Writing the lyric essay offers the author a frolic in the pool of memoir, biography, poetry and personal essay mixed with a sprinkling of experimental. Sound confusing? It can be. I am currently learning to write lyric essay and often trip over my fiction background in presenting my “truth” with a poetic lilt. It takes some practice to “get” this form. However, it is now my favorite genre next to prose poetry and flash fiction. In lyric essay the narrative might break up into sections, evolve and trail away into white space, poetry and often, repetition.The author’s imagination can explode with the possibilities.
Lyric essay flourishes with the braiding of multiple themes, a back and forth weave of story and implication, the bending of narrative shape and insertion of poetic device such as broken lines, white space and repetition. There is a similarity between this form and flash fiction or prose poetry. In this genre, the author must offer his/her truth, a unique perspective, whatever that might be.
An excerpt from Anne Carson’s Beauty and the Husband demonstrates how this form lends itself to the wild and experimental. [Editor’s Note: Read the excerpt by following the link and clicking “Read an Excerpt” below the image of the book cover.]
The following lines are a sample from an essay I wrote. It further demonstrates this form’s experimentation with memoir, truth and form.
My father insisted on bringing his best friend—the ginger-haired man he encouraged my mother to see every day. His large frame shadowed the paths along which he walked. He tossed me onto his shoulders and neighed like a horse with beer breath, everyone laughing at his Australian humor. They told me to call him “Uncle.” But he wasn’t a blood uncle, just a “close friend” who should be “respected” like an uncle.
heavily freckled arms
muscled all over
punch worthy body
Here’s an exercise to practice writing a lyric essay.
Take three objects at random from your kitchen or desk drawer. Write a paragraph or a poem about what each one says to you, triggers or suggests. Set the timer for fifteen minutes. At the end, decide what themes connect these memories. Braid them together into a story. Experiment with form, using poetic devices such as repetition, broken lines and white space. Create a memoir byte in the reader’s mind and let them hear your story through this interesting format. Lyric essay can be short or long. Have a friend read what you wrote or post it on your blog.
Enjoy playing with this wild card, the lyric essay.
- Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs, Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, ed.
- Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola.
- A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes (trans. Richard Howard)
- Bluets by Maggie Nelson