Do We Need Prose Poetry?

Theme Essay by David Meischen

Forché’s “Colonel” vs. Hemingway’s “Lieutenant”

 


I'm suspicious of the prose poem. I worry that the form is an easy way out, that if we abandon the line and call the result poetry, we're conning ourselves and our readers. Wouldn't it be more honest to call these little paragraphs flash fictions or prose vignettes?

"Sampler" © Camille MartinI’m a fiction writer. I write poetry, too, but I’ve thought like a fiction writer for as long as I can remember, and writing short stories is where most of my energy goes. That said, I owe a debt to poetry. Writing in lines helped me to focus on one phrase, one image, one line at a time.

When I moved back into fiction a few years ago, I took that focus with me, and I believe narrative at its best lives along the shifting border between prose and poetry.

Worrying about these distinctions may seem silly. Yet, we read poetry, fiction, and nonfiction prose in different ways. Regardless of my concerns about prose poems, there are times when a hybrid form really is called for. Such hybrids make us uneasy for good artistic reasons.

With a narrative poem by, say, Robert Frost, the lines direct my reading. I take cues from line breaks, line arrangement, meter, rhyme—all of which are conspicuously missing in a prose poem. If I were to remove the line breaks in Frost's poem to make it look like a paragraph, it would still read like a lined poem, moving forward and down in increments, instead of steadily forward as in narrative.

Prose poems remind me of that old writing workshop adage about making the familiar strange. If we invent worlds that are entirely strange, we make readers so uncomfortable that they don't want to turn the page. But if we present worlds that are entirely familiar, we invite contempt or, even worse, boredom. Prose poems are just unstable enough to offer a vibrant mix of the bizarre and the conventional. At the same time, they infiltrate the innocuous paragraph with heightened language and imagery that make readers notice disturbing oddities under the surface.

Take Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel.” It first appeared in her 1981 poetry collection The Country Between Us, has been reprinted in a number of poetry anthologies, and is often cited as a classic example of a prose poem.

The syntax of “The Colonel” is familiar; it reads like something out of tough-cop fiction—What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar—just the facts, ma’am, just the basic building blocks of prose.

But six sentences in, the landscape turns strange as we arrive in the realm of poetry: The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. Syntactically, this sentence follows a pattern established in the first sentence. But I want to write it out in lines like haiku:

The moon swung bare

on its black cord

over the house

Book made into a poem by blocking out some words
I want to study it—the spare image of the moon, the arresting choice of bare as a modifier, which suggests both full and naked, without defenses. That bare moon swinging on a black cord. Ah, poetry again—the moon as metaphor, the moon as a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling by a length of insulated wiring.

I’m amazed by how Forché weds image, metaphor, subject matter, tone—how, with bluntly composed sentences and the image of the moon as a naked bulb, she anticipates what is to come. Fifteen sentences later, two-thirds of the way through the poem, the title character empties a grocery bag onto a table in front of dinner guests: He spilled many human ears on the table.

Note the understatement of the sentence itself: subject–verb–object–prepositional phrase. This bald statement forces disturbing connections with Forché’s opening sentence: What you have heard is true. Now, we’re in the realm of the nonfiction vignette. We feel more like witnesses to an actual spilling of severed ears than to a scene invented for fiction.

So, is “The Colonel” a brilliantly written nonfiction prose vignette with poetic elements? Or a poem dressed up for the masked ball as a prose paragraph?

It’s poetry, certainly. When that naked bulb illuminates a room where torturers cut off the ears of their victims, the image becomes a troubling metaphor—a bud enfolding its closed petals, everything opening out as the poem unfolds.

Part of what makes a poem is also the way white space frames the words—the way it separates a poem from what comes before and after, no matter how closely related. Reproduced in the pages of a poetry anthology, “The Colonel” looks like its own little planet in a constellation of planets.

At the same time, it looks like a lost paragraph, and since it follows the conventions of prose—cohesively arranged sentences moving forward against an arbitrary margin—readers approach it as prose, going with the flow of sentences from beginning to end without even noticing line breaks imposed by the margin.

Book page made into a poem by blocking out words

Every time I read “The Colonel,” it seems like a perfect little prose narrative. But it's also a poem. I recognize the elements of poetry—the compression of language, the brilliance of metaphor—and I hear a voice telling me a story, a tale that sounds more like fiction than poetry.

Way back in 1992, the editors of Flash Fiction must have had similar thoughts about “The Colonel.” They included it in their collection, subtitled 72 Very Short Stories, in the volume that gave flash fiction its name. When they set out to create this anthology, as the editors note in their introduction, they imagined reading an entire flash fiction without turning a page. After all, turning pages is something we associate with longer narratives.

In other words, they pictured a flash fiction much as I pictured a poem above—as a little planet set off by white space—or a page turn—from other little planets in a constellation.

