Veteran Journal Showcases "Craft" through Standout Prose and Poetry

Review of Ecotone, Fall/Winter 2017 by Jill Twist


If there ever was a single way to pay homage to the many different types of handmade art, Ecotone does it with Issue 24: Craft. Opening the issue with a comforting message on writers’ need for resilience from the editor-in-chief, and ending with a thought on craft from each contributor, Issue 24 shows just how crafty, how chameleon-like, craft can be.

Martha Park uses illustrations in her 15-page spread to tell the true story behind the empty parking lots in Roanoke, Virginia. Like many handmade crafts, this story is rooted in the past, when houses and neighbors were so close that a loaf of bread could be passed from one window to another.

Also bridging generations are Leslie Nichols’s textual portraits of six contemporary women using letters from the words of other women’s speeches, as well as a good old typewriter. From the strength of the expressions on these women’s faces, and the strength in the words that form them, you can hardly believe that they lie on such a fragile medium as paper.

This same duality between strength and fragility echoes throughout Issue 24. Nina Sudhaker makes two poems from hundred-year-old knitting patterns, and suddenly things like “lady’s capuchin hood” and “Crimean helmet” are made modern. Or, rather, Sudhaker reveals messages (on the finality of death, and the need to carry on) that never went out of style.

For a literary magazine, Ecotone’s Issue 24 shows how seamlessly images weave together with words. It also shows how close to being lost all craft is. Ellie A. Roger’s describes this fragility in her beautifully lyrical essay on learning to play the cello, called “Movements.” She says, as her teacher said to her, in grasping the cello’s neck, “imagine your thumb rests on a grape.” What better metaphor for the fragility of craft than a grape held in a hand? The need to “keep the grape safe” is as strong in Roger’s essay as it is throughout many other contributors’ work.

No more so than in one of this issue’s three short stories, this one by Jill McCorkle. In “The Lineman” the narrator struggles to maintain his relationship with his daughter and remembers a time in his youth when there was far more time for concentration—described by McCorkle as “like the sound at the end of an album before the needle is lifted.”

If silence can be called a sound, there is plenty of it resonating through Issue 24, especially in the poetry. George David Clark is one of a dozen featured poets but his poem, “Domestication of a Ceiling Fan” is one where silence, and space, resound. Rebecca Foust’s “how it works” and Courtney Lamar Charleston’s “Thugonomics” and “(Sub)Urban Dictionary” echo different sounds: In Foust is the quiet of passive aggressive strength; in Charleston’s poems is the persistent foot stamp of a voice needing to be heard.

Silence, as poet David Macey shows in his three-part poem called “Speech Delay,” is sometimes more powerful than sound. Reading this poem, you feel Macey’s struggle as he grapples with his daughter’s lack of speech, and as he tries to reassure himself of the strength in silence: “let silence teach the words that we cannot.”

Issue 24 ends with a note on craft from each contributor, and you can imagine how widespread, humorous, and right-on-the-money serious these notes are. In a few short pages, craft is compared to stabbing a pumpkin with a kitchen knife, tying knots you know how to tie, and a block of raw marble. Craft is lesson, a model for someone who observes you. Craft is an antidote; craft shows us how to live. There is no one way to describe craft, as these contributors show, but there is one definition that underlies all the rest. Poet Joshua Mehigan says, simply: Try.

And try we must, Issue 24 seems to say. Or else, craft is lost. Andrea Mummert Puccini’s essay “Snowflake No. 1” seems to be as much a homage to reviving her German heritage through crochet as it is a reverie of all the other crafts that have been lost. Perhaps that is why the editors of Ecotone introduced this issue with two notes, one a nitty gritty breakdown of editing, and the other a pump-you-up push to keep crafting.

What’s interesting about the second note, titled “Letter to an Apprentice,” is that it seems to be geared toward the new writer, though nearly every contributor in Issue 24 has numerous publications, books, and awards. Then again, perhaps all crafters remain apprentices, and are in need of the same hope and momentum to continue as anyone else—regardless of years of experience or publishing credits.

General submissions for Ecotone don’t open until August 15, and stay open only three weeks, so there is plenty of time to read this issue in full, especially the many, many worthwhile reads not mentioned in this short review.