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“We turn to the lyric essay—with its malleability, ingenuity, immediacy, complexity, and use of poetic language—to give us a fresh way to make music of the world.” -Deborah Tall
Slippery by definition, lyric essays break the boundaries of traditional form, combine conventions of different genres, and oftentimes deeply invest in acts of inquiry, excavation, experimentation, polyvocality, and curation. As Deborah Tall and John D’Agata mention in their formal introduction of the term (Seneca Review, 1997), the lyric essay “give[s] primacy to artfulness over the conveying of information . . . forsake[s] narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation.” While the lyric essay manifests in myriad forms, in this seminar we will explore some of the forms that tend to be used with some frequency: braided, collage, and “hermit-crab” essays, in addition to flash nonfiction and prose poems.
Lyric essays are unique in the ways they can enable a writer to explore innovative approaches to old material, make use of formal constraints to inspire new possibilities, allow for the integration and/or curation of found artifacts, provide a means to experiment with difficult, copious, or fragmentary material, and invite readers to engage with participatory forms of language and synthesis. We’ll discuss formal aspects of craft as well as specific circumstance in which working with the form of the lyric essay may prove, for poets and nonfiction writers alike, distinctly compelling.