What is Lyric Essay? A Brief Outline

posted in: Writer's Craft | 1

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
huge fists
calloused knuckles
beer bellied

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.

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Follow Kaye Linden:

Kaye Linden, born and raised in Australia, is a registered nurse with an MFA in fiction, now studying for an MFA in poetry. She is the current 2017 flash story editor, and past poetry and short fiction editor, with the Bacopa Literary Review; teacher of short fiction; assistant editor for Soundings Review; previous judge for Spark Anthology; and medical editor for “PRESENT e-Learning Systems.” Linden is a prolific award-winning writer in all genres but especially favors writing prose poetry and short stories. She is now writing a “Tips” series for writers. First in the series is 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, and 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems is now available. www.kayelinden.com

One Response

  1. Connie Morrison

    Hi Kaye, This sounds a little like free writing. I’m eager to try the exercise, and thanks for sharing this.