Juan Felipe Herrera visits the Rare Book & and Special Collections Division and discusses the Sylvester & Orphanos Publishers Archives and the Poets Laureate Collection with curator Mark Manivong. View the webcast, read the Poet Laureate’s poem response, and learn more about the collection from the curator.


EL JARDIN: Rare Books

My mother Lucha wrote a rare one-volume collection—a tiny rouge address book. I discovered it in one of her purses that she left me. There were addresses, of course, and jottings (up to two-pages long) across the addresses. For instance: “Today, I gave my son, Juanito, oranges. He loves oranges. With the $16.00 check from the government office, I bought him milk and bread too. Ranchito, García, Vista, California, 1954.” She left me her words, her precious moments, her love for me. What makes this 3”x 2” old address book a rare item? I think it is the one place where she wrote what her life was about, about me—and about those early years as the head of a farm-working family on the outskirts of the big city.

What are your “rare” books? Do you have one at home? Or maybe you enjoy the rare book room at your school or university. Find one. Write a rare book poem about it. What does it look like, where did you find it, what is in it? Is it “rare”? Why? Can you show it to the world?

My Mother’s Tiny Old Red Address Book

2 x 3 inches
     smaller than a star 
     it contains a universe
a conversation with
     no one
     except you    now
   “My son…” she says
   “He loves oranges.”  Mamá goes on
turn the page
     an address  
     where is this invisible place

Juan Felipe Herrera
21st Poet Laureate of the United States

Curator's Comments

Sylvester & Orhanos Publishers of Los Angeles are Ralph Sylvester and Stathis Orphanos. Ralph is a bookseller and Stathis is a photographer and writer. They were recently featured in Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle.  From 1976 to 2005, they published 25 fine and limited editions of works by modern authors, culminating with their landmark title: Tsarouchis, the Face of Modern Greece, a tribute to the beloved Greek artist. The Tsarouchis portfolio, done in the Teriades tradition, includes tributes to the artist from various literary, entertainment, and political figures, as well as serigraph reproductions of the artist’s works. As I mentioned to the Poet Laureate, much of Tsarouchis’ work is homoerotic and often features hyper-masculine, almost brutal, men who occupy typically masculine roles, such as soldiers, policemen, and sailors. Women are frequently depicted with what are considered typically masculine features. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division acquired the Sylvester & Orphanos Collection and archives in 2014. The collection includes all 25 of the fine editions, Orphanos’ own book of photography, My Cavafy (2006), which combines photographs selected to accompany poems by C. P. Cavafy, and the archives for each title. The archives are a rich resource of information on a small publishing business, and they include correspondence between the publishers and authors, manuscripts, author corrected proof copies, galleys, design materials and dies, binding samples, photographs, and artwork selected for the publications. The author corrected proofs are especially interesting because small changes in the text—either by accident or design—can sometimes be documented this way.

The Poets Laureate Collection is our attempt to bring all the works of the Poets Laureate of the United States, as well as their predecessors, the Consultants in Poetry, into one comprehensive collection. The division collects every title and every edition of the works of the Poets Laureate and keeps them in a pristine state. This includes mass market books, advance reader review copies, special editions, fine press editions, chapbooks, and broadsides. The broadsides are among my favorites because they typically combine fine printing with artwork, usually a woodblock print or an etching.

It was a pleasure hosting our Poet Laureate and demonstrating a small sample of our many treasures.

Mark Manivong
Curator, Rare Book and Special Collections Division