Search form, sing, circle, leap: tracing the movements of the american lyric essay.

My journey into the expanse of the lyric essay began when I opened Maggie Nelson’s Bluets . At that time, I had been writing poetry for over ten years, exploring motherhood, mental health, and my Asian American heritage. I saw my work as lyric poetry that drew from the bloodlines of my first love, Sharon Olds, and her transformative poem, “Monarchs.”

Until Bluets , I had viewed the essay through the lens of my high school and undergraduate education: as a rigid box that enclosed a thesis supported by three or more paragraphs of argument sealed in by the packing tape of a conclusion. To me, there was no similarity between poetry’s lush landscape and the corrugated angles of prose.

But fifteen years after graduation from college, I sat on a worn chenille sofa in my living room with Bluets in my hands. I read Nelson’s first lines: “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession . . .” The slim book fell from my fingers as a chord reverberated within me. My body knew that Nelson’s work was more than strict, formal prose. Within my marrow, Bluets sang and shifted; its music, undeniable. Why, when I read her prose, did my breath quicken, and my chest throb as if I was reading a poem? Where was Nelson’s thesis? Where were her essay’s harsh lines?

That was my introduction to the American lyric essay. A transmutable beast, the lyric essay roams a borderless landscape. I ride on its slick back, scanning the rolling hillsides. Prairie grass brushes against my thighs, sunlight ebbing in and out of towering clouds. The fragrance of honeysuckle weaves into the upturned earth’s musk. The lyric essay ambles and leaps, circling fields blue with cornflower.

In “Out of and Back into the Box: Redefining Essays and Options,” Melissa A. Goldthwaite explores the landscape of the essay. “The page,” she writes, “is an open field, not a box to fill with other box-like structures . . . There are few, if any, right angles in nature. I can think of no natural squares—just hills and uneven slopes, rounded flower petals, curved riverbank, beautifully twisted trees.” To Goldthwaite, the essay resides in many forms: “a tree, a glove, a fish, a fist, a container, an alternative, a poem, a story, and question.”

If an essay flows from form to form, how can it be contained? How can the lyric essay be defined? In my correspondence with Goldthwaite, she answered: there is always the desire to hem in prose, to categorize or label. Even the lyric essay can be “taught [or defined] in rigid ways.”

Perhaps my desire for a concrete answer stems from my training as a chemist and molecular biologist. In the laboratory, I titrated analytes to determine their concentration down to two decimal places. I swelled with satisfaction as I studied the immutable code for DNA strictly defined by the pairings of nucleic acids: adenine with thymine and guanine with cytosine. Though I left the scientific world nearly twenty years ago to become an artist and writer, the desire for precise measurements and definitions still lingers.

In my conversation with the poet Jos Charles, we ruminated on the question again: what is the lyric essay? Perhaps as Charles proposes, the definition of the lyric essay is a Western invention, one that readers try to impose on prose works. Am I trying to cram a mountain into the form of a dogwood blossom? When does the search for definitive truth end in the marring of beauty and wonder?

Werner Heisenberg, a leader in the field of quantum mechanics, proposed that it was impossible to pinpoint the precise location of an electron in space and also determine its momentum. From the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the shapes of electron orbitals were born. These orbitals take the form of spheres or intricate petals extending from an atom’s nucleus, showing the possible position of an electron at any given time. Perhaps Heisenberg’s principle can be applied to the lyric essay, so that its essence resides in an approximate form, a form that shifts according to time and space.

The term “lyric essay” was introduced by Deborah Tall and John D’Agata in the Seneca Review in 1997. This “dense” and “shapely form,” write Tall and D’Agata, “straddles the essay and the lyric poem . . . forsak[ing] narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation.” In this way, the lyric essay “spirals in on itself, circling a single image or idea . . . [it] stalks its subject like quarry but is never content to merely explain or confess.”

In her 2007 essay, “Mending Wall,” Judith Kitchen writes that “the job of the lyric essayist is to find the prosody of fact, finger the emotional instrument, play the intuitive and the intrinsic, but all in service to the music of the real. Even if it’s an imagined actuality. The aim is to make of , not up .” The musical lyric essay is a “lyre, not a liar.”

I believe that the intent of the lyric essay has shifted since “Mending Wall.” Though the lyric essay still searches out truth, it has become more and more uncertain of what the truth is. Its emphasis has changed from navigating a singular truth to reflecting multiple truths.

Why has the lyric essay become more uncertain? It may be, as the essayist Aviya Kushner proposes, that the world itself has become exponentially complex, making it difficult to pinpoint universal truths. Perhaps, the lyric essay reflects humanity’s fragmentation, the exchange of ultimate truths for the truths of individual experiences.

Even the definition of the lyric essay is evasive, the essay’s meaning shifting over time and space. This is where the scientist in me struggles. I dislike this level of uncertainty. The lyric essay shifts under my gaze, glinting like a emerald’s countless facets. I fear that by searching to define the lyric essay, I will become lost within its prism. I feel my way through the dazzling light, the reverberating haze.

I must come to some form of conclusion. How can I speak about something that seems impossible to define? Perhaps, as Jos Charles ponders, the lyric essay evades definition because the lyric essay doesn’t exist as a form. Instead of a lyric essay, perhaps there is, as the scholars Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins propose, a form of “lyric reading,” an agreement between the writer and reader. Perhaps the essay signals to the reader: Approach this piece lyrically. Once the reader enters this agreement, they succumb to the essay’s musicality, rhythm, leaps in logic, and fragmentation.

Though the lyric essay is a wild, changeable beast, attempts have been made to contain it. In the introduction to A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays , Randon Billings Noble attempts to outline the lyric essay. The lyric essay, she states, is “a piece of writing with a visible/stand-out/unusual structure that explores/forecasts/gestures to an idea in an unexpected way.” Noble then motions toward some of the current forms of the lyric essay, including the segmented essay, separated into sections through number, title, or white space and the braided essay, with its woven, repeated themes.

In my mind, a pattern emerges, an outline within the mist. Though difficult to define, the lyric essay contains elements that separate it from the rigid forms of my high school and undergraduate years. Unlike the traditional essay that is bound to a thesis, the lyric essay is a cloud of thought hovering around a question. However, as Noble writes, though the lyric essay is “slippery,” it must take on the responsibilities of an essay, “to try to figure something out, to play with ideas, to show a shift in thinking.” An essay, at its heart, is an exploration of truth, a straddling of black and white.

To me, the American lyric essay diverges from the traditional argument of the essay and its narrative counterpart, the personal essay, in three ways. Like a poem, the lyric essay might have honed rhythm and sound. It also diverges from narrative structures and instead revolves around themes. The lyric essay might also transition intuitively from concept to concept.

In this way, the lyric essay sings, circles, and leaps. These elements of the lyric essay can be explored through Lidia Yuknavitch’s Chronology of Water , Maggie Nelson’s Bluets , and Chet’la Sebree’s Field Study .

In her extended craft essay, The Art of Syntax , Ellen Bryant Voigt argues that syntax propels the musicality and rhythm of lyric poetry. The language spoken by “ordinary human beings” is elevated to poetry by the “echoes of more regular patterns of song.” By linking verse to “ordinary” spoken language, Voigt bridges the gap between poetry and prose. In this way, I believe, syntax plays the same role in lyric essay as it does in lyric poetry: it drives the musicality of language, thus propelling the essay from beginning to end.

Syntax can be described as the chunking of language in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. Syntax, Voigt adds, is a “flexible calculus” that creates meaning. Within the lyric essay, syntax unfurls a sonic landscape of expansive rhythm and song.

As the psychologists and researchers Laura Batterink and Helen J. Neville state, the human brain navigates syntax “outside the window of conscious awareness.” Since the areas of the brain that process syntax are adjacent to those that process music, the reader instantaneously experiences the music of lyrical language.

Robert Frost writes that “the surest way to reach the heart [of the reader] is through the ear . . . By arrangement and choice of words on the part of the poet, the effects of humor, pathos, hysteria, and anger, and in fact all effects, can be indicated or obtained.” When the reader encounters the cloud of the lyric essay, they instantaneously experience its music, its murmuring, electrical hum. This is especially true in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water , where syntax carries not only the rhythm and sound of her prose, but also its emotional intensity.

In her lyric essay collection, Yuknavitch navigates her chaotic childhood, her passion for swimming, and the power she summons through her transformation into a writer. In her first piece, “The Chronology of Water,” Yuknavitch harnesses the power of syntax. She writes: “The day my daughter was stillborn, after I held the future pink and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her, then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.”

Here, Yuknavitch carries the reader through the birth of the speaker’s stillborn daughter through what Voigt refers to as “right-branching” syntax. In this form, phrases extend outward carried by similar language. In this passage, the grammatical chunks are separated by the preposition “after” and the conjunction “then.”

Using right-branching syntax, Yuknavitch describes the scene in which the speaker’s daughter is passed from her to her sister, husband, and mother, and then out of the hospital room. At the end of this extended sentence, the right-branching syntax halts. Yuknavitch crafts the sentence in waves: “after . . . after . . . then . . . then . . . then . . .” until the rhythm breaks on the rocks of the independent clause: “the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge.” The abrupt change in syntax silences the essay’s musicality. There isn’t a miraculous revival; with the passing of her daughter, the speaker is left with grief.

