

Rick Ardinger and his co-editor and wife Rosemary Ardinger started publishing a lit magazine in 1977. The early editions of The Limberlost Review, typeset and xeroxed readings from such names as Eugene McCarthy and Charles Bukowski, embody the ambitious youth of two college students out to not only create, but contribute something substantial and unique to literature.

Settling down into rocking chairs in a room full of books and art--a collection which includes a watercolor from Western writer N. Scott Momaday--an articulate Rosemary boils down the early days of Limberlost to a simple statement that still captures the palpable sincerity of the press's current work: "There was just this energy about it."

Every word to come out of Limberlost is not only letterpressed, hand collated and in limited supply, but also original work from some of the most famous names in the modern literary world, making Limberlost publications popular commodities with serious book collectors and ardent fans of the press's big name writers.

And some impressive big names beef up the list of the locally talented, thanks to Rick's fearless letter-writing skills. The Ardingers refer to Sherman Alexie by his first name, fondly remembering the first time they met him, before the success of Smoke Signals. "We were at a writers conference," recalls Rick, "and he approached us. We actually turned down a giant manuscript full of his work and only published one book." That book was the first of three Limberlost has published for Alexie since 1996. "He says he likes publishing with Limberlost because he says it's like 'sending my poems to prom night'."

Having always wanted to work with Jim Harrison, Rick sent him a letter and waited patiently for a reply that lead to Livingston Suite. He communicates with John Updike by post, and at one point in the evening, nonchalantly utters the words, "sitting around a table with Ginsberg," and has to be reeled back for an explanation of how one finds oneself in those circumstances.

"I wrote to him and asked him if he'd like to read in Idaho," he shrugs. "Of all the 50 states, he'd never read in Idaho and thought he might like to. " And then he continues right where he left off, "So we're sitting around a table and I told him I'd like to do a broadside or a poem with him." Ginsberg collected Mind Writing Slogans.

Despite the big names to Limberlost's credit, the Ardingers remain sincere enthusiasts of local writers, from former Albertson College professor John Rember to young Pocatello poet Martin Vest.

"A name allows us to do the local," explains Rosemary. "Big names sell and then we can devote more time to regional and local writers." Rick echoes her comments, saying, "It's the big names that lift us into the black from time to time so that we can commit to a young Martin Vest, for example, who is a brilliant local poet."

Sitting in the Ardinger's living room, thumbing through page after page printed on the Chandler & Price, listening to stories of travels on Ken Kesey's magic bus, musing at doodles drawn by Ginsberg in copies of his books as he spent a week in the Ardinger's home, the couple's seemingly quiet life in the woods finds a subtle vitality in the verbal recollection of the people to whom the press has so tightly bound them.

"For us, it's always amazing that there's a whole strain of folks who believe the same thing," Rosemary says. "It's amazing that there are all these folks who want an opportunity to make a beautiful book."

But the energy of Limberlost far exceeds the art of bookmaking, taking what that clanking Chandler & Price churns out and spinning a tale about what two people with an antique hunk of metal, a can of ink and some well-worded letters can create: a medium in which words worth sending forth are done so by hand, a place for beautiful words to rest in beautiful binding, and an opportunity for the brilliance of unknowns to find a path on the same page as the brilliance of their mentors.

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