Rick and Rosemary Ardinger have a beautiful house in Idaho City. Original art hangs high on the walls over hundreds of books. But the house has nothing on the garage; in it stands a Chandler and Price Platen hand-fed printer where Rick makes the books for Limberlost Press.
“We started in 1976, back in the mimeo magazine hey-day,” said Rick. “We used our grocery money to start the press,” said Rosemary.
The Ardingers’ started their literary magazine The Limberlost Review 43 years ago and after a long hiatus, they’ve revamped it. The first re-issue was in 2019 and the next one comes out in January 2020. Each Review has both poetry and prose. The new Review will feature regional writers but readers can also expect well-known poets like Mary Clearman Blew, Ed Sanders and Sherman Alexie.
“We always wanted to come West since reading Kerouac’s On the Road,” said Rick. “And I’ve always been interested in writing and poetry.”
The Limberlost name might sound familiar because of the Limberlost swamp that used to cover 13,000 acres of Indiana. The novel by Gene Stratton-Porter titled A Girl of The Limberlost and the film Romance of the Limberlost that premiered in 1938 were both set in the swamp. But Rick and Rosemary weren’t aware of that when they named the press.
It was the name of a little cottage outside of Slippery Rock College in Pennsylvania. There were a bunch of the cottages lined in a row that weren’t set up to be lived in year round but they had friends that did it anyway.
“It just had a great ring to it,” said Rick. “All these little cottages had names, probably from the 30’s but I always thought Limberlost was kind of a haunting name.”
Rick and Rosemary used typewriters and mimeographs to create the first three Limberlost Reviews before they moved out to Idaho in the summer of 1977. Rick said there were tons of literary magazines at the time. He took a methods class at Idaho State University for his masters degree in the fall of ‘77 and the professor offered learning about letterpress printing in lieu of a paper. Rick signed up and caught the bug. They eventually bought their own press for $500 and started making chapbooks. The first one was in 1986 by Pocatello poet Bruce Embree.
They’ve continually published lesser-known writers from the Intermountain West region like Idaho authors William Studebaker, Ray Obermayr and Gino Sky. But, they’ve also worked with some better-known poets like Jim Harrison, Sherman Alexie, John Updike, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg.
“I approached the poets,” said Rick. “We publish regional writers but the bigger authors are the ones that sell. It pays for the writers that are unknown.”
Rick was a founding member of The Cabin, Boise’s literary arts organization, and also sat on The Humanities Council a nonprofit that works to provide access to the humanities. In the early 1990s he approached Ginsberg about printing a poem for a chapbook. Ginsberg agreed and came to Idaho in 1993, stayed at the Ardinger’s house and did a series of readings in Hailey, the College of Southern Idaho, and ended at Boise State University.
“It was huge; they opened both ballrooms and they were filled with like over 600 people, so many kids came,” said Rick. “Ginsberg said he liked to read Howl in states he’d never been in before, so he did a reading and then afterwards he answered questions. It was great!”
If you’re wondering how a small local press could pull in such a big name, it’s because of the artistic craftsmanship that Rick and Rosemary put into their books. The Review is larger and traditionally bound but the chapbooks are beautiful works of art, like a present to the reader.
“The writers love the books,” said Rick. “The press is all manual and it’s a very labor-intensive process; you have to run the black ink first, then the other side and then clean it before moving on to red, and so on.”
Rick experimented a lot with design and his garage is filled with hundreds of different plate designs. All the books are hand-sewn; in fact it’s a hands-on process the whole way through. Most chapbooks are 24-36 pages and must be stacked, collated and bound by hand.
“Sometimes we’d have parties and invite people to help us get the books together,” said Rosemary. “It’s a lot of work.”
The last few years that Rick was working the press really took a backseat and they were only producing about a book a year. Now that he’s out of retirement the press is in full swing. On top of the Review coming out in January readers can also look for a new Alexie chapbook that should be out in the spring.
“After last years re-launching of the Review people saw it and we got a lot of submissions,” said Rick. “This next one will be even bigger than the last.”