What should a literary magazine look like? What form should a magazine of place take in the physical world? These were the questions faced, some eight years back, by Ecotone’s longtime art director, Emily Louise Smith.  

In answer, she imagined a thorough and smart update to the magazine’s design, one that still serves us. She had been working with Ecotone since its inception, when she was a graduate student at UNC Wilmington; she was designer for the magazine’s first two issues. In 2007, she returned to UNCW as a faculty member and adviser to Ecotone’s student designers, and in 2008 was officially named art director; all told, she has had a hand in twenty-two of the magazine’s twenty-seven issues to date. Also during that time, she co-founded our sister imprint, Lookout Books, which saw great success beginning with its earliest titles. To the work, she brought experience in book design, marketing, and more, and a rarely equaled passion for the art and craft of publishing. This magazine has been the beneficiary of her focused attention, her late nights, her love. 

So it is bittersweet to note that, last spring, Emily stepped away from art direction for the magazine, in order to focus her energies on Lookout and on her ongoing work as director of The Publishing Laboratory here in our creative writing department. The shift seems a fine occasion to pull efforts that normally happen behind the scenes into the spotlight. 

In a lush landscape of leaves, a tiny figure sits on a swing, oblivious to our gaze, almost hidden among all the green.

Much of good art direction, like good editing, is invisible; and at Ecotone, like editing, it happens in collaboration with students in our MFA program, in service of their learning. Emily spent countless hours with our student design team, teaching them the nuances of layout and spread design, helping them refine their work and thinking. She also designed or art-directed each of our covers, often commissioning custom artwork for them. Her sensibility—refined, elegant, but playful—helped convey both the seriousness of the concerns that attend writing of place, and the need for lightness and surprise in exploring them. I think of the cover for Ecotone 17, featuring a painting by Kirsten Sims: in a lush landscape of leaves, a tiny figure sits on a swing, oblivious to our gaze, almost hidden among all the green; the cover lines are assertive but not obtrusive, boldly visible but part of the landscape. Or for issue 23: a panoply of frogs—painted by Kelsey Oseid Wojciak, and chosen to complement Anya Groner’s essay in the issue on the chytrid pandemic that is killing frogs around the world—each of which Emily scooted around the page until these members of the order Anura were perfectly in order. For our Sustenance Issue, she sourced local produce, set up a photo shoot, and engaged large-format photographer Harry Taylor to make an image that perfectly conveys the issue’s theme.

Beyond design, she also brought excellent writing and art, from folks including A. H. Jerriod Avant, Belle Boggs, Joni Tevis, and Toni Tipton-Martin, to the editorial team’s attention and into our pages. In all this and more, she has helped Ecotone in its mission of looking unstintingly at place, both the loss and the love of it. 

Emily’s talent and dedication to her craft will continue to be felt here—our students will still have the benefit of learning from her, and our faculty will keep collaborating with her. To this magazine, she has offered not only a lasting interior and a legacy that will inform our covers for years to come, but an ethos of great care, of extreme attention to detail. We’re thankful for her work to make good writing look even better on the page; to give our students the tools to learn, practice, and excel as designers; to help bring our collective attention to questions in need of exploration. We’re lucky that, even as she moves toward new projects and challenges, she won’t be far away. 

With this issue we debut a new department, Various Instructions, in which writers and artists will offer lists, prompts, formulas, how-to’s, and the like. We’re reprinting here the inspiration for it: Eric Magrane’s “Various Instructions for the Practice of Poetic Field Research.” 

These instructions are an invitation to think deeply in and with place. They have proved enduring; I’ve been glad to use them in teaching and in my own poetic practice.

First published on the University of Arizona Poetry Center blog for National Poetry Month in 2012, and more recently in the anthology Big Energy Poets: Ecopoetry Thinks Climate Change, these instructions are an invitation to think deeply in and with place. They have proved enduring; I’ve been glad to use them in teaching and in my own poetic practice. If you have too, you may notice an update here: the final item reads “1.5 degrees Celsius warmer” rather than the original “three degrees Celsius warmer.” About the change, Eric writes: 

I wanted to aim for a more optimistic poetic imagining of the future: three degrees Celsius is more aligned with a projection for business as usual, while 1.5 degrees would require a much lower emissions pathway, and I’d like to imagine that. 

Try these venerable instructions out—at your own risk, I’m compelled to say—and then try Emily Kendal Frey’s inaugural entry in the department, a salutary ritual, replete with blanks for your filling in. 

I recommend spending a few summery hours with the rest of the issue too—there’s a tale of woe, from Mesha Maren, and one of wishes, from Erin Somers; a potent erasure of the U. S.–Mexico border, by Ana Teresa Fernández; a powerful Poem in a Landscape, from Kamilah Aisha Moon; and poems from Rosebud Ben-Oni, Matty Layne Glasgow, and Lesley Wheeler, among others. As we imagine what it would take for global temperatures to rise no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and as we work to make it so, I hope the writing and art herein provide both impetus to act, and occasion for well-deserved rest.