When Yuknavitch’s language carries me away, I must depart from the marching tradition of prose and drift into the lyrical. With her, all I hear is the water and the sounds of mourning. This is the mystic power of the lyric essay: it sweeps the reader up into its wave. The lyric essay becomes the reader, the reader becomes the song.

Frost writes that “a sentence is not interesting merely in conveying a meaning of words. It must do something more: it must convey a meaning by sound.” If the sentence can be seen as the poetic line, then syntax can work in two ways within prose: to complement the sentence’s flow or to be, as Voigt states, in “muscular opposition” to it.

Yuknavitch’s Chronology of Water shows both of these abilities of syntax. In her essay “How to Ride a Bike,” Yuknavitch navigates the harrowing experience of her father forcing her to ride a bike down a steep hill:

Wind on my face my palms sting my knees hurt pressing backwards speed and speedspeedspeedspeed holding my breath and my skin tingling like it does in trees terrible spiders crawling my skin like up high as the grand canyon my head too hot turnturnturnturnturn I am turning I am braking I can’t feel my feet I can’t feel my legs I can’t feel my arms I can’t feel my hands my heart my father’s voice yelling good girl my father running down the hill my father who did this who pushed me my eyes closing my limbs going limp my letting go me letting go so sleepy so light floating floating objects speed eyes closed violent hitting object crashing nothing.

Here, Yuknavitch has chosen to break each sentence like a poetic line. In doing so, she has created a section of text that reads like a prose poem. The section is void of punctation until Yuknavitch lands on the collision with the “nothing.” In the absence of punctation, syntax governs the rhythm of the lines. The right-branching syntax of the repeated phrases: “. . . my palms sting my knees hurt . . .” in the beginning of the section churns like the pedals of a bike.

The compressed segments, “speedspeedspeedspeed” and “turnturnturnturnturn” act as turns within the prose poem, where syntactical tension matches the increased tension of the narrative. What follows are two right-branching segments: “I am turning I am braking I can’t feel / my feet I can’t feel my legs I can’t feel my arms I can’t feel my / hands my heart . . .” Again, syntax complements the narrative movement. As a reader, I am carried by the syntax, experiencing the speaker’s panic as the world spins out of control.

Sometimes, syntax can be used to restrain the flow of the sentence. In this case, syntax is in “muscular opposition” to the narrative. In “Illness as Metaphor,” Yuknavitch describes the four-week period in which her eleven-year-old self was ill with mononucleosis. During this time, she was under the supervision of her abusive father. Yuknavitch writes:

In my sickbed my father removed my sweat soaked clothing. My father redressed me in underwear and pretty night- gowns. My father stroked my hair. Kissed my skin. My father carried me to the bathtub and laid me down and washed me. Everywhere. My father dried me off in his arms and redressed me and carried me back to the bed. His skin the smell of ciga- rettes and Old Spice cologne. His yellowed fingers. The mountainous callous on his middle finger from all the years of holding a pen or pencil. His steel blue eyes. Twinning mine. The word “Baby.”

The syntax of the sentences is uneven, alternating between right-branched strands, such as “My father redressed me in underwear and pretty nightgowns. My father stroked my hair,” and chunks of sentence fragments: “Kissed my skin.”

As a reader, I desire to race through this piercing and troubling description, but Yuknavitch holds me to the page. The syntax of this section restrains the flow of the narrative, challenging me to take in the details one after the other, to experience, as Yuknavitch did, every excruciating moment. As Yuknavitch writes: “It’s language that’s letting me say that the days elongated, as if the very sun and moon had forsaken me. It’s narrative that makes things open up so I can tell this. It’s the yielding expanse of a white page.” With a steady, skilled hand, Yuknavitch holds back the current of the narrative using syntax that suspends the reader within the pain and power of the moment.

In “Mending Wall,” Kitchen makes a distinction between a lyrical essay and its lyric counterpart. “Any essay can be lyrical,” she writes, “as long as it pays attention to the sound of its language or the sweep of its cadences . . . A lyric essay, however, functions as a lyric .” Like the lyric poem, the lyric essay “swallows you . . . until you reside inside it.” In other words, an essay isn’t a lyric just because of its musical language. Rather than creating a linear narrative, the lyric essay encompasses the reader by circling an image or theme.

In some personal essays, the engine is the story. In “Picturing the Personal Essay: A Visual Guide,” Tim Bascom provides pictorial representations of different forms of personal essay. Bascom describes the form, “narrative with a lift,” as a chronology with tension that “forces the reader into a climb.” Jo Anne Beard’s essay “The Fourth State of Matter” is an example of this form. Bascom describes Beard’s essay as “a sequence of scenes [that] matches roughly the unfolding real events, but [has] suspense [that] pulls us along, represented by questions we want answered.”

Bascom also contemplates essays that are a “whorl of reflection.” These essays are “more topical or reflective,” eschewing the linear movement of time for a circling of a topic. This circling occurs organically, “allow[ing] for a wider variety of perspectives—illuminating the subject from multiple angles.”

I believe that some lyric essays are formed as these whorls. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is an example of elegant circling of image and theme. On the surface, Nelson’s long essay is the study of the color blue. The essay has 240 sections. Each section is interconnected with a focus on blue. “Each blue object,” Nelson muses, “could be a kind of burning bush, a secret code meant for a single agent, an X on a map too diffuse ever to be unfolded in entirety but that contains the knowable universe.”

Nelson finds blue in “shreds of blue garbage bags stuck in brambles,” a lapis lazuli tooth, the eyes of a martyred saint. Nelson also describes the absence of blue: “There is a color inside of the fucking, but it is not blue.” When others ask about Nelson’s fixation on the color, she responds: “We don’t get to choose what or whom we love . . . We just don’t get to choose.”

The image of blue swims within the pages of Bluets , flashing in and out of each condensed section. Nelson’s images are strong and visceral, but by themselves, they would be unable to hold my attention for the entire essay. Under the layered blue images is the theme of grief over the loss of an intimate relationship. Nelson introduces this theme early in the essay, in section 8: “‘We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it,’ wrote Goethe, and perhaps he is right. But I am not interested in longing to live in a world in which I already live. I don’t want to yearn for blue things, and God forbid for any ‘blueness.’ Above all, I want to stop missing you.” Just as Nelson leans on blue, she had placed her faith in her intimate partner.

As the essay progresses, loss widens and deepens like a sea. Nelson writes: “We mainly suppose the experiential quality to be an intrinsic quality of the physical object—this is the so-called systemic illusion of color. Perhaps it is also that of love. But I am not willing to go there—not just yet. I believed in you.”

Nelson provides scant details of her romantic partner. In sections 67–70, Nelson explores the mating habits of the satin bowerbird. The males, Nelson writes, “can attract thirty-three females to fuck per season if they put on a good enough show,” while the female “mates only once [and] incubates the eggs alone.” These sections hint at a loneliness caused by abandonment. Though the cause of the end of the relationship isn’t revealed, Nelson exposes its aftermath: “It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms.”

Bascom writes that “whorl of reflection” essays are driven not by plot, but by the intoxicating pleasure of new perspectives and insights. This is especially true for Bluets. A whorl of contemplation, it’s a lazy river that loops for countless miles. Within it, I sometimes drift along with the images of blue and themes of grief and loneliness. Sometimes, I stand up and push against them. This tension between push and pull keeps me engaged in Bluets , within its circling of blue.

In “A Taxonomy of Nonfiction; or the Pleasures of Precision,” Karen Babine meditates on the “lyric mode” of the essay, which is driven by language, not narrative. Heidi Czerwiec states that “there are essays that are circuitous, nonlinear, that spiral around a central concept, incident or image, accruing meaning as they move. No forks, no false moves, no misdirection, only perhaps a pleasant disorientation as the writing twists and turns.” Though lyric essays are nonlinear, they still have centers that “hold.” Though Bluets isn’t driven by narrative, it circles around image and theme. In addition, there is an undergirding question that holds the essay in a state of tension: how will the speaker survive her grief? The answer is delivered in the one of the last sections of the essay:

For to wish to forget how much you loved someone—and then, to actually forget—can feel, at times like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of our heart. I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender. Often I feel myself to be rocking between them (seasickness).

As Nelson releases herself from the relationship, I also experience freedom and resurface from Bluets transformed.

Like a moth drawn to candlelight, I’m drawn back to exploring the form of the lyric essay. Through the haze of light refracted through dust and smoke, I seek its outline, first through the essay’s musical language and then through its circling of themes. In my conversation with the poet and essayist Chet’la Sebree, we discussed the “machinery” of the lyric essay. Lyric essays hinge on “having a poetic quality.” They are constructed like a poem, creating “sense and meaning” through associative leaps.

My discussion with Sebree makes me return to the work of Sharon Olds. It was within the pages of Satan Says that I encountered “Monarchs,” the poem that entranced me with images of creatures “floating / south to their transformation, crossing over / borders in the night, the diffuse blood-red / cloud of them . . .” Olds’s elegant line breaks allow her images to fluidly flow from one line to the next. Through these breaks, Olds also guides me through associative leaps, helping me connect the speaker to her first lover and the butterflies:

The hinged print of my blood on your thighs— a winged creature pinned there— and then you left, as you were to leave over and over, the butterflies moving in masses past my window . . .

Here, the intimacy is visceral. The speaker, lover, and monarchs are placed closely on the page so that my eye and mind make the connection between them.

Through reflecting on Sebree and Olds’s work, I came to believe that there is a link between poetry and the lyric essay when it comes to leaps of logic. Within both practices, syntax and white space help to guide readers over the gaps between images, thoughts, and themes.

