On the Lyric Essay « Ben Marcus

Lyric Essay is written in a neo-romantic style. It is a slow, reflective work with much opportunity for musical expression. This version was adapted from the concert band edition by the composer for woodwind quintet and piano.

--Deborah Tall, Editor and John D'Agata, Associate Editor for Lyric Essays

Given its genre mingling, the lyric essay often accretes by fragments, taking shape mosaically - its import visible only when one stands back and sees it whole. The stories it tells may be no more than metaphors. Or, storyless, it may spiral in on itself, circling the core of a single image or idea, without climax, without a paraphrasable theme. The lyric essay stalks its subject like quarry but is never content to merely explain or confess. It elucidates through the dance of its own delving.


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D’Agata, John, and Deborah Tall. “The Lyric Essay.” Seneca Review. Web. 5 May 2012.

Emma Nelson describes Julie Marie Wade's book Small Fires, a book of lyric essays, using the following language, which is a good example of how lyric essays are usually categorized: "Julie Marie Wade’s tells a similar story of her own time capsules that, much like the essays themselves, preserve self and childhood memories. Small Fires, a book of lyric essays, seamlessly incorporates Kantian philosophy, 1980s popular culture, and poetic explorations of words and meanings. Wade’s word choices and descriptions are impeccable, leading her reader on a rhythmic walk through the landscape of life as she explores what we give up to become who we are. Her exquisite language is not limited to word choice, however, but expands to the ways she plays with ordinary words and ideas such as waffle: a breakfast food or a verb “to switch back and forth between possibilities,” she writes, and camouflage as a metaphor for hiding who we are. Wade plays with the ideas, sounds, and feelings of words in a way that only a true poet can, sounding like a woman who not only loves language, but one who knows language well."