I first encountered Orchises Press a few years back at the Associated Writing Programs conference when Denise Duhamel was signing Kinky, her poetry collection about the Barbie doll. In the center of the crowd of fans, Denise Duhamel sat—all hair and smiles and smarts—and beside her was Orchises bespectacled mastermind Roger Lathbury—humbly passing her books to inscribe and clearly pleased as punch with all the commotion. That year, I read Kinky and giggled at Duhamel’s precise, insightful analysis of what it means to be plastic and what it means to be human which are sometimes both the same thing.
At the next AWP, I found Orchises Press again, and admired a copy of Eric Pankey’s Heartwood. I will admit that the volume’s metallic blue cover first attracted me to the book, but the poems inside sang to a tune that reminded me of moments of Robinson Jeffers’ long poem “Hungerfield.” I was impressed with Roger’s taste and range in the choice of poets that he published. He gave me a copy of Heartwood. Poetry is his passion, and he wants people to read it.
In that way, Roger might be a bit old-fashioned. While his publications all tend to have striking, unique, true-to-the-content covers, he is most concerned about what’s inside. The website for Orchises Press does not include multimedia clips or flashy images. Instead, it offers, for each book in the catalog, concise and thoughtful one- or two-line summaries or reviews, mostly written by Roger himself, which demonstrate a deep understanding and appreciation of each book he’s published. Additionally, a click on the link of the author’s name, leads to the cover art and an excerpt from the tome—either a poem or a few paragraphs of prose, depending on the book. He wants people to read his books because he knows readers will be rewarded.
In addition to contemporary poets such as David Kirby, Lia Purpura, John Poch, and Terri Witek, Orchises Press also publishes new prose as well as reprints of classics such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and an edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses which is described in the Orchises catalog as follows: “After many attempts to produce an authoritative text, free of typographical error and embodying Joyce’s corrections, it seems that the experience of reading the book as it first appeared—typographical mistakes, bad type and all—most enables contemporary readers to experience Joyce’s masterpiece as its first excited readers did.” I think that description exemplifies Roger’s own excitement for words and how they can move readers. An excitement that shows in the books that he publishes.
from Kinky’s “Apolcalyptic Barbie”
by Denise Duhamel
“…Maybe she was in shock. Mayber her emotions
were nuclear-tampered. She wished she could run
away from it all, and for the first time, her wish came true.
She pushed the books from her chest, stood up, and stretched.
An unlikely Phoenix rising from the ash, she rejoiced.
She had never moved on her own before…”
from Heartwood’s “Old Brickyard Road”
by Eric Pankey
“…If I remember right,
that was the first quarry pit—
seen from the sheer cut ledge,
half-full of rainwater, stale
and growing algae-green—
I convinced myself to dive
into, convinced that water
would be cooler than the day’s
gathering heat and steam,
just to find what held me up
was warm as the air
and yet dark. Hardly water…”
*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.
Traci O’Dea lives in the British Virgin Islands where she is a writer and English lecturer at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Measure, Unsplendid, and elsewhere. She also volunteers for Smartish Pace.