During our time together, Sebree and I discussed her work with the lyric essay. As she wrote Field Study , Sebree asked herself: “How can [I] make an individual thought beautiful?” To Sebree, each thought is an “isolated cube of language.” I believe that each “cube” is connected through the bridge of syntax. Syntax is “sonically driven” and allows the lyric essay to make “musical sense.”

In Field Study , Sebree shaped each of the lyric essay’s sections around sound and musicality. In one section, Sebree reflects on the Women’s March and its significance to white women and how she regards the march as a woman of color. Sebree’s discussion of the march extends over five paragraphs of varying length:

The Women’s March meant a lot to a lot of women in my life.  By a lot of women in my life, I mean the 50% of my friends that are white.  With them, I don’t have to differentiate between “women” and “white women” because When I say “women,” at least 53% of the time people—and by “people,” I mean “white people”—will assume I mean “white women.”  These percentages are fake as fake news but this fact is not: white people see whiteness as universal.  There is no appropriate antonym for those of us who are not.

The first two paragraphs consist of one sentence each. In the second paragraph, Sebree uses assonance to create a couplet of “life” and “white.” This paragraph is carefully arranged so that “life” and “white” are placed in close visual proximity. The syntax of the sentence facilitates this visual coupling by placing the shorter dependent clause before the longer independent clause.

Within Field Study , associative leaps follow couplets. In the case of the Women’s March section, I am primed by the couplets to expect a shift in focus from Sebree’s description of her friends to the exclusion of Black women from the definition of “women.” The couplet, “life” and “white,” provides the reader and speaker an opportunity to “come up for air” before a plunge into the difficult topic of erasure. Sebree writes: “white people see whiteness / as universal.”

In Field Study , Sebree also uses white space to facilitate associative leaps. After the section about the Women’s March, Sebree adds a quote from Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda:

To say this . . . is great because it transcends its particularity to say something “human” . . . is to reveal . . . the stance that people of color are not human, only achieve the human in certain circumstances.   

Here, Sebree provides Rankine and Loffreda’s quote extra white space, their voices expanding within the essay’s visual and mental landscape. The white space helps the reader “meditate on the quote . . . [then] move back into [Sebree’s] language.”

In comparison, the Women’s March section that precedes Rankine and Loffreda’s quote is a larger block of text, leaving less space for the reader and meditation. As a reader, I can’t catch my breath and am immersed in Sebree’s thoughts about womanhood and racial exclusion. In this way, white space (or the lack of it) is a type of syntax. It acts as another way to group language and ideas.

Continuing the Journey

In the interview “John D’Agata Redefines the Essay,” D’Agata comments: “I like to think of the essay as an art form that tracks the evolution of consciousness as it rolls over the folds of a new idea, memory, or emotion. What I’ve always appreciated about the essay is the feeling that it gives me that it’s capturing the activity of human thought in real time.”

In this way, the lyric essay reflects the changing landscape of truth. Through this realization, the scientist in me has come to a place of acceptance—an acceptance of a truth not bound by rigid facts, but cradled in a cloud of shifting time and space. By capturing a moment of contemplation, the lyric essay captures the movement of the human spirit. This is the lyric essay’s gift to the world.

Like Heisenberg’s electron, the lyric essay roams a landscape of beauty and uncertainty. In the future, the lyric essay may transform into a beast that is unrecognizable to me in voice and motion. I will continue to revel in its wildness, a splendor that I cannot tame.  

lyric essay outline

Issue 164  Summer/Fall 2023

Previous: , next: , share triquarterly, about the author, sayuri matsuura ayers.

lyric essay outline

Sayuri Ayers is an essayist and poet from Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared on The Poetry Foundation website and in Gulf Stream Magazine , Hippocampus Magazine , CALYX , and Parentheses Journal . She is the author of two collections of poetry, Radish Legs, Duck Feet (Green Bottle Press) and Mother/Wound (Full/Crescent Press) and two forthcoming collections, The Maiden in the Moon and The Woman , The River , from Porkbelly Press. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Sayuri has been supported by Kundiman, the Virginian Center for Creative Arts, The Greater Columbus Arts Council, and the Ohio Arts Council. To learn more, visit .

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A Guide to Lyric Essay Writing: 4 Evocative Essays and Prompts to Learn From

Poets can learn a lot from blurring genres. Whether getting inspiration from fiction proves effective in building characters or song-writing provides a musical tone, poetry intersects with a broader literary landscape. This shines through especially in lyric essays, a form that has inspired articles from the Poetry Foundation and Purdue Writing Lab , as well as become the concept for a 2015 anthology titled We Might as Well Call it the Lyric Essay.  

Put simply, the lyric essay is a hybrid, creative nonfiction form that combines the rich figurative language of poetry with the longer-form analysis and narrative of essay or memoir. Oftentimes, it emerges as a way to explore a big-picture idea with both imagery and rigor. These four examples provide an introduction to the writing style, as well as spotlight tips for creating your own.

1. Draft a “braided essay,” like Michelle Zauner in this excerpt from Crying in H Mart .

Before Crying in H Mart became a bestselling memoir, Michelle Zauner—a writer and frontwoman of the band Japanese Breakfast—published an essay of the same name in The New Yorker . It opens with the fascinating and emotional sentence, “Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” This first line not only immediately propels the reader into Zauner’s grief, but it also reveals an example of the popular “braided essay” technique, which weaves together two distinct but somehow related experiences. 

Throughout the work, Zauner establishes a parallel between her and her mother’s relationship and traditional Korean food. “You’ll likely find me crying by the banchan refrigerators, remembering the taste of my mom’s soy-sauce eggs and cold radish soup,” Zauner writes, illuminating the deeply personal and mystifying experience of grieving through direct, sensory imagery.

2. Experiment with nonfiction forms , like Hadara Bar-Nadav in “ Selections from Babyland . ”

Lyric essays blend poetic qualities and nonfiction qualities. Hadara Bar-Nadav illustrates this experimental nature in Selections from Babyland , a multi-part lyric essay that delves into experiences with infertility. Though Bar-Nadav’s writing throughout this piece showcases rhythmic anaphora—a definite poetic skill—it also plays with nonfiction forms not typically seen in poetry, including bullet points and a multiple-choice list. 

For example, when recounting unsolicited advice from others, Bar-Nadav presents their dialogue in the following way:

I heard about this great _____________.

a. acupuncturist

b. chiropractor

d. shamanic healer

e. orthodontist ( can straighter teeth really make me pregnant ?)

This unexpected visual approach feels reminiscent of an article or quiz—both popular nonfiction forms—and adds dimension and white space to the lyric essay.

3. Travel through time , like Nina Boutsikaris in “ Some Sort of Union .”

Nina Boutsikaris is the author of I’m Trying to Tell You I’m Sorry: An Intimacy Triptych , and her work has also appeared in an anthology of the best flash nonfiction. Her essay “Some Sort of Union,” published in Hippocampus Magazine , was a finalist in the magazine’s Best Creative Nonfiction contest. 

Since lyric essays are typically longer and more free verse than poems, they can be a way to address a larger idea or broader time period. Boutsikaris does this in “Some Sort of Union,” where the speaker drifts from an interaction with a romantic interest to her childhood. 

“They were neighbors, the girl and the air force paramedic. She could have seen his front door from her high-rise window if her window faced west rather than east,” Boutsikaris describes. “When she first met him two weeks ago, she’d been wearing all white, buying a wedge of cheap brie at the corner market.”

In the very next paragraph, Boutskiras shifts this perspective and timeline, writing, “The girl’s mother had been angry with her when she was a child. She had needed something from the girl that the girl did not know how to give. Not the way her mother hoped she would.”

As this example reveals, examining different perspectives and timelines within a lyric essay can flesh out a broader understanding of who a character is.

4. Bring in research, history, and data, like Roxane Gay in “ What Fullness Is .”

Like any other form of writing, lyric essays benefit from in-depth research. And while journalistic or scientific details can sometimes throw off the concise ecosystem and syntax of a poem, the lyric essay has room for this sprawling information.

In “What Fullness Is,” award-winning writer Roxane Gay contextualizes her own ideas and experiences with weight loss surgery through the history and culture surrounding the procedure. 

“The first weight-loss surgery was performed during the 10th century, on D. Sancho, the king of León, Spain,” Gay details. “He was so fat that he lost his throne, so he was taken to Córdoba, where a doctor sewed his lips shut. Only able to drink through a straw, the former king lost enough weight after a time to return home and reclaim his kingdom.”

“The notion that thinness—and the attempt to force the fat body toward a state of culturally mandated discipline—begets great rewards is centuries old.”

Researching and knowing this history empowers Gay to make a strong central point in her essay.

Bonus prompt: Choose one of the techniques above to emulate in your own take on the lyric essay. Happy writing!


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Rebecca Hussey

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

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Essays come in a bewildering variety of shapes and forms: they can be the five paragraph essays you wrote in school — maybe for or against gun control or on symbolism in The Great Gatsby . Essays can be personal narratives or argumentative pieces that appear on blogs or as newspaper editorials. They can be funny takes on modern life or works of literary criticism. They can even be book-length instead of short. Essays can be so many things!

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “lyric essay” and are wondering what that means. I’m here to help.

What is the Lyric Essay?

A quick definition of the term “lyric essay” is that it’s a hybrid genre that combines essay and poetry. Lyric essays are prose, but written in a manner that might remind you of reading a poem.

