--Deborah Tall, Editor and John D'Agata, Associate Editor for Lyric Essays
Vol. XXXII, No. 2 Fall 2002 New poems and lyric essays by Melissa Green, John Kinsella, Stephen Sandy, Janet Sylvester, Brian Swann, Joe Wenderoth, and others. Translations from the French, Polish, and Turkish. Cover Art by Laura Fayer.
Vol. XXXII, No. 1, Spring 2002 New Poems and Lyric Essays by Nin Andrews, James Galvin, Amy Gerstler, David Huddle, Alyce Miller, Debra Nystrom, Rosanna Warren, and others. Excerpts from a collaboration by Rikki Ducornet, Amy England, and Catherine Kaspar. Cover art by Victoria Romanoff.
John D’Agata: Lyric Essayist | Lauren Stacks
With its Fall 1997 issue, Seneca Review began to publish what we've chosen to call the lyric essay. The recent burgeoning of creative nonfiction and the personal essay has yielded a fascinating sub-genre that straddles the essay and the lyric poem. These "poetic essays" or "essayistic poems" give primacy to artfulness over the conveying of information. They forsake narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation.The lyric essay does not expound. It may merely mention. As Helen Vendler says of the lyric poem, "It depends on gaps. . . . It is suggestive rather than exhaustive." It might move by association, leaping from one path of thought to another by way of imagery or connotation, advancing by juxtaposition or sidewinding poetic logic. Generally it is short, concise and punchy like a prose poem. But it may meander, making use of other genres when they serve its purpose: recombinant, it samples the techniques of fiction, drama, journalism, song, and film.The lyric essay partakes of the poem in its density and shapeliness, its distillation of ideas and musicality of language. It partakes of the essay in its weight, in its overt desire to engage with facts, melding its allegiance to the actual with its passion for imaginative form.Loyal to that original sense of essay as a test or a quest, an attempt at making sense, the lyric essay sets off on an uncharted course through interlocking webs of idea, circumstance, and language - a pursuit with no foreknown conclusion, an arrival that might still leave the writer questioning. While it is ruminative, it leaves pieces of experience undigested and tacit, inviting the reader's participatory interpretation. Its voice, spoken from a privacy that we overhear and enter, has the intimacy we have come to expect in the personal essay. Yet in the lyric essay the voice is often more reticent, almost coy, aware of the compliment it pays the reader by dint of understatement.