On Craft

Twenty-five Sentences from Ecotone Contributors

As we planned and dreamed about this issue of Ecotone, we wanted to include work that explores craft of many kinds, work that makes us think about the act of making in new ways. We talked about craft shaped by place, and about place shaped by craft; about craft as a means of resilience and resistance, of cultural and bodily and ecological survival. We wanted to hear, in turn, what hopes and concerns about craft, writerly and / or otherwise, the writers and artists who are part of the issue might have. So we asked them. The only constraint we gave was that they fit their thoughts into a single sentence. The sentence, we noted, could be quite short or could extend, the way some do, to include a lot. In reply, we received twenty-five sentences, which we are happy to share here—more than enough for each hour of a well-spent day.
      —Anna Lena Phillips Bell


It is the obligation of the artist in whatever she crafts—a garment, a symphony, a poem—to bear witness.
—Lynne Thompson


Craft is creating skillfully, of course, but also it is clever deception, and I figure that good writing is the skillful use of deception to make some truths clearer to both the reader and the writer.
—Farah Ali


Craft is hot emotions in cold containers; craft is the raft we’re sailing these rapids on, out to sea.
—David Macey


I think of writing in form as the discovery of an underground spring, with rhyme as a ladder into the dark of the subconscious and meter as the unchecked flow I find there.
—Maryann Corbett


I am fond of creating erasures because they are a hands-on reminder of the infinite possibilities of language; in making them, I recall that the same enormous body of words can produce a boilerplate contract, a lyric poem, an educational tract, and a Nabokovian sentence, and that any piece of text can be a block of raw marble, rife with inherent potential, waiting to be sculpted into a new shape.
—Nina Sudhakar


Craft for me is all about assembling pieces—a collage, a crazy quilt—of voice and memory.
—Jill McCorkle


I’ve been thinking lately about craftsmanship’s ability to deceive; an art forger’s painting can be just as well crafted as an original artist’s, yet it is still fraudulent, inauthentic, less than, and I wonder whether something similar can be true of a story or a poem, even if it has not necessarily been “stolen”: is it possible for a piece of writing to be impeccably crafted, to hit all the right notes, to deploy language and structure in ways that feel just right, and yet to still be, in some essential way, fraudulent?
—Alexis Schaitkin


Craft, like a vessel, can be both something like an urn, which gives form to shapeless water, and a boat, which offers a way through waters vast and uncontainable.
—Ellie A. Rogers


The real skill in any craft, whether in writing or metalwork, is to let each piece guide you to what it is.
—Dawn Manning


Sometimes I jam my black-handled kitchen knife into a pumpkin and it sticks there as if the strings in the middle had grabbed on to the blade and tightened their grip, and at these time, mid-October, jack-o-lantern days, days before a killing frost, I call out for help.
—Athena Kildegaard


Like a great soup stock, good craft takes time to develop, and can be appreciated on its own, but can be transformative when it is a foundation for thoughtfully combined ingredients and ideas.
—Leslie Nichols


For years I’ve owned a large accordion folder on the outside of which is written art thots and inside of which small scrawls are archived, including one that reads: Writers naturally tend to choose material they know they can control or fathom—it’s the first and often a fatal mistake, there not being enough about the prose that’s inadvertent, inconvenient, awkward, unsettling.
—Ben Miller


To craft is, beyond all else, to be patient—alternating between attention and respite—which allows the ideas to shift and life to move along, offering new understandings to the creative work.
—Lauren Camp


Character, they say, is who you are when nobody’s watching—more or less, this is when the writing happens, in moments where isolation intersects inspiration, which begs the question of how writing and writer, regardless of form or genre, are related or should be—and I believe the key here is realizing that a writer cannot fully master the craft of writing unless they are equally devoted to the writing of their life, refining in perpetuity, self-improvement giving way to self-improvement, self-­empowerment giving way to self-­empowerment, and this parallel process, perhaps, helping to give someone observing you in anonymity the model they need when they are alone with their own ambitions on the page and in the defining of their personhood.
—Cortney Lamar Charleston


The violinist’s fine muscles sing to the grain of the instrument’s wood; after the concert, we walk home past a harp hung in a tree to vibrate along our way—and later we sleep warm under a quilt, shifting in our dreams beneath the tiny stitches.
—Molly Tenenbaum


My friend Joe Manning says, in his book Certain Relevant Passages, something that applies to maritime line-handling but also to printmaking tricks and all those nifty embroidery stitches: there are “the knots you know how to tie, and the one another guy is getting ready to show you.”
—Martha Park


Craft, for me, is the thoughtful, intentional, questioning, two-way interweaving between my mind and the material in my hands—whether that’s a camera, a computer, a printing plate, or a building.
—John Labovitz


—Joshua Mehigan


Small Craft Advisory: in the call for work for this issue of Ecotone, the phrase “craft as activism” spoke to me, and I thought of a recent piece in Yes magazine describing the author’s experience of learning how to use a kayak as tool of protest; craft is the vehicle that carries us where we need to go to do what we need to do.
—Rebecca Foust


Poems debride our wounds—individual and collective—by cutting away the nonfunctional, breaking the rotten and rank of our lives down to syllable and sound; and through this mechanism of pain, poems let the pulse surface anew till we are in it bleeding again, surging with recombined words and lines, hopeful that they start the tissues’ reknitting, that scars form new topographies of song we didn’t know we needed, or know our aching was, all along—
—Cate Lycurgus


Unlike poems, craft cannot be faked, and yet that won’t ensure a highly crafted poem is authentic.
—George David Clark


So many days a poet sits in front of a screen or staring at a blank page, but I believe in our beautiful and bruised hands, and so I’m reminded to poet means to make—sometimes I have my students revise with glue sticks and construction paper, make illuminated poems, write a line on the sidewalk with stick, water, and mud; sometimes we make matchbook poems, small poems written on the pages of a handmade notepad, tucked and folded under a cover made of paint chips; sometimes we use our hands to write lines with colored inks, with chunky markers on butcher paper; we scrawl on a bowling ball, scratch words into an album thrifted for a dollar—and I often find that, in creating a three-dimensional object, we uncover new horizons previously unfelt and unseen, in the musculature of the line and in the spiderwebs of sound.
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil


Making something—a craft—turns a moment of attention into a physical object that will persist through time, connecting the future to that past moment of making.
—Andrea Mummert Puccini


Craft is our antidote.
—Bridget Elmer


Craft shows us how to live: deliberately, conscientiously, mindfully, and as well as we possibly can.
—Emily Larned