Before we go any further, let me step back with some more definitions. If you want to know the difference between poetry and prose, it’s simply that in poetry the line breaks matter, and in prose they don’t. That’s it! So the lyric essay is prose, meaning where the line breaks fall doesn’t matter, but it has other similarities to what you find in poems.

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Lyric essays have what we call “poetic” prose. This kind of prose draws attention to its own use of language. Lyric essays set out to create certain effects with words, often, although not necessarily, aiming to create beauty. They are often condensed in the way poetry is, communicating depth and complexity in few words. Chances are, you will take your time reading them, to fully absorb what they are trying to say. They may be more suggestive than argumentative and communicate multiple meanings, maybe even contradictory ones.

Lyric essays often have lots of white space on their pages, as poems do. Sometimes they use the space of the page in creative ways, arranging chunks of text differently than regular paragraphs, or using only part of the page, for example. They sometimes include photos, drawings, documents, or other images to add to (or have some other relationship to) the meaning of the words.

Lyric essays can be about any subject. Often, they are memoiristic, but they don’t have to be. They can be philosophical or about nature or history or culture, or any combination of these things. What distinguishes them from other essays, which can also be about any subject, is their heightened attention to language. Also, they tend to deemphasize argument and carefully-researched explanations of the kind you find in expository essays . Lyric essays can argue and use research, but they are more likely to explore and suggest than explain and defend.

Now, you may be familiar with the term “ prose poem .” Even if you’re not, the term “prose poem” might sound exactly like what I’m describing here: a mix of poetry and prose. Prose poems are poetic pieces of writing without line breaks. So what is the difference between the lyric essay and the prose poem?

Honestly, I’m not sure. You could call some pieces of writing either term and both would be accurate. My sense, though, is that if you put prose and poetry on a continuum, with prose on one end and poetry on the other, and with prose poetry and the lyric essay somewhere in the middle, the prose poem would be closer to the poetry side and the lyric essay closer to the prose side.

Some pieces of writing just defy categorization, however. In the end, I think it’s best to call a work what the author wants it to be called, if it’s possible to determine what that is. If not, take your best guess.

Four Examples of the Lyric Essay

Below are some examples of my favorite lyric essays. The best way to learn about a genre is to read in it, after all, so consider giving one of these books a try!

Don't Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine cover

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen counts as a lyric essay, but I want to highlight her lesser-known 2004 work. In Don’t Let Me Be Lonely , Rankine explores isolation, depression, death, and violence from the perspective of post-9/11 America. It combines words and images, particularly television images, to ponder our relationship to media and culture. Rankine writes in short sections, surrounded by lots of white space, that are personal, meditative, beautiful, and achingly sad.

Calamities by Renee Gladman cover

Calamities by Renee Gladman

Calamities is a collection of lyric essays exploring language, imagination, and the writing life. All of the pieces, up until the last 14, open with “I began the day…” and then describe what she is thinking and experiencing as a writer, teacher, thinker, and person in the world. Many of the essays are straightforward, while some become dreamlike and poetic. The last 14 essays are the “calamities” of the title. Together, the essays capture the artistic mind at work, processing experience and slowly turning it into writing.

The Self Unstable Elisa Gabbert cover

The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert

The Self Unstable is a collection of short essays — or are they prose poems? — each about the length of a paragraph, one per page. Gabbert’s sentences read like aphorisms. They are short and declarative, and part of the fun of the book is thinking about how the ideas fit together. The essays are divided into sections with titles such as “The Self is Unstable: Humans & Other Animals” and “Enjoyment of Adversity: Love & Sex.” The book is sharp, surprising, and delightful.

Cover of Maggie Nelson Bluets

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Bluets is made up of short essayistic, poetic paragraphs, organized in a numbered list. Maggie Nelson’s subjects are many and include the color blue, in which she finds so much interest and meaning it will take your breath away. It’s also about suffering: she writes about a friend who became a quadriplegic after an accident, and she tells about her heartbreak after a difficult break-up. Bluets is meditative and philosophical, vulnerable and personal. It’s gorgeous, a book lovers of The Argonauts shouldn’t miss.

It’s probably no surprise that all of these books are published by small presses. Lyric essays are weird and genre-defying enough that the big publishers generally avoid them. This is just one more reason, among many, to read small presses!

If you’re looking for more essay recommendations, check out our list of 100 must-read essay collections and these 25 great essays you can read online for free .

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Writing From the Margins: On the Origins and Development of the Lyric Essay

Zoë bossiere and erica trabold consider essay writing as resistance.

Once, the lyric essay did not have a name.

Or, it was called by many names. More a quality of writing than a category, the form lived for centuries in the private zuihitsu journals of Japanese court ladies, the melodic folktales told by marketplace troubadours, and the subversive prose poems penned by the European romantics.

Before I came to lyric essays, I came to writing. When my teacher asked the class to write a story for homework , I couldn’t believe my luck. But in response to my first attempt, she wrote in the margins: this is cliché .

As a first-generation college student, I was afraid I didn’t know how to tell a story properly, that my mind didn’t work that way. That I didn’t belong in a college classroom, wasn’t a real writer.

And yet, language pulled me. Alone in my dorm room, I arranged and rearranged words, whispered them aloud until the cadences pleased me, their smooth sounds like prayers. I had no name for what I was writing then, but it felt like a style I could call my own.

While the origins of the lyric essay predate its naming, the most well-known attempt to categorize the form came in 1997, when writers John D’Agata and Deborah Tall, coeditors of Seneca Review , noticed a “new” genre in the submission queue—not quite poetry, but neither quite narrative.

This form-between-forms seemed to ignore the conventions of prose writing—such as a linear chronology, narrative, and plot—in favor of embracing more liminal styles, moving by association rather than story, dancing around unspoken truths, devolving into a swirling series of digressions.

D’Agata and Tall’s proposed term for this kind of writing, “the lyric essay,” stuck, and in the ensuing decade the word would be adopted by many essayists to describe the kind of writing they do.

As a genderfluid writer and as a writing teacher, I’ve always appreciated the lyric essay as a literary beacon amid turbulent narrative waves. A means to cast light on negative space, to illuminate subjects that defy the conventions of traditional essay writing.

Introducing this writing style to students is among my favorite course units. Semester after semester, the students most drawn to the lyric essay tend to be those who enter the classroom from the margins, whose perspectives are least likely to be included on course reading lists.

Since its naming, the lyric essay has existed in an almost paradoxical space, at once celebrated for its unique characteristics while also relegated to the margins of creative nonfiction. Perhaps because of this contradiction, much of the conversation about the lyric essay—the definition of what it is and does, where it fits on the spectrum of nonfiction and poetry, whether it has a place in literary journals and in the creative writing classroom—remains unsettled, extending into the present.

I thought getting accepted into a graduate program meant I had finally opened the gilded, solid oak doors of academia—a place no one in my family, not a parent, an aunt or uncle, a sibling or cousin, had ever seen the other side of.

But at my cohort’s first meeting in a state a thousand miles from home, I understood I was still on the outside of something.

“Are you sure you write lyric essays?” the other writers asked. “What does that even mean?”

The acceptance of the lyric form seems to depend largely on who is writing it. The essays that tend to thrive in dominant-culture spaces like academia and publishing are often written by writers who already occupy those spaces. This may be part of why, despite its expansive nature, many of the most widely-anthologized, widely-read, and widely-taught lyric essays represent a narrow range of perspectives: most often, those of the center.

To name the lyric essay—to name anything—is to construct rules about what an essay called “lyric” should look like on the page, should examine in its prose, even who it should be written by. But this categorization has its uses, too.

Much like when a person openly identifies as queer , identifying an essayistic style as “lyric” provides a blueprint for others on the margins to name their experiences—a form through which to speak their truths.

The center is, by definition, a limited perspective, capable of viewing only itself.

In “Marginality as a Site of Resistance,” bell hooks positions the margins not as a state “one wishes to lose, to give up, or surrender as part of moving into the center, but rather as a site one stays on, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist.”

To write from the margins is to write from the perspective of the whole—to see the world from both the margins and the center.

I graduated with a manuscript of lyric essays, one that coalesced into my first book. That book went on to win a prize judged by John D’Agata and named for Deborah Tall. I had finally found my footing, unlocked that proverbial door. But skepticism followed me in.

On my book tour, I was invited to read at my alma mater alongside another writer whose nonfiction tackled pressing social issues with urgency, empathy, and wit. I read an essay about home and friendship, about being young and the hard lessons of growing up.

After the reading, we fielded a Q&A. The Dean of my former college raised his hand.

“I can see what work the other writer is doing quite clearly,” he said to me. “But what exactly is the point of yours?”

Writing is never a neutral act. Although a rallying slogan from a different era and cause, the maxim “the personal is political” still applies to the important work writers do when they speak truth to power, call attention to injustice, and advocate for social change.

Because the lyric essay is fluid, able to occupy both marginal and center spaces, it is a form uniquely suited to telling stories on the writer’s terms, without losing sight of where the writer comes from, and the audiences they are writing toward.

When we tell the stories of our lives—especially when those stories challenge assumptions about who we are—it is an act of resistance.

Many of the contemporary LGBTQIA+ essayists I teach in my classes write lyrical prose to capture queer experience on the page. Their works reckon with nonbinary family building and parenthood, the ghosts of trans Midwestern origin, coming of age in a queer Black body, the over- whelming epidemic of transmisogyny and gendered violence.

