Save Your Place: Dead Things Imposed

Ecotone’s tagline is “reimagining place,” and we love work that brings us to a specific location, real or imagined. In this department, Save Your Place, we highlight our favorite descriptions of place from work we’ve published at Ecotone and Lookout.

This place is from Camille T. Dungy’s essay, “Differentiation” in Ecotone 18.

“Most of what we saw was human-built and imposed—buildings made from shipping containers or frame structures stilted above the permafrost, which, in this part of Alaska, can be as much as a half-mile deep. Or, like the baleen palms or the jawbone arches, dead things imposed on the landscape. Most of what we saw was desolate, lifeless, and frozen. In spite of this, standing by the bone arch with our feet near the icy Arctic Ocean, we marveled aloud at how beautiful everything was.”

Seven Questions with Erik Reece

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we feature Erik Reece, whose story, “A Week on the Kentucky River: Reading Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Which Nobody Reads Anymore (But Should)“ appears in Ecotone’s tenth anniversary issue. Reece’s work also appears in Harper’s magazine, the Nation, and Orion. He is the author of two books of nonfiction and one collection of poetry. His book Utopia Drive, about the promise, failure, and enduring visions of utopian communities throughout U.S. history, is forthcoming form Farrar, Straus and Giroux in August.

Erik Reece - photo - taken by Lee Thomas

(photo by Lee Thomas)

What books are open on your desk right now?

Thomas More’s Utopia, because this year is its five-hundredth anniversary and I’m supposed to write something about that. Joseph Stroud’s excellent collected poems, Of This World. Robert Bullard’s Dumping In Dixie. A few old notebooks.

Apart from the week you spent on the Kentucky River and the boat you built, are there other ways you have attempted to bring aspects of Thoreau’s life into your own?

I raise a large garden and I know how to make raisin bread.

Where did the idea for your essay in Ecotone come from?

Honestly, I just wanted to find a way to get more people to read that book. And I think I was looking for a way to write about the poetry of wooden boats, and wooden boat-making. I was rereading A Week when I was building my boat, and I’m sure the idea for the essay took root then. Plus, I just love to read in my boat (I’m not much of a fisherman; I don’t like the hours).

But to float and loaf, Whitman-style, that’s my jam. So I wanted to communicate that satisfaction of reading an “unroofed book” in an unroofed place where the kingfishers of the text found their counterparts in the kingfishers alighting around me on the river. Each amplified the other to make both the experience of reading and the experience of floating much more intense.

If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?

A small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. All Syrian refugees would be welcomed, and given ample water and provisions. Who knows, perhaps we would try to enact the blueprint of Plato’s Republic. But with poets. Our constitution and national anthem would be Auden’s “In Praise of Limestone.”

Name a book you bought for its cover.

Probably Edward Weston’s Book of Nudes. And not just for the cover.

alimon_brightdeadthingsWhat emerging author or first book are you most excited about?

Ada Limón’s book of poems, Bright Dead Things. It is an incredibly big-hearted collection that will—should—establish her as a major American poet. And it also have a very cool cover.

Lightning round:

Typing or longhand? Longhand in the morning, typing in the afternoon—and at night if necessary.

Whitewater or flat water? Since I almost drowned on whitewater last year, flat water for a while.

Morning or night? See above.

E-reader or print? As John McEnroe would say, you can’t be serious.

Vowel or consonant? Ohio is the most beautiful word in the American language. Draw your own conclusions.

Canoe or kayak? Whichever has the most beer in it. So, canoe.

Bookmark or dog-ear? Bookmark, usually a parking ticket from the intolerant campus police where I teach.

Cake or pie? Ice cream.

Mountains or sea? If I decide, mountains; if my wife decides, sea. 

What’s Your Ecotone?: We are not subtle in our stay here

This What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Tracy Winn.

We make this hill our stand. We watch for life, for spring, with the cold sky waiting. Nothing happens. Maybe a raven knocks its hollow voice down the ravine. At most, a flock of grosbeaks upend themselves in the birches bordering woods and open field, tasting last year’s catkins, twittering into the silence. That’s it. Unless a plane from a Unknownfar-off base practices mountain maneuvers, that raven’s tock or grosbeak’s thin whistle is the only sound punctuating the wind or stillness of the day.

Walking downhill along the one lane dirt road that would lead us out to larger roads and busier places, we see no evidence of anyone but ourselves. Turning back, we make an awful din on the crusty snow.

We are not subtle in our stay here. Smoke pours from our stove’s chimney. The glow from our gas lamps competes with the moon. A trim line of fox prints circles wide.

Tracy Winn is the author of the award-winning Mrs. Somebody Somebody, available as a Random House reader’s circle selection. Her recent work has appeared in the Harvard Review and Fifth Wednesday Journal, and is now up on Waxwing. She sends this post from Granville, Vermont.

On Location with Josh Emmons

This installment of On Location comes from Ecotone contributor Josh Emmons, whose story, “Nu,” appears in issue 15, and was a special mention in The Puschart Prize XXXIX.

Hell-A Revisited

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Growing up in Northern California, I considered Los Angeles to be the worst city in America, synonymous with smog, sprawl and superficiality, Alvie Singer’s cultural wasteland and “the big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco,” as John Lennon put it. My friends and I called it Hell-A and avoided it as much as possible, although, like the common cold, it sometimes struck: I’d visit relatives or go to Disneyland or pass through en route to friendlier, less toxic Mexico. After college at an anything-goes moment, I followed a girlfriend there and lived for six months in the Los Feliz neighborhood, where its sun and asphalt and artificiality so depressed me that Elliott Smith’s suicide in nearby Echo Park a few years later made sense.