I'll always approach prose poems with skepticism. But now, instead of expecting them to fail, I look for successes such as "The Colonel." I’ve come to believe that the prose poem exists because paragraphs of poetry are everywhere in longer works of prose.

Avid readers recognize them. We stop and read them again. We mark brackets around them in the margin. We read them aloud, sometimes purely for the pleasure of hearing the words in solitude, sometimes for the pleasure of sharing the poetry with others. We love the intoxicating mix of poetry and prose, of strangeness dressed in familiar clothing.

Consider, for example, the opening paragraph from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a title:

The Lieutenant

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Notice the rhythmic flow of sentences, the marriage of diction and imagery, the lovely repetitions, the breathtaking image the author closes with. Put this paragraph on a page of its own, frame it with white space—and you have a prose poem.

 


Publishing Information

  • Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories book cover“The Colonel” by Carolyn Forché, originally published in The Country Between Us (HarperCollins, 1981).
  • Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka (Norton, 1992).
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, originally published in 1929 by Scribner (new edition with Hemingway’s alternate endings: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Art Information

  • “Page 15” and "Page 11" © Eric; Creative Commons license

 

 


David Meischen, Fall 2010 David Meischen has short stories in or forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Bellingham Review, and other journals. His first published story, “Yellow Jackets,” appeared in Talking Writing, and he won the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in Mainstream Fiction in 2011.

Meischen’s poetry has appeared in the Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Coeditor of Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry, a 2011 release from Dos Gatos Press, Meischen currently serves as a juror for the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. He was nominated for Best of the Net 2012. Learn more about David at his website, Meischen Ink.


 

Comments

I too love prose poems and have written quite a few. "The Colonel" is a bone-chilling classic and Hemingway's spare, clear writing is a perfect example of writing that can easily be re-labeled as a prose poem, or a series of prose poems.
When I've captured something on the page, but it doesn't neatly fit in stanza form, the lines too long, the thought continuous, then I switch into prose poem format. It can be anywhere from one to five paragraphs/stanzas. Here's a somewhat silly example of a one-stanza prose poem (and yes, it has been published):
Shampooing the Ferret
Since he was grimy from the tops of his pointy ears to the end of his white-tipped tail, I sudsed him twice, then rinsed him and hung him to dry in the shower, erasing the funky ferret smell from this canine-correct plaything sans stuffing which might cause harm if ingested by Ringo the Havanoodle, whom you must not call a mutt, as he is a fashionable crossbreed of Havanese and Teacup Poodle, now waiting forlornly at the bathroom door for his friend to return.

I would never tell someone where to draw the line. I think we all have our own borders within. I am happiest between borders and don't think at all about genre while writing. The problem for me is finding a publisher because publishers want to nail your work down. My own prose poems borrow from many genres. I like hybrids. I like collage. I like to combine.

If prose poetry is a sub-genre of poetry and a prose poem can take many forms, including the anecdote or story, then why not call the anecdote or story a prose poem? Who gets to decide? Do we need a decider? I've seen lots of arguments on both sides. I shake my head in wonder when I submit a prose poem and and editor replies, "We do not publish speculative fiction."

I am gratified by the passionate and insightful responses here. A couple of my own responses to the thoughts posted here:

I'm not sure I agree with the suggestion that "fiction is based on real life, but poetry is more overtly so." If we acknowledge the influence of the confessional impulse on poetry being written now, then some poetry is more overtly influenced by real life. This hasn't always been the case, though. Paradise Lost is a grand work of -- what? -- fiction? myth? I know many poets who cross comfortably back and forth between the confessional and the invented when they write.

About prose poems and flash fictions: I think some prose poems are fictions, so why not call them flash fictions? That said, a confessional poet could write a prose poem that is meticulously truthful/autobiographical -- so not flash fiction. I DO love to look at the intersection between fiction and poetry, though -- I love prose poems that read like hyper-intense narratives, love flash fictions that use the language of poetry.

Your comment offers a lot of intriguing ideas to unpack, Martha. Because I have been interested in prose poems for quite some time, I've done quite a lot of investigation and a book that I have enjoyed is AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PROSE POEM by Brian Clements and Jamey Dunham. Clements is the editor of SENTENCE, which is dedicated to prose poetry. In their table of contents, the editors divide the prose poems into different categories, which include:

ANECDOTE
OBJECT POEMS
MEDITATION
APHORISM
MONOLOGUE
SURREAL IMAGERY/NARRATIVE
ESSAYISTIC
EPISTOLARY

...and so on. I think it's a mistake to insist that because a work borrows aspects of storytelling that it should not be called a poem. Not all stories are poems, but some of them are. That is the point I wanted to make. If I, the writer, submit a work as a prose poem, I don't like to be told by editor that I've written something else (speculative fiction), especially when I've done my research, my thinking, and my deep meditation on what a prose poem is. The editor has every right to refuse my poem, but I don't think the editor has the right to tell me that my work isn't what I've said it is.