The lyric essay is an ideal container for these stories, each a unique prism reflecting the ambiguous, messy, and ever-evolving processes through which we as queer people come to understand ourselves.

Lyric essays rarely stop to provide directions, instead mapping the reader on a journey into the writer’s world, toward an unknown end. Along the way, the reader learns to interpret the signs, begins to understand that the road blocks and potholes and detours—those gaps, the words left unspoken on the page—are as important as the essay’s destination.

The lyric essays that have taught me the most as a writer never showed their full hand. Each became its own puzzle, with secrets to unlock. When the text on a page was obscured, the essay taught me to fill in the blanks. When the conflict didn’t resolve, I realized irresolution might be its truest end. When the segments of the essay seemed unconnected, I learned to read between the lines.

The most powerful lyric essays reclaim silence from the silencers, becoming a space of agency for writers whose experiences are routinely questioned, flattened, or appropriated.

Readers from the margins, those who have themselves been silenced, recognize the game.

The twenty contemporary lyric essays in this volume embody resistance through content, style, design, and form, representing of a broad spectrum of experiences that illustrate how identities can intersect, conflict, and even resist one another. Together, they provide a dynamic example of the lyric essay’s range of expression while showcasing some of the most visionary contemporary essayists writing in the form today.


lyric essay outline

Excerpted from The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth from the Margins , edited by Zoë Bossiere and Erica Trabold. Copyright © 2023. Available from Wayne State University Press.

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Zoë Bossiere and Erica Trabold

Zoë Bossiere and Erica Trabold

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Lyric Essays

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Because the lyric essay is a new, hybrid form that combines poetry with essay, this form should be taught only at the intermediate to advanced levels. Even professional essayists aren’t certain about what constitutes a lyric essay, and lyric essays disagree about what makes up the form. For example, some of the “lyric essays” in magazines like The Seneca Review have been selected for the Best American Poetry series, even though the “poems” were initially published as lyric essays.

A good way to teach the lyric essay is in conjunction with poetry (see the Purdue OWL's resource on teaching Poetry in Writing Courses ). After students learn the basics of poetry, they may be prepared to learn the lyric essay. Lyric essays are generally shorter than other essay forms, and focus more on language itself, rather than storyline. Contemporary author Sherman Alexie has written lyric essays, and to provide an example of this form, we provide an excerpt from his Captivity :

"He (my captor) gave me a biscuit, which I put in my

pocket, and not daring to eat it, buried it under a log, fear-

ing he had put something in it to make me love him.




"I remember your name, Mary Rowlandson. I think of you now, how necessary you have become. Can you hear me, telling this story within uneasy boundaries, changing you into a woman leaning against a wall beneath a HANDICAPPED PARKING ONLY sign, arrow pointing down directly at you? Nothing changes, neither of us knows exactly where to stand and measure the beginning of our lives. Was it 1676 or 1976 or 1776 or yesterday when the Indian held you tight in his dark arms and promised you nothing but the sound of his voice?"

Alexie provides no straightforward narrative here, as in a personal essay; in fact, each numbered section is only loosely related to the others. Alexie doesn’t look into his past, as memoirists do. Rather, his lyric essay is a response to a quote he found, and which he uses as an epigraph to his essay.

Though the narrator’s voice seems to be speaking from the present, and addressing a woman who lived centuries ago, we can’t be certain that the narrator’s voice is Alexie’s voice. Is Alexie creating a narrator or persona to ask these questions? The concept and the way it’s delivered is similar to poetry. Poets often use epigraphs to write poems. The difference is that Alexie uses prose language to explore what this epigraph means to him.

$ 645.00

Open to All Text-Based

Lyric Essay is the girl with the literary lime streak in her hair who bucks conformity. Limits, restrictions, rules: these standard writing constrictions do not exist in the world of the lyric. With lyric you can tell a story of your first love through the wisdom of fortune cookies, write about motherhood using the template of a resume, and construct your life story through bumper sticker slogans.

Through this fun, fascinating writing genre that draws on all forms of nonfiction and poetical elements, we will create fresh, new work that looks and sounds like nothing you’ve written before.

This course is for anyone interested in supercharging their writing. A cursory understanding of personal essay is helpful, but in no way critical. All levels of writers are welcome.

Through weekly lectures, interviews from established lyric essay writers, and sample essays we will experience the vast style of the lyric. Multiple writing prompts will also be provided weekly. Writers will have a choice to work from a prompt or create something of their own design.

Students will share one piece of writing weekly (up to 1000 words), receiving comprehensive feedback from Gretchen, as well as thoughts from their fellow writers.

This course expanded my understanding of what an essay can be. —Elizabeth Speziale

The Lyric Essay: Course Outline

Week 1: she of the lime green streaks.

In this first class we will meet the lyric essay and appreciate what makes it one of the most imaginative and creative writing genres around. We will discuss the key elements of a good lyric essay, and what writers will need to leave at the classroom door before they enter this hall of abandon. We will also share a list of stories we would like to explore over the 10 weeks.

Week 2: Take a Left at the Thigh Bone

The architecture of form—how a piece looks on the page—is paramount to the lyric essay. We will review a number of different lyric forms this week, including the braided essay, the hermit crab essay, and the collage essay.

Week 3: Jailbreak

What limits do you put on yourself with pen and ink, with keyboard and computer screen? What lines don’t you dare cross? What are you afraid to write yourself out of–or into? What box do you keep yourself in when you write?

This lecture is about chucking that box and finding out what gems are found beyond “Do Not Trespass”.

Week 4: On Fire

We’ll talk about the tenets of a good story; showing not telling, the importance of scene, dialogue, and character detail.

Week 5: Ruby Slippers

This week we’ll talk about poetic expression, elements like rhythm, white space, line break, assonance, and inversion, that will lift and push our pieces beyond the mundane to the magical.

Week 6: From Diving Boards to Ding Dongs

In more traditional essay writing we make a big deal out of transitions and logical steps that take the reader from one thoughtful paragraph to the next. Not so with the lyric. This week we will play with associative leaps; making connections that are inspired from intuition as well as from the form.

Week 7: TNT, It’s Dynamite

We will spend this week uncovering even more of the lyric form to play with, as well as introducing the liberating concept of detonating that comfortable but oh-so-predictable linear narrative line.

Week 8: It’s My Party

A story should be a journey the writer takes the reader on and there needs to be a pact between reader and writer such that if you read my work you will come away with something. This obligation to the reader can make us more thoughtful and developed writers. We will also discuss the importance of meaning in our work.

Week 9: Drop a Heart, Break a Name

Introduction to the mosaic and collage-like nature of the lyric will be covered. By building our essays with diverse elements and focusing on fragmentation we will move into creating more emotionally authentic pieces.

Week 10: Picnic at Zen Rock

Our final week will have you sent out into the world to compile stories from your own lyrical landscapes. While classes can be a wonderful jumping off place, it’s essential that writers remember that making art doesn’t just happen when you clean off your desk and sit down to think.

Student Feedback for Gretchen Clark:

Definitely very happy with class content. Gretchen's critiques are so, so helpful. I liked the way Gretchen set up the class so that we were able to choose from many options for our assignments. We could revise an essay or write a new one. As a teacher, Gretchen is like chocolate cake with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Can't get enough of her. I would take any class Gretchen offered. Caroline Commins

Gretchen was wonderful—positive, understanding, and helpful without being negative or overly critical. Her comments were insightful and extremely helpful to me. She clearly put a lot of time into reading and responding to our work, and I am SO thankful for that! Kathryn Martinak

This course helped me expand my understanding of what an essay can be, and encouraged me to push myself to try different forms of expression. I learned a lot from my fellow students and the instructor and received excellent feedback on my writing. I learned so much from Gretchen's lectures as well as from her comments, not only on my writing but on my fellow students' writings as well.  Elizabeth Speziale

Gretchen was great. I have taken over a dozen online writing courses and this one was almost calming. Instead of feeling like I 'had' to submit work for critique, I not only wanted to, but I was anxious to read the other writers' work.  Barbara Reidmiller

Gretchen seems to have a way of seeing things in my writing that I overlook; a series of details, a recurring theme, an underlying emotion I have yet to discover within myself. Her critiques are always thoughtful and thought provoking. She takes the time to read and respond carefully, challenging ideas and questioning my writing while encouraging and offering support. When I was looking for more personal and in-depth editorial critique, it was and Gretchen that I turned to. Having taken the Personal Essay class, I knew that she would grant me the time and attention that I was seeking. She seems to have unlimited patience to answer questions and hash out ideas. Working one-on-one with her has provided me with a forum and a conversation about my writing. She is an invaluable teacher and editor.

