From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
Greetings from Eclectica Magazine, here in January of 2019. I'm typing these words from my dining room table in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where it's an uncharacteristically dreary day, cold and wet. I'm listening to a YouTube recording of John Prine singing to Gordon Lightfoot at the House of Strombo, feeling nostalgic as all hell as another issue is about to hit the wires. Year number 23 is underway. My daughter just left for college (across town to the UNM dorms, but still). Jennifer Finstrom, who has been a part of the magazine for 19 years, is also hitting the road.
Jennifer first appeared in our pages in the Jan/Feb 2000 issue as the spotlight author and then became our poetry editor with the Oct/Nov 2005 issue. For several years now, she's also been contributing book reviews. Sadly for us, Jennifer has decided to reallocate to her day job the time she's been spending on editing, but I'm hopeful she'll continue to drop a poem or review on us now and then. She's had a heck of a run, she will be missed, and I wish her the best.
The proverbial "one door closes, and another one opens" means Jennifer's departure brings us the arrival of Evan Richards, our new poetry editor. Evan appeared in the Apr/May 2018 issue with his poem, "Sunday at North Pond." He's Jennifer's hand-picked successor, and I look forward to enjoying his contributions for what I hope will be many years to come.
Peter Bridges is our Spotlight Author. He wins that honor with his short story "The Tale of Igor," but Peter is no stranger to our pages, nor has his presence been restricted to the fiction section. This is his 12th appearance in Eclectica, and in addition to two previous fiction pieces, we have also featured his poetry and nonfiction. It's a pleasure to be able to recognize him.
Weighing in on David Ewald's comments below, where some people have supposedly groused about publications repeatedly featuring the same authors: I do so unapologetically. I'm thrilled to be able to say Peter Bridges has appeared in Eclectica a dozen times. Leaving aside the obvious differences between us and the New Yorker, I'm completely fine with having "repeat offenders" in common with them. They've published Alice Munro's fiction 58 times since 1977, and that's not counting her nonfiction entries. They have their community, and while it's a lot less celebrated, we have ours. One of which I'm extremely proud.
That said, for what it's worth, while we previously published Andrew Bertaina's nonfiction, this is his first short story with us, and the rest of the fiction authors in this issue are newcomers to Eclectica altogether. Bertaina's "Being and Time" is one of four stories in the fiction section, five counting Bridges' Spotlight piece. "Being" is the kind of story I'm especially fond of when it's done well, in that it treads the fine line between whimsical and morose—a line it seems only speculative stories can tread in quite this way. "Out of Visual Range" by Russell Carmony is also speculative, and it, too, pairs angst with the absurd. My guess is there are more than a few people who will read this story and relate to the real or imagined sense of invisibility it portrays.
Bridges' "Igor" occupies entirely different territory. It reads a little like a piece of nonfiction, and there's not a speculative bone in its body. The power of the story for me is in the believability of its narrator and the historic breadth of the narrative itself, which brings a generational swath of history into focus and connects it to the present like pinning a tail on a donkey... or maybe, if it's not too cute to say so, an elephant.
WWII is—ironically, given the title—not really the setting of Earl Fendelman's "What I Did in the War," but the war and the cavernous rifts it both reflected and created are central to this, another dignified, close-to-nonfiction story with a believable narrator and a historical relevance. [Shout out to Earl, by the way, who revealed (after his story was accepted, to his credit) that he and I both studied creative writing under the same professor in college, albeit several decades apart!]
"Hanged Man," by Don Stoll, is not speculative, nor does it read like nonfiction, so in that sense it's perhaps more the kind of story one expects to find in the fiction section of a literary publication. It's also the second story in as many issues (after Aidan O'Brien's "The Hierophant" in v22n4) to utilize a Tarot deck for its central thematic prop. I'm not sure if the streak is likely to continue, but there is certainly some rich Tarot imagery and symbolism yet to be mined via short fiction.
Speaking of imagery, if anyone is wondering about the artwork in this issue, it all came from a search for floral patterns in the public domain, to which I did some minimal editing in order to achieve what I hope turned out to be a reasonably cohesive and interesting look.
Before I bring this editor note to a close, I'd like to share a few quick news items about former contributors. Jascha Kessler let me know he recently released a 538 page collection of essays, appropriately titled Essays. Ben Daitz's documentary, The Medicine in Marijuana, is available for streaming. I've seen it, and it's both topical and well done. And he's not a former contributor, sadly, but Andrei Codrescu has been kind enough to smile on us in the past, and I'm happy to mention his new collection of poems, No Time Like Now.
