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50 notes on, against, and around the lyric essay.

March 8, 2012 \pm\31 3:20 pm


  1. March 8, 2012 \pm\31 4:17 pm 4:17 pm

    I think it’s possible that the lyric essay as a term was plucked from nowhere and set up as a gimmick so writers who usually write poems can *publish* their work somewhere other than in places that typically publish poetry. Publishing a poem in the New Yorker or Boston Review, magazines filled with other types of content, obviously only increases the competition for poets if only one or two or four poems appear in that particular magazine’s pages each issue. The printed pages of an easy-breezy nonnarrative lyric essay can be held up prominently on the train ride to work–anyone caught reading a lyric essay would certainly seem very litarary. It certainly sounds more literary than the word essay as a standalone. Most hear “essay” and think “what I did on my summer vacation” and not necessarily Montaigne.

    ‘Lyric’ essay as a term (it’s like oatmeal) probably settles in the stomach a bit better for the writer who might rather be publishing a poem alongside a Tomaž Šalamun than publishing an essay, however lyric it may be. (Also, a quibble: Wasn’t L. Bangs writing rock criticism?) Anyway, if the above is a lyric essay, I dove in naked and it was a refreshing 20 minutes of playing hooky this afternoon. A+

    • March 8, 2012 \pm\31 4:35 pm 4:35 pm

      Thanks for reading and writing, Larry. Too many people in the micro-corner of lit-land fail to see how poetryland infiltrated this lyric essay-naming bid-ness and continue to do so. The idea of setting up a whole DMZ safespace genre just so people can feel comfortable makes me cringe, in the same way you addressed today how poetry books are consumed rather than read. It’s more about market than readership and I do think there is a difference.

      PS I “count” Lester as an essayist, but as you say, yes, he sure was a rock critic.

  2. March 8, 2012 \pm\31 4:24 pm 4:24 pm

    The more any writing resembles a gossip collage the more it sometimes seems like lit-tra-chure to me. I less anti-narrative and more anti-boredom. Stop. Writers of many forms lately don’t seem to be doing anything that compells me to keep reading, we need more humor, more responses to the world and if the lyric assay is the glass for that drink – hooray!

  3. March 8, 2012 \pm\31 8:42 pm 8:42 pm

    Wow, damn — a lot of thinking here, Daniel. I’ve had a long day — fun but long. But, I’ll be back. I want to talk about this stuff more, much more.

    And thanks for linking to my Dear John letter.

  4. March 10, 2012 \am\31 10:07 am 10:07 am

    i don’t any smart commentary, just wanted to say i really enjoyed this.

  5. March 11, 2012 \am\31 9:27 am 9:27 am provides the following definition of “lyric essay”:

    The “Lyric Essay” is quite simply a title for an odd range of hybrids. If it’s not entirely a poem, fiction, non-fiction, or an essay, but straddles those categories, it is most likely a lyric essay. This is just a very rudimentary description of what a lyric essay entails, however. Aesthetically there is usually some sort of rhythm or logic to the language. The diction is often as carefully chosen as with a poem. Its paragraphs are organized like an essay’s, with a topic sentences, and its whole is organized like a piece of fiction or non-fiction–leaping around is common if not encouraged between paragraphs and no underlying structure is necessary. Lastly, the lyric essay is different, it should not conform completely to any standards, it is an individual and fiercely so.

    Translation: There’s no definition of “lyric essay.”

  6. March 20, 2012 \am\31 8:18 am 8:18 am

    Great stuff, Daniel.

  7. March 24, 2012 \am\31 1:31 am 1:31 am

    What’s the backstory behind the GIF? I can’t stop watching it. Even after trying to dive into the points list.


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