 I learned a lot and had fun doing it. We were encouraged to think and write outside the box. It made me more creative. Loved the experience.  Svetlana Dietz

Gretchen has great ideas and gives coaching feedback as well as praise. It was exciting to learn about new forms in essay writing and how the form can help carry the story. The group of writers was helpful and positive in providing feedback to each others; I really enjoyed the experience of the community.  Karen McCall

I was recently offered my own bi-monthly column in Blue Water Sailing magazine. and private time working with Gretchen has certainly contributed to my work improving enough to be given that opportunity. Heather Francis,

Gretchen was extremely diligent with her feedback and it felt like nothing I wrote went unnoticed. She took the pains to respond equally diligently even with the re-posted material. Her feedback made me want to write more. Mannu Kohli

I thought Gretchen was great. Despite having a lot of people in the class, I always felt that she gave full attention to her feedback on my submissions. She was always quite responsive to questions I had. I really liked her lectures and her suggested materials, I found all of those quite helpful.  Allison Allen

I loved this course. Gretchen provided me with really helpful feedback and I appreciate how open she was to discussing the works in progress. I wrote ten pieces I want to keep working with and submit to journals, and want to keep playing with the form. I definitely got my money's worth and am happy with the progress I made in the course overall as a writer. Nicole Breit

Do you have a couple hours? Because that is how long it would take me to sing Gretchen's praises. Every piece she has helped me with, let's make that six, has been accepted for publication. All told, actually, I've received 11 acceptances within a relatively short time span for a writer who has just recently begun to submit her work. ... It isn't just that Gretchen is a gifted writer and teacher/editor, she possesses unusual insight. She reads with many eyes, ears, and hearts and on many different levels. She is present to the reading like a psychoanalyst is present to her patient's free associations: unbiased, unattached, letting herself be moved or struck by anything and everything. ... And she is patient and kind and even when her suggestions maddened me because they forced me to think and feel myself more deeply into my story, she was, 98% of the time, right on. ... What more can I say. I just love working with Gretchen! Pat Heim

Though Gretchen included specific assignments with each week's lecture...they were given to us as suggestions and for inspiration, but we were always free to go off on our own and write whatever caught our imaginations that week. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the high level of talent among my classmates in this course. ... Your classes allow every student to write and post something each week, not simply once or twice during the course, as other classes do. Elaine Kehoe

I thought the lectures were thoughtful and inspiring and I liked that the assignments were flexible in that I could write about anything that I wanted, but Gretchen gave us prompts for if we needed some ideas. I also liked that she provided some optional readings and referenced other books on writing, I ended up doing a lot of outside reading which was very helpful. I did feel like I learned a lot..... Gretchen was excellent. Her positive tone was just the thing to keep students in the class encouraged and motivated. She was also very willing to answer any questions students had and seemed to tailor her critique to what students were asking for, which was wonderful. Overall I felt that she was approachable and was there if I wanted to ask anything. McKenzie Long

I've taken several other on-line writing classes with other schools and this unique approach was the most interesting and challenging of all. I thought the teachers were the freshest and most thorough in the time they put into their critiques. I totally enjoyed the class. I would do something unique with these teachers again. Eve Bandler

I was very happy with both the class content and the teacher. Gretchen’s comments on my essays were insightful; she offered suggestions that I would not have thought of on my own. This was my first online writing class, and I will take another. Thank you so much! Kim Baumgaertel

Gretchen's writing and her lessons are superb and she's a great teacher. I learned a ton from her. I had never heard of the lyric essay before. Gretchen gave me a thorough understanding of it - and lots of practice. Bonnie Gold

Gretchen was great, and always available for questions/clarification. I am definitely driven by challenge, and felt that Gretchen has a good way of keeping you on your toes and helping you to consistently improve. Lessons were inspiring and assignments perfect for challenging the creative side of the brain. An advanced lyric class would be awesome! I would recommend the class to anyone interested in writing. I have signed up for several classes through November. Jenifer Patureau

I loved the class. The Lyric Essay is/was/and shall continue to be a favorte of mine now that I've taken this class. The freedom to manipulate material in new ways, soak words with lyric structure, really came through. Feedback was personal and always offered ways to take a piece to another level. Rewrites were encouraged and feedback was prompt and insighful. Keep those new classes coming so I can continue to write on your site for many years to come. Joanna Johns

This course is terrific. The lessons are creative and inspiring--just look at the lecture titles! Gretchen is smart, kind, and encouraging. Her critiques are full of insight and ideas for taking the writer a step or many steps further. I keep recommending when I talk w/ friends. I'll be back for another class. Marge Osborn

Creative, inspiring, motivating, delightful, fun. <Gretchen's> lessons were written with so much imagination and creative juice. It just made you rub your hands together and want to dive in. She was encouraging as well. I have considered taking *this* class again! Tatyana Sussex

Gretchen's class was really great!The Lyric Essay was one of the best courses I've taken from I would like to take a "Lyric Essay 2" course. Caroline Commins

The class was wonderful. Couldn't have had better teachers. Wonderful about letting us veer in our own directions at times. They provided a very nurturing environment for everyone. ... Their comments were very helpful and clearly they know their stuff. ... I would absolutely take another class from either instructor. I can't give them a glowing enough review. ... This is the way you dream a class will work. David Ladd

This was my first online course, and I'm very glad I took it. I feel that the tuition was money well-spent and I emerge from this experience wiser about the subject and very much encouraged to continue my writing using techniques I learned in class. Jean Dutton

“Gretchen was wonderful—positive, understanding, and helpful without being negative or overly critical. Her comments were insightful and extremely helpful to me. She clearly put a lot of time into reading and responding to our work, and I am SO thankful for that!” —Kathryn Martinak

lyric essay outline

About Gretchen Clark

Gretchen Clark has been a freelancer for an online naming company and a creative arts mentor for at-risk teens. Her essay Pink Chrysanthemum  was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  Her work has been published in The Boston Globe, Hamilton Stone Review, 94 Creations, Writer Advice, Literary Mama , Hip Mama , Flashquake , Blood Lotus , Foliate Oak , Skirt! , Word Riot , Quiet Mountain Essays , 34th Parallel , New York Family Magazine , Pithead Chapel , Switchback , Underwired , Toasted Cheese , Celia’s Roundtrip , Brevity , River Teeth , Flashquake , Tiny Lights , Ray's Road Review , Cleaver Magazine,   Hippocampus , The MacGuffin, Awakenings Review, and Nailpolish Stories, among others.

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Creative Nonfiction and the Personal Essay The Lyric Essay Block Buster: Turbocharge Your Creativity with Breakneck Writing

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What is Lyric Essay? A Brief Outline

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. bastard heavily freckled arms muscled all over punch worthy body huge fists calloused knuckles beer bellied bastard

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.

Recommended Reading

  • 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
  • About Author
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Kaye Linden

Latest posts from kaye linden.

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Connie Morrison

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

How to Write Song Lyrics

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If you don’t know how to write song lyrics, it can be overwhelming to imagine where to start. I often hear from my online students how relieving it is to bring structure and tools into the mix as we delve into lyric writing. Within the first four weeks, most students have much greater clarity about what makes a good lyric, and how to craft one.

I’ll outline a few ideas here to get us started, and suggest the online courses Lyric Writing: Writing from the Title , Commercial Songwriting Techniques , and Lyric Writing: Tools and Strategies for further study. Here are five tips for writing song lyrics:

1. Start with what you want to say.

The first tip when learning how to write lyrics for a song is get familiar with journaling and using your senses. Taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, and movement are descriptors that help bring your listener into an experience of a small moment. A small moment is a snapshot of life, a scene where your song is set within.

We hear these small moments all over in songwriting—the singer’s bedroom at 2 AM, driving down Santa Monica Boulevard, or hot-wiring a stolen car. It’s these moments that place the listener in the heat of the moment. Try choosing a small moment and writing about it using your senses of taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, and movement. Don’t try to rhyme, and don’t write with a particular rhythmic pattern. Just write.

2. Read lyrics from other artists (don’t listen to the songs!).

Notice how much repetition, simple language, and how clean and clear is the main message in the chorus. What message do you want your listener to walk away from the song knowing? This is your chorus. What small moment shows a great example of that main message? This is your first verse.


3. Notice the conversational quality.

The third tip for writing song lyrics is write like you speak. We speak English, we write English, we tell stories from our lives, and have meaningful conversations with friends. But for some reason as soon as we start lyric writing, we believe those skills are not enough.

We get obscenely abstract and poetic, contorting the language to get our rhymes to fall at the ends of the lines even when the content no longer makes sense. We forget what we’re really trying to say in the first place, trying to give the song a breadth and meaning that DaVinci himself couldn’t capture in the expression on Mona Lisa. Why? Because we almost failed high school English class? Perhaps. But keep in mind that the most important quality of a great lyric is authenticity. Write like you would if you were relaying the story to a small group of people who care about you and what you have to say.

4. Lengthy lyrics compound problems.

Try writing a simple verse (such as four or six lines) moving into a chorus with lots of repetition. Or, try starting a song with the chorus. Simplicity is hard to master, but worth pursuing. The longer a lyric becomes, the greater the potential for confusion.

5. Collaborate as frequently as possible with good lyricists.

Soak up some of that good lyric writing energy, and you’ll soon realize that you have good ideas too. You’ll also soon realize how closely linked lyric rhythm is to melodic rhythm, opening up a whole new area for your melodies and lyrics alike.

Learn more about studying songwriting online with Berklee.

Related Articles

The Best and Worst Romantic Song Lyrics

Berklee is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education "NECHE" (formerly NEASC).

Berklee Online is a University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) award-winner fourteen years in a row (2005-2019).

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What is a Lyric Essay

To understand the essence of a lyric composition, it is necessary to concentrate on the form and content of this assignment. A lyric essay is a kind of writing, which presents a blend of prose and poetry. The character of the text is always personal. It reflects the thoughts and feelings of the author working on it. By its form and content, a lyric essay resembles a prose poem. While crafting the piece, a writer applies a variety of ideas, images and stylistic means. Those can be connected to people, objects, nature, feeling, phenomena etc.