That's all I've got. Please enjoy the issue, and may 2019 be a good year for you.
From David Ewald, Nonfiction, Travel, and Miscellany Editor
Obsession: I knew it well. So did Leigh Stevens, whose open letter, written to a man identified only as "S" and titled "Return Address: The Labyrinth," strikes me as symptomatic of the tail-end of the 20-teens: how, through technology, the use of which has become akin to breathing, we are able to access the lives of others, and how we can be fooled and manipulated by those we trust and love (and fool ourselves as well), how we are still so far away from those we think we want, we think we need.
It's an illusion of course, aided by the screen. There's something profoundly sad about Ms. Stevens's piece—and also something daring in her willingness to let this part of her life go in such a public way. Once you write it, no one can take it from you. No one.
"Return Address: The Labyrinth" is just the start; all three pieces I accepted for this issue in Nonfiction and Travel were strong contenders for the Spotlight Author nomination. That nomination ultimately went to Terry Barr, who has published with Eclectica a few times before and whose latest offering, "Goin' Up the Country," functions on multiple levels: as a travelogue of much that is weird, wonderful and wicked about the author's home state of Alabama, as a memoir of time spent with a parent who has recently passed on, and as a political commentary on the brittle social fabric of the Deep South. All the best of Mr. Barr is on display in this one: his easy-going, accessible voice, his sharp descriptions of those accompanying him on the trip, the strong sense of history and how it still matters in the present and future. The subject matter alone wasn't want made me think of Joan Didion's South and West: From a Notebook; Mr. Barr is a first-rate essayist and memoirist, and I'm proud to have his work in the pages of Eclectica.
Winter just wouldn't be winter if we didn't publish a piece about surviving a massive snow storm in the Himalayas, so along comes "Shadow and Light: Surviving a Himalayan Tempest" by former pilot and journalist Nate Ferguson. In the tradition of Jon Krakauer (think Into Thin Air, naturally), Mr. Ferguson, although part of the action, chooses wisely to focus attention on those around him—his fellow tourist-climbers, the sherpas, even his wife. Ferguson's writing makes for a gripping read, one that has again made me reconsider those ideas knocking around in my head about one day going up those mountains and contributing to that situation.
On a final note for the new year, I'd like to address a comment made on Twitter that may not have been directed at Eclectica but applies to this magazine regardless. A user bemoaned literary journals that publish the same writers over and over again, with little to no breaks in the author appearances. This user suggested journals publish frequent contributors at most once a year, with a publication every other year even more the ideal.
From where I stand as Nonfiction, Travel and Miscellany Editor at Eclectica, I don't think much of the fact that I've published authors multiple times, and many of these authors have made consecutive appearances. I publish based on only one thing: the work submitted. If it's good, it's likely going in. If it's not good, it won't. I've rejected frequent contributors based on the work they've submitted. But, when it comes down to a decision, I'd much rather publish something worth reading, regardless of who wrote it and when, than give the piece up to another venue. I'm selfish-competitive like that. In this day and age, one has to be.
From Gilbert S. Purdy, Review Editor
The review section is as replete with high quality work as it has been in quite some time. Peter Amos has returned to our pages, this time to review Annie Lowrey's Give People Money and to reflect upon Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King. While Jennifer Finstrom is in the process of stepping away as our poetry editor, she is still reviewing two poets who previously appeared in Eclectica. In this issue she reviews Unforgetting by Christine Potter and The Night Before Snow by Jude Goodwin. Among Ann Skea's contributions is a review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol 2: 1956-1963.
Paul Holler also has added to his Eclectica oeuvre. On this occasion he has interviewed yours truly about the scholarly side of my efforts. I've added reviews of my own of A. M. Juster's Elegies of Maximianus and Jericho Brown's The Tradition.
As always, I would like to invite anyone who might read this to send along reviews of books, art, music, cultural organizations, companies, and events—local, regional, national, and international—and cultural crit pieces on the same. Feel free to do so as a one-off or more or less regularly as works for you. I look forward to expanding the Review/Interview Section during the months ahead, to include a wide range of lively, insightful (even quirky) cultural crit. I hope you will stop by to read and/or submit.
From Evan Richards, Incoming Poetry Editor
The year has just begun, and already it has provided so much.
