Starting a publishing house is something Asheville Poetry Review senior editor Luke Hankins has dreamed of doing for a long time — a dream realized on March 3 when the first book from his new publishing house, Orison Books, went on sale.
Orison is “a nonprofit literary press that focuses on work that engages the life of the spirit,” says Hankins. Its name is a Middle English word for prayer. But the imprint will not “represent any particular ideology or belief system, but spiritual writing of all veins,” says Hankins. It’s a niche he feels is currently underserved by existing publishers because “on one hand you have religious publishers who publish work that is only interesting to a small group, and on the other you have literary presses, many of which are reluctant to publish anything with a noticeable spiritual element.”
“Orison Books can fill the gap and encourage the kinds of spiritual or metaphysical engagement that literature has been so good at for millennia, but publishers currently shy away from,” says Hankins. Poet Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, author of Orison Books’ first publication, I Scrape the Window of Nothingness, agrees, calling the press “a much-needed press in today’s cultural landscape.” Radulescu presents her collection of poetry at Malaprop’s on Saturday, March 28.
It’s quite a coup for Orison to launch the press with a book by a poet of such international stature. Radulescu is a multilingual poet, with three distinct bodies of work in Romanian, French and English, and has won a number of awards. Hankins first met Radulescu through his work for the Asheville Poetry Review: “I met her in 2008 at the AWP conference. She’s Romanian by birth but lived in France for a long time. I speak some French, so we talked and she gave me one of her French poetry collections to read, and I was amazed by it. I asked her if anyone was translating her work, and she was happy to let me. So, for some years now, I’ve been translating her French poetry.” Radulescu in turn is equally complimentary toward Hankins, calling him “the perfect editor who understands my poetry better than myself.”
Hankins published several of Radulescu’s poems in the Asheville Poetry Review and I Was Afraid of Vowels — a chapbook of his translations her work — with Q Avenue Press in 2011. When it came to selecting the first subject for Orison, Radulescu’s poetry was an obvious choice: “She’s someone whose work I think is really unique,” says Hankins. “I don’t know anybody else who writes the way she does. There’s something mysterious and metaphysical and searching about her work that I think is perfect for our mission.”
The way Radulescu explains her approach to poetry echoes Hankins’ assessment. “Poetry is for me an essentially spiritual inquiry about existence and nonexistence, life and death,” she says. “I think, more than other forms of expression, poetry is a visionary art. … A poem is the only place to experience the language in its essence, in its more untranslatable way, which is, in fact, the real expression of our identity.”
Orison is actively looking for other writers with this spiritual vision and hopes to bring out books in other genres in the future. In order to find these writers, the press is running a contest, the Orison Poetry Prize, for a book-length collection.
Hankins’ hope for Orison Books is to have a national and international focus. But he still intends for the imprint to maintain a strong local presence. “We’re going to have events, and we’re considering hosting a national conference here,” he says. “We will be engaged in Asheville.”
More information about the Orison Poetry Prize can be found at orisonbooks.com.
WHO: Stella Vinitchi Radulescu presents I Scrape the Window of Nothingness: New and Selected Poems
WHERE: Malaprop’s, malaprops.com
WHEN: Saturday, March 28, at 7 p.m.