Exists no limitation when it concerns a lyric essay. The core ideas can be different starting from personal experience and ending with the application of various means to evoke reader’s emotions. There is no stated template. The text is organised individually by each author. The main aim is to produce a certain effect on the target audience. The composition may present a series of fragments creating certain lyrical mood, which is preserved throughout the whole text thanks to the relevant and successful usage of poetic language.

Lyric Essay Topics

The lyric essay presents a hybrid form of creative writing mediating between non-fiction and poetry. The main focus of the piece is usually made on employment of visual images, metaphors and symbols. The structuring and form of the composition of this type have no limits as well as its topicality. For that reason, the choice of a topic is an easy task, even if the scholarly supervisor provides no options to choose from.

A variety of topics exist, which can be chosen as a basis for a lyrical essay. Primarily, it is possible to discuss some feelings, emotions, which an author has experienced. The format of the lyric composition allows application of various stylistic devices and techniques, which may be handy in rendering his thoughts. Apart from that, it is possible to choose a certain piece of art, music or poetry and comprise a text, which will be a reflection on these.

Guidelines on Writing Lyric Essays

A lyric essay is a kind of personal essay, which presents a writer’s reflection on a certain issue or artistic piece. For that reason, the form and structuring of this essay may be chosen by each author individually. The essential task of a writer preparing this essay is to focus on the application of poetic language and one’s creative thinking abilities. Poetic and figurative language is a compulsory element of the successful lyric essay. Reach imagery background should also be created by a writer working of this type of text.

Exists a variety of techniques that are to be applied while dealing with poetic writing. The list includes making an accent on the connotation of notions presented, posing questions to the target audience, waking up the imagination of a target reader, encouraging of the associative thinking, creation of a particular tone and rhythm and application of a series of fragments. To craft a lyric composition, it is essential to apply poetic languaging and to set a right mood.

How to Start a Lyric Essay

Exists no permanent structure for the lyric essay. Each composition represents a simple experiment with form and content. That is why it is difficult to describe each structural and sensing element of a lyric piece. Formally, the structure includes lead-in part, main body section and ending.

To start a lyric essay, an author has to set the general mood for the whole composition, To do it successfully, one needs to choose the appropriate wording. An introductory part has to attract the reader’s attention and encourage to continue reading the composition. It is also important to create an effective thesis. It should clearly describe the main idea of a writer. Apart from that, a writer will need to refer to it throughout the whole piece. Properly compiled thesis secures a 100% success of a composition.

Essay Body Paragraphs

The lyric essay body paragraphs compilation depends on a type of the essay. That is why one should always take it into account. The core body of a prose poem essay should be built with the application of different poetic devices and images. One can apply assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme. A metaphor is an indispensable tool to be used to the main body of prose poem essay type.

The main body of a college essay has to comprise a series of fragments. Here a writer can combine poetry, prose and music. Each paragraph should be separated by epigraph or subtitles. The braided essay should be concentrated on a clear topic. However, an author can apply various sources of info. Here one can present multiple ideas, use quotations, popular sayings and other references.

“Hermit crab” main essay body resembles a product created from another essay. It is a mixture of various genres and art and literary pieces that are used to create something new – a new lyrical composition.

Lyric Essay Conclusion

Lyric essay conclusion has to comprise a summary of whole writing. It should summarise all the ideas presented in a main body of the essay and be a closing element for the composition. By reading a concluding part, an author should clearly understand, what was the piece about. There should be a reference to a thesis. Apart from that, the conclusion should present a logical ending of your writing and create a pleasant feeling in a soul of your target reader.

Lyric Essay Outline

A creation of outline for a lyric essay does not presuppose following of an established pattern. It is impossible to map out a clear structure of a framework, as the form can be variated. However, a writer has to bear in mind the fact that the material should be organised logically and coherently. A text should comprise an introductory part, main body and a conclusion. Due to a biased nature of a lyric essay, it is impossible to establish clear writing rules. It gives space for creativity and imagination, and the author can decide on an outline structure by himself.

Lyric Essay Examples

For members of colleges and universities having to deal with the production of the lyric essay for the first time, it may be challenging to understand the nature of the assignment. Apart from that, one cannot perceive the quality of the essay and grab all the peculiarities by simply consulting rules. For that reasons, a good strategy will be to turn to examples. On the web exists a variety of examples illustrating the form and content of a proper lyric essay.

Be consulting a lyric essay example an author has a chance to see how theory can be applied in practice. Apart from that, one can get inspired and borrow various ideas of writing this kind of composition. It may be difficult, at first glance. But as soon as you try writing a lyric essay, you will enjoy both the process and your final example.

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8.2: Outlining for Literary Essays

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Outlining Basics

The purpose of an outline is twofold: first, to help you organize your ideas. Second, to help readers follow along with your ideas. Think of an outline as a map for your essay. An essay without some kind of structure often flounders because readers get lost. The following are basic principles of essay organization that should help you craft logically organized papers that keep readers (and you!) on track.

  • Always include a clear thesis . Think of this as the essay's destination. It essentially tells readers where the essay is going. Without a clear destination, readers might wonder why they are there, reading the essay in the first place!
  • Keep one main idea per paragraph. Including a topic sentence—a one-sentence summary of the paragraph's main idea—is an effective way to keep the paragraph focused. Think of each topic sentence as a mini-thesis in support of the essay's overall thesis.
  • Include evidence to support all claims. Usually, one quote or paraphrase per paragraph is an effective use of evidence. Spend at least 2-3 sentences analyzing and explaining each quote.
  • Be flexible. An essay changes over time. Be willing to adapt and adjust the outline to fit the needs of the essay. If it doesn't serve your essay, let it go.

General Essay Template

This essay template is not meant to be prescriptive (the end all, be all), but to provide a commonly used essay structure students can adapt to write their own essays. As with any learning resource, students should choose organizational methods to enhance their learning and writing process.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

Sentence 1: hook.

Captures readers' attention and interest through a quote, one or two-sentence short story, or a startling statistic.

Sentence 2-3: Context/Background

Helps readers understand where the essay fits into the scholarly discourse by providing background information on the essay topic. For example, you might briefly summarize your research on your topic (what other people/scholars have said about your topic) or you might give historical background on your topic, depending on the essay prompt.

Sentence 4: (The) Thesis statement

Articulates the main argument of the essay. It should be short, specific, debatable, and clear.

Sentence 5: Essay map/sign post

Uses the last sentence(s) of the introduction to transition into body paragraphs. This may look like a "map" where you state the main arguments you will make in your essay. For example, this argument is true because of reason X, reason Y, and reason Z. Basically, you give readers an idea of where the essay is going.

Paragraphs 2-10+: Body Paragraphs

Sentence 1: topic sentence.

Summarizes the main argument or point of the paragraph.

Sentence 2: Present e vidence

Present evidence in the form of quotes or paraphrasing from authoritative primary or secondary sources, which supports the paragraph main idea, as well as the thesis main idea. The more scholarly the source, the better; check with your librarian if you are unfamiliar with in-text citations.

Sentence 3: Analyze, interpret, and e xplain evidence

Use your own words to do so. While what the information means may be clear to you, the writer, you should not assume that readers will understand the information. Explain everything within reason.

Sentence 4: Contextualize evidence

Show how evidence relates to and supports your thesis statement

Sentence 5: Transition

Introduce the next paragraph topic by using a linking word, phrase, or idea. This will improve your essay's organization and "flow."

Final Paragraph: Conclusion

Sentence 1: restate thesis statement.

State the thesis using new words. This helps readers remember the focus of the essay.

Sentence 2-3: Briefly summarize main arguments

Present a summary of the essay's main arguments. Again, this reminds readers of your main points in case they have forgotten.

Sentence 4-5: Explain the significance

Indicate the significance of your analysis and/or research to other scholars in your field/scholars of the subject or topic/society in general. This is also called the "takeaway." Your readers should feel like they learned something new or are seeing the literature in a new light.

General Essay Advice

  • Be as specific as possible.
  • Stay on topic. All information in the essay should work towards proving your argument. (Use it or lose it.)
  • Use the known-new contract. Every sentence should "flow" into the next sentence, unless intentionally breaking the flow to make a point. This is achieved by using repeated words, ideas, or phrases from one sentence to the next.
  • Practice ethical attribution. Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism can result in an F for the essay and the course, and can even result in expulsion. When in doubt, ask your professor or librarian. Using ethical attribution is the best way to avoid plagiarism, as it also helps you build credibility as a writer and literary scholar.
  • For more information on essay writing—specifically works cited/references, citation, and formatting (MLA)—please visit the chapter on Ethical Attribution .

Trying to devise a structure for your essay can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. Making a detailed outline before you begin writing is a good way to make sure your ideas come across in a clear and logical order. A good outline will also save you time in the revision process, reducing the possibility that your ideas will need to be rearranged once you've written them.

The First Steps

Before you can begin outlining, you need to have a sense of what you will argue in the essay. From your analysis and close readings of primary and/or secondary sources you should have notes, ideas, and possible quotes to cite as evidence. Let's say you are writing about the 1999 Republican Primary and you want to prove that each candidate's financial resources were the most important element in the race. At this point, your notes probably lack much coherent order. Most likely, your ideas are still in the order in which they occurred to you; your notes and possible quotes probably still adhere to the chronology of the sources you've examined. Your goal is to rearrange your ideas, notes, and quotes—the raw material of your essay—into an order that best supports your argument, not the arguments you've read in other people's works. To do this, you have to group your notes into categories and then arrange these categories in a logical order.


