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.
(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.
What 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.
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.