During the past nearly three years, we at Ecotone experienced some great luck—the company of Jason Bradford, our coeditor for poetry, and of his mother, Shirley Niedermann. Early this year, just after the semester’s first meeting of the graduate practicum that supports Ecotone, Jason went into the hospital. Six days later, he passed away.
Jason’s exceptional devotion to poetry was wide enough to encompass both his own craft and his work on behalf of poetic community. He saw the value of curation, of making homes for other people’s work—and in his time with this magazine, he sharpened his editorial skills and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. In that first meeting of the new year, I asked our MFA editors to talk about reading work in each of their genres. Jason employed a metaphor I’d heard him explore before. I think of the poem as a bubble, he said. As a reader, I don’t want the bubble to burst. I want to be in it, in that world, until the poem ends. Nothing in the poems he loved best jutted out to pop the bubble. Those poems moved unexpectedly, some of them, or they jarred or shocked, but all were complete unto themselves.
Jason talked about poetry in ways that made it not merely accessible for the nonpoets on the Ecotone team—he made it sound like the most interesting and vital thing you could find. Like something you could not not pay attention to. And in the light of his sharp, clear thoughts, we all paid it a closer and more careful kind of attention.
Jason used his own attention and energies more wisely than most people I know. That wisdom was born of experience and of necessity, as he lived with muscular dystrophy. He maintained his teaching schedule, his own coursework and writing, and his editorial responsibilities, with fierce focus and compassion.
Shirley continually set the stage for Jason to enact this expansive vision of a life in poetry.
Shirley continually set the stage for Jason to enact this expansive vision of a life in poetry—through his undergraduate work at Coe College and his MA at the University of Northern Iowa, and here at UNC Wilmington. She attended the Ecotone practicum, and our student editors’ meetings, with him each week—as she did for all his classes and activities—sitting by his side, helping him navigate the physical world. She didn’t speak very frequently in these meetings, but when she did, her additions to the conversation were always interesting, and often funny. She also brought fabulous snacks. The magazine workroom felt more like home with her there. But her first concern was making sure Jason had all he needed in order to do the work—physical, mental, social, spiritual—of poetry, and of editing.
This issue is the product of such work. One example: Ecotone’s genre editors read widely, both to understand the literary landscape better and to suggest writers whose work might be a good fit for the magazine. Over a year ago, Jason brought us a poem by Laurie Clements Lambeth, published in Bellevue Literary Review. His investigations often required more work than they would for most; he had to request PDFs of magazines in order to read them. He read it to us as part of a presentation on the magazine, and we were unanimously moved by it. It is because of his discerning eye that we have, in this issue, Laurie’s essay “Going Downhill from Here,” a complex, acute meditation on the act of walking, on falling, on the body’s capacities, and the mind’s.
In Ecotone 21 we have also an essay from Shuchi Saraswat, on the yearly Hindu ceremony that returns Ganesha to his home on Mount Kailasha; a piercing essay from Cary Holladay on the loss of friends and neighbors; a story of tigers in the Sundarbans, from Talia Lakshmi Kolluri; poems from Anne Barngrover, Zeina Hashem Beck, and Shara McCallum; and one of the last essays from another much-missed writer and beloved Ecotone contributor, Eva Saulitis. The MFA editorial team supported these works and more, in ways too many to count. Several of our editors are graduating this semester, and we wish them every opportunity to continue practicing the craft of editing and to excel in their own writing. Katie O’Reilly, Ryan Kaune, and Cathe Shubert, bon voyage! Particular thanks are also due to Stephanie Trott, Jason’s coeditor for poetry, who will continue in her work with the magazine next year.
Finally, we offer our heartfelt gratitude to Shirley. I began this note with luck, but here, as in many instances, good fortune is the result of great effort—both on Jason’s part and on his mother’s. Her gift to Jason, and to us, was a constancy of care and support. In the realm of possibility she created, Jason made his poetry—an impressive, urgent body of work, for which he has been awarded a posthumous MFA from UNC Wilmington. He offered his editorial sensibility, which inspired Ecotone’s staff and will continue to do so. And to so many—at UNCW and beyond—he gave his friendship. Thanks to Shirley, many of us were also able to be with him in his last days—days in which our community found itself closer and clearer than I had ever experienced it.
Shirley, we dedicate this issue to you, in celebration, and with love.
Jason’s poem “Approaching Limits at Carolina Beach,” first published in Rogue Agent, is reprinted in this issue.