The first step is to look over each individual piece of information that you've written and assign it to a general category. Ask yourself, "If I were to file this in a database, what would I file it under?" If, using the example of the Republican Primary, you wrote down an observation about John McCain's views on health care, you might list it under the general category of  "Health care policy." As you go through your notes, try to reuse categories whenever possible. Your goal is to reduce your notes to no more than a page of category listings.

Now examine your category headings. Do any seem repetitive? Do any go together? "McCain's expenditure on ads" and "Bush's expenditure on ads," while not exactly repetitive, could easily combine into a more general category like "Candidates' expenditures on ads." Also, keep an eye out for categories that no longer seem to relate to your argument. Individual pieces of information that at first seemed important can begin to appear irrelevant when grouped into a general category.

Now it's time to generalize again. Examine all your categories and look for common themes. Go through each category and ask yourself, "If I were to place this piece of information in a file cabinet, what would I label that cabinet?" Again, try to reuse labels as often as possible: "Health Care," "Foreign Policy," and "Immigration" can all be contained under "Policy Initiatives." Make these larger categories as general as possible so that there are no more than three or four for a 7-10 page paper.

With your notes grouped into generalized categories, the process of ordering them should be easier. To begin, look at your most general categories. With your thesis in mind, try to find a way that the labels might be arranged in a sentence or two that supports your argument. Let's say your thesis is that financial resources played the most important role in the 1999 Republican Primary. Your four most general categories are "Policy Initiatives," "Financial Resources," "Voters' Concerns," and "Voters' Loyalty." You might come up with the following sentence: ÒAlthough McCain's policy initiatives were closest to the voters' concerns, Bush's financial resources won the voters' loyalty.Ó This sentence should reveal the order of your most general categories. You will begin with an examination of McCain's and Bush's views on important issues and compare them to the voters' top concerns. Then you'll look at both candidates' financial resources and show how Bush could win voters' loyalty through effective use of his resources, despite his less popular policy ideas.

With your most general categories in order, you now must order the smaller categories. To do so, arrange each smaller category into a sentence or two that will support the more general sentence you've just devised. Under the category of "Financial Resources," for instance, you might have the smaller categories of "Ad Expenditure," "Campaign Contributions" and "Fundraising." A sentence that supports your general argument might read: "Bush's early emphasis on fundraising led to greater campaign contributions, allowing him to have a greater ad expenditure than McCain."

The final step of the outlining process is to repeat this procedure on the smallest level, with the original notes that you took for your essay. To order what probably was an unwieldy and disorganized set of information at the beginning of this process, you need now only think of a sentence or two to support your general argument. Under the category "Fundraising," for example, you might have quotes about each candidate's estimation of its importance, statistics about the amount of time each candidate spent fundraising, and an idea about how the importance of fundraising never can be overestimated. Sentences to support your general argument might read: "No candidate has ever raised too much money [your idea]. While both McCain and Bush acknowledged the importance of fundraising [your quotes], the numbers clearly point to Bush as the superior fundraiser [your statistics]." The arrangement of your ideas, quotes, and statistics now should come naturally.

Putting It All Together

With these sentences, you have essentially constructed an outline for your essay. The most general ideas, which you organized in your first sentence, constitute the essay's sections. They follow the order in which you placed them in your sentence. The order of the smaller categories within each larger category (determined by your secondary sentences) indicates the order of the paragraphs within each section. Finally, your last set of sentences about your specific notes should show the order of the sentences within each paragraph. An outline for the essay about the 1999 Republican Primary (showing only the sections worked out here) would look something like this:




            A.  Fundraising

                        a.  Original Idea

                        b.  McCain Quote/Bush Quote

                        c.  McCain Statistics/Bush Statistics

            B.  Campaign Contributions

            C.  Ad Expenditure


Copyright 2000, David Kornhaber, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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  3. A Guide to Lyric Essay Writing: 4 Evocative Essays and Prompts to Learn

    1. Draft a "braided essay," like Michelle Zauner in this excerpt from Crying in H Mart. Before Crying in H Mart became a bestselling memoir, Michelle Zauner—a writer and frontwoman of the band Japanese Breakfast—published an essay of the same name in The New Yorker. It opens with the fascinating and emotional sentence, "Ever since my ...

  4. 5 Ways Into Your Lyric Essay

    The malleability of the lyric essay allows us as writers to examine our subjects from various layers and angles as we seek to effectively tell our stories. Here are five ways to craft your lyric essay, along with examples of each: 1. Meditative Essay. A meditative essay encourages contemplation, wonder, and curiosity.

  5. An Insider's Guide to Writing the Perfect Lyrical Essay

    As the name might suggest, the lyrical essay or the lyric essay is a literary hybrid, combining features of poetry, essay, and often memoir.The lyrical essay is a form of creative non-fiction that has become more popular over the last decade.. There has been much written about what lyrical essays are and aren't, and many writers have strong opinions about them, either declaring them ...

  6. An Introduction to the Lyric Essay

    A quick definition of the term "lyric essay" is that it's a hybrid genre that combines essay and poetry. Lyric essays are prose, but written in a manner that might remind you of reading a poem. Before we go any further, let me step back with some more definitions. If you want to know the difference between poetry and prose, it's simply ...

  7. Writing From the Margins: On the Origins and Development of the Lyric Essay

    Once, the lyric essay did not have a name. Or, it was called by many names. More a quality of writing than a category, the form lived for centuries in the private zuihitsu journals of Japanese court ladies, the melodic folktales told by marketplace troubadours, and the subversive prose poems penned by the European romantics.. Before I came to lyric essays, I came to writing.

  8. Lyric Essays

    A good way to teach the lyric essay is in conjunction with poetry (see the Purdue OWL's resource on teaching Poetry in Writing Courses). After students learn the basics of poetry, they may be prepared to learn the lyric essay. Lyric essays are generally shorter than other essay forms, and focus more on language itself, rather than storyline.

  9. What Is a Lyric Essay in Writing?

    A lyric essay uses many poetic tools to convey creative nonfiction. These tools can (but don't necessarily have to) include autobiography, figurative language, and sonic devices employed by many poets. ( List of poetic forms for poets .) A lyric essay may be written in prose paragraphs at one point and switch over to poetic stanzas at another ...

  10. The Lyric Essay

    The Lyric Essay: Course Outline Week 1: She of the Lime Green Streaks. In this first class we will meet the lyric essay and appreciate what makes it one of the most imaginative and creative writing genres around. We will discuss the key elements of a good lyric essay, and what writers will need to leave at the classroom door before they enter ...

  11. Lyric essay

    Lyric Essay is a literary hybrid that combines elements of poetry, essay, and memoir. The lyric essay is a relatively new form of creative nonfiction. John D'Agata and Deborah Tall published a definition of the lyric essay in the Seneca Review in 1997: "The lyric essay takes from the prose poem in its density and shapeliness, its distillation of ideas and musicality of language."

  12. What is Lyric Essay? A Brief Outline

    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 ...

  13. How to Write an Essay Outline

    An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph, giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold. You'll sometimes be asked to submit an essay outline as a separate assignment before you ...

  14. How to Write Song Lyrics

    Here are five tips for writing song lyrics: 1. Start with what you want to say. The first tip when learning how to write lyrics for a song is get familiar with journaling and using your senses. Taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, and movement are descriptors that help bring your listener into an experience of a small moment.

  15. How to Write a Lyric Essay

    Lyric Essay Outline. A creation of outline for a lyric essay does not presuppose following of an established pattern. It is impossible to map out a clear structure of a framework, as the form can be variated. However, a writer has to bear in mind the fact that the material should be organised logically and coherently. A text should comprise an ...

  16. 8.2: Outlining for Literary Essays

    Outlining Basics. The purpose of an outline is twofold: first, to help you organize your ideas. Second, to help readers follow along with your ideas. Think of an outline as a map for your essay. An essay without some kind of structure often flounders because readers get lost. The following are basic principles of essay organization that should ...

  17. Outlining

    Making a detailed outline before you begin writing is a good way to make sure your ideas come across in a clear and logical order. A good outline will also save you time in the revision process, reducing the possibility that your ideas will need to be rearranged once you've written them. The First Steps. Before you can begin outlining, you need ...

  18. PDF The Lyric Essay

    This thesis offers a sustained history and theory of the 'lyric essay' as a mode of reading and writing. Coined in the 1990s to describe a then-emergent hybrid of the lyric poem and literary essay, the term 'lyric essay' has seen increasingly widespread use in both the study and practice of

  19. How to Outline an Essay: Basic Essay Outline Template

    Introduction: The introductory paragraph of your essay should outline the topic, provide background information necessary to understand your argument, outline the evidence you will present and include your thesis statement. Your thesis should be a concise summary of the main point of your essay. 2. First body paragraph: Each body paragraph ...

  20. Lyric Essays: Examples, Topics, & Outlines

    It reflects the history, traditions, and values of a society and can bring people together in a shared experience. 3. Cognitive development - Listening to and playing music can improve cognitive skills such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. It can also stimulate creativity and critical thinking.

  21. CRWR 3009

    This course explores the development of the vast and varied field of creative nonfiction, introducing students to some of the most thrilling work and urgent critical debates in a genre that spans life writing, cultural reportage, and lyric essay, amongst a number of other forms. Students will produce their own works of creative nonfiction and ...