Following two decades living in San Francisco and New Orleans and Philadelphia, I moved back to LA in 2014 for work, hoping I’d be better able to accept the city’s endless ugliness as a blunted forty-year-old than I had been as an idealistic twenty-something. What I found, however, is that it is no longer a vast, unrelenting space devoted to cars and bad movies, but has made great strides in public transportation, density, art, green space, tacos and sustainability: the whole New Urbanism fantasy. When people now say, apropos of what’s happening here versus the Bay Area tech takeover, that “San Francisco is a utopia gone wrong and LA is a dystopia gone right,” they aren’t wrong.

I don’t want to get too boosterish, because Los Angeles still has the worst air quality in the country and attracts a lot of demi-creative narcissists and is too hot, but I live in a stately Art Deco building downtown, a few blocks away from the excellent Last Bookstore and Broad Museum and historic theaters on Broadway. I walk everywhere and meet people uninvolved with Hollywood and find corners of the city where nature is reasserting itself. All this might sound like a low bar to cross, but I’m encouraged that a city of four million people, like so many other cities in America and abroad, is trading in a bankrupt dream of single-family homes and eight-lane freeways for an expanded train system and high-rise residential buildings and public art.

I’ll probably never stop fantasizing about living in a more instantly appealing place—a New York or New Orleans or Paris—but for now I’m happy to be in one that’s come so far in so short period of time.

Making a List: Ten Pieces of Advice from Nikky Finney’s Reading at UNCW

new_coverThis spring, University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Creative Writing hosted visiting writer Nikky Finney, distinguished South Carolinian writer and teacher, whose fourth collection, Head Off & Split, was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for poetry. Before coming to UNCW I didn’t seek out poetry, but since beginning my MFA here last fall, and working as a TA for the Pub Lab, I’ve been inundated with poems. As a fiction writer, one prone to writing concise vignettes and flash fiction, I’m fascinated by the distinction between poetry and prose. I attended Nikky Finney’s public reading on Thursday, April 21, eager to hear her experience with words and form. The Kenan Hall room was packed with faculty, students, and Wilmingtonians, and I found a seat on the floor in the back, where I could only see the poet when a sea of shoulders in front of me shifted just so. But I could hear her speak, and between poems Nikky Finney offered habits that improve her writing, told anecdotes about her family and how they’ve influenced her work, and shared her deep connection to the beach. She spoke with such authority, intimacy, and openness I couldn’t resist scrawling down quotes in my notebook. I left the reading, perhaps just as muddled about the distinction of prose and poems, but armed with two of her books, the desire to get home to my writing desk as quickly as possible, and the intention to connect more deeply with the quiet places Wilmington offers writers. I’m excited to share her words and ideas that have already begun to nourish me, with our readers.

1) “You have to go to the word, go to the root, go to the definition.”

2) “That’s your job: you have to pay attention. Poems are walking by every day. You gotta pay attention.”

3) “If you do what you’ve already done, you’re gonna get what you’ve already gotten.” (advice Nikky Finney shared from her grandmother)

4) Keep an epigraph journal.

5) Talk about hard things in a loving way.

6) “Take the opportunity, so you don’t live with the regret.”

7) “You know, we live in a really noisy world.” Do something for yourself that is aware of how noisy the world is. “You have to figure out the noise in your life and then shut it down, it’s not helpful to you.”

8) “I listen to what makes my heart flutter.”

9) Face the thing you really need to be looking at.

10) “Reporting is the reporter’s job, but my job, my student’s job, your job, is to make something of what you know about humanity. Because that is why we’ve had art for thousands of years. To make us better…to have the kind of conversations we are having.”

–F. Morgan Davis, MFA Candidate in fiction, Pub Lab TA

News Roundup

We’re getting right to it this week, because we’ve got some serious horns to toot: awards aplenty from Ecotone contributors, and Lookout author Matthew Neill Null publishing fabulous stuff all over the internet. Here goes!

Ecotone contributor Erica Dawson’s won the 2016 Poets’ Prize from the West Chester University Poetry Center! Hip!

Joni Tevis won a CNF Firecracker Award for her collection The World is On Fire (Milkweed). One of its essays, “What Looks Like Mad Disorder,” first appeared in Ecotone 17! Hip!

Ron Carlson’s short story “Happiness” from Ecotone‘s Sustenance issue wins an O. Henry! Hooray!

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Matthew Neill Null, seen here talking fiction with Sam Lipsyte at McNally Jackson last week (thanks to Ethan Jameson for the photo!) has been bu-usy these past couple weeks. Here’s a quick rundown:

Matt’s dad prosecutes a dog in 1980s West Virginia over on the Paris Review blog.

Matt gazes backward at a landscape of ghosts over at Electric Literature.

Matt on the twinning of the dark and the absurd on the edge of the sea over at Guernica.

Matt reflects on writers from the other Europe over at Catapult.

Man, is there some great reading here! We hope you’re having your own hip-hip-hooray moment wherever you are, or that the good work of these folks inspires something worth celebrating. We’ll see you back here for the next Roundup!

Matthew Neill Null Accepts the Rome Prize!

We’re thrilled for Matt, who accepted the Joseph Brodsky Rome prize at a ceremony in NYC last week. The American Academy in Rome awarded prizes to thirty-one winners this year in fields including literature, architecture, and design. The winners receive a six- to eleven- month residency at the academy, located in a 17th-century villa in the heart of Rome. Below are photos from the program, including Matt’s lovely citation. “Matthew Neill Null has set himself the heroic task of describing the earth’s fallen beauty by chronicling his native West Virginia. The task is Faulknerian but he has the back for it…”

Huge congrats to Matt. See the other winners here.

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