Co-editing this issue with Jen has been a wonderful opportunity. She is a fantastic poet and editor, and I've learned much from her in the process of this poetry section and in our time spent in the same Chicago writing circles. That being said, the occasion is also cause for a bit of melancholy—this issue is Jen's last as Eclectica's poetry editor. I don't want to speak in her place, but suffice it for me to say that she has led an amazing tenure and that the editors, contributors, and readers of Eclectica surely appreciate the work that she has done in supporting this publication.
I'm incredibly honored to continue on as poetry editor, and I'm thrilled to join the Eclectica team. Although I—regrettably—can't be Jen, I hope to emulate her care and dedication to writers and readers. I love getting the chance to read all of the fantastic submissions that Eclectica contributors send in, and I look forward to doing my part in helping Eclectica to continue to provide a platform for quality writing of all kinds.
Speaking of which, the Word Poem feature is as exciting as ever, with a mix of new and returning voices. I hope everyone enjoys reading through them and discovering their many uses of the simplest polygon as much as I have. And, to subject no poet to any word challenge we wouldn't dare face ourselves, please enjoy the humble contributions from me and Jen.
The Poetry section brings images of cold that feel quite at home in these midwinter months—the not-yet-frozen body of a cardinal in Matt Morgan's "Winter, Two Weeks," halo-hazing clouds in Christine Potter's "A Gift," snow falling over a train station in Priyam Goswami Choudhury's "Pigeon Flying." Yet there are images of heat, too, including a ticking radiator in John Ziegler's "Chestnuts," a good lobster stew in Virginia Folger's "Insomnia," and the flames of a crematorium in Mala Rupnarain's "suit and bone." There is so much more waiting to be enjoyed this issue, but for the moment, in this note, I'm content to reflect on the many forms of warmth and lack thereof.
From Jennifer Finstrom, Outgoing Poetry Editor
"Writing is always better with other people" is something that I said in my introduction to Eclectica's 20th anniversary poetry anthology in 2016, and if there is one sentence that describes how I feel as an editor, as a teacher of writing, as a writing tutor, and, of course, as a writer, that would be it—and I'm certain that will never change. As I wrap up my time as poetry editor, I'm grateful for so many of those people who make up my writing community, and as always, seeing so many familiar names in both the "regular" poetry section and the Word Poem Special Feature makes me so very happy, as does seeing all of the "new" writers I've been able to meet through their work! I'll say a bit more about all of those poets in a moment, but first there are some other members of my writing community to thank.
Being Eclectica's poetry editor since the Oct/Nov issue of 2005 has done so much to inform my identity as a writer, and it was something that I took with me into the new opportunities that followed when I returned to school in 2008 and started first tutoring and then teaching. Having the opportunity to contribute poems to Julie King, then poetry editor and wonderful mentor, and then to collaborate with Tom Dooley and other exemplary editors like David Ewald and Gilbert Wesley Purdy for so many years will always be foundational elements in my life as a writer. And while I'm certainly feeling nostalgic as I write this, more than anything else, I'm excited to see what the future holds. I know firsthand that Evan Richards will bring so much care and respect and thoughtful reading to poetry submissions for upcoming issues. I couldn't have more any confidence in Evan's success than I already do.
I've always loved how Eclectica is such a blend of regular contributors who are like family and new voices that we're excited to meet. This issue holds several such new voices, and I was delighted to welcome the following poets to these virtual pages: Spotlight Author Runner-Up Mala Rupnarain, Nicole Perez, Matt Morgan, Stephanie L. Harper, Eric Steere, and John Ziegler. And as I mentioned earlier, the number of regular contributors is always astonishing. In this issue, find the work of Judy Kaber, Antonia Clark, Barbara De Franceschi (whose work was in the very first issue that I edited!), Bob Bradshaw, Steven Deutsch, Miriam Kotzin, Christine Potter (please see also my review of her book in the Reviews section—I love this book!), Sharon F. McDermott, Kami Westhoff (new to poetry but who had a fiction piece in April/May 2017), Tim Hawkins, Virginia Folger, and Priyam Goswami Choudhury.
I also said in the introduction to that anniversary poetry anthology that I wasn't certain when all the poets that I was meeting online started to become friends. That they are friends now is absolutely certain, and even though I'm leaving this particular role behind, I'm not leaving behind those important connections—or my constant endorsement of this wonderful journal. I'm thrilled to see Eclectica enter its 23rd year, and I'm wishing you all so much joy in 2019!