In determining the "truth" of a work, there are many things to take into account. Here it's handy to remember that poems and stories are composed by a persona, and the persona is separate from the author, always. The persona is critical for the creation of art, and the term comes from the ancient practice of wearing a mask. It is by using a persona that authors stage an utterance. At any given time, an author's persona may be close to or far away from the author's actual self. Also in thinking about "truth," what do we mean: literal truth? There are many kinds of truths, and often lies are closer to certain kinds of truth. Emily Dickinson presents an intriguing subject in this respect, because all we have are her poems and her letters. I think we can see that her letters are extraordinary and that she developed very rich relationships through her letters, and she often shared her poems in her letters. Then there are also the poems which she kept in her drawer, which sometimes read like notes to herself. But even in making a note to herself, she is still adopting a persona. She is, in essence, having a conversation with herself, with various aspects of herself or perhaps even with imagined selves.

I don't think I'd agree that stories HAVE to work differently from poetry. As Clements and Dunham point out, in some instances, microfiction or flash fiction "do not participate in the conventions of the short short story." Sometimes it's hard, or even impossible, to tell the difference. And I don't think this is a bad thing at all. It is what it is, a different kind of animal. Russell Edson wrote a prose poem called "The Prose Poem as a Beautiful Animal." He compares the prose poem to an animal that is a combination of a giraffe and an elephant, with qualities of both:

YOU HAVE CREATED A BEAUTIFUL NEW ANIMAL, SAID ONE OF THE SCIENTISTS.
DO YOU REALLY LIKE IT?
LIKE IT? CRIED THE SCIENTIST, I ADORE IT, AND WOULD LOVE TO HAVE SEX WITH IT THAT I MIGHT CREATE ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL ANIMAL...

Theresa, that's so true. Since you're also both a poet and a fiction writer, I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether there's a distinction between prose poetry and flash fiction.

"Why not call the anecdote or story a prose poem?" Interesting question, Theresa. For me, it's one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it things, and I do think prose poems can be stories or have narrative drive. Still, most prose narratives work differently than poetry--they hook the reader in different ways, and the structure clues the reader in about how to read the piece. Of course, one of the things I like about prose poetry is that it subverts how we read. It gets us to pay attention to images and strings of words in new ways. And it tugs us out of the comfort zone of standard storytelling and narration.

It's the tricky term "fiction" that I find troubling. David is quite right that many poems relay myths, dramatic monologues, or other issues that aren't simply real life or confessional. I've been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson lately, in preparation for an essay I'm writing, and I'm struck anew at how many of her poems sound like very private notes to the Self or Soul. How "true" are they? I don't know. But I do know that some fiction conveys more truth than standard memoirs.

Yes, let's rescue the lyric from "pretty." And I'm so happy TW will be spotlighting prose poetry in our next issue! I'm feeling quite warm and fuzzy about messy hybrids, and this discussion makes me believe our readers like the mess, too. I'd be very interested to hear David and Nancy's definitions of the lyrical essay, because again, I don't think pretty language necessarily has to figure in.

A big thanks back to you, Theresa. On the eve of Thanksgiving, we have a lot to be thankful for at TW.

Hi Martha. Good point. The lyric poem isn't always beautiful. But I felt the discussion drifting heavily into that territory. Even Forche's piece has a sort of "terrible" beauty in the images. And there are just so MANY ways a prose poem can go. It can be silly, experimental, absurd, ugly, fantastical, or just about anything else you can name. The prose poem has been unduly reviled in my opinion (some people call them the "bastards" of literary genres). I'm just advocating for more openness in the literary community because it really is dispiriting to have your work regarded with suspicion when you've worked very hard to study and hone your craft.

The hybrid is where I live, where I feel excited. That's where it all happens for me creatively.

As for creative nonfiction/journalism, I think it all comes down to purpose, what your piece needs to accomplish. In my own mind, creative nonfiction just means that one borrows the techniques usually associated with other genres. But it still adheres, as much as possible, to "what really happened."

You are doing great work with TW, Martha!

Martha, can you please infect the editors of the world with your warm and fuzzy feelings for hybrids? LOL. Happy T Day, everyone. David, thanks for your thought provoking essay.

What a marvelous, insightful and thought-provoking discussion! I apologize for being a bit late to the table, but I'd love to chime in. David, thank you for exploring this topic. I've been puzzled by the very term prose poem since prose and poetry are usually approached as separate and distinct entities. So, I appreciated Elizabeth's comment: "The world likes its little boxes. Creative people have a hard time fitting into them." I think the prose poem is a case when two boxes overlap. I started to wonder if there was a mathematical term for this area of overlap (not sure why, I'm not a math-brained person, but I did wonder). I discovered it is called boxicity. (Not a term you will find in Merriam-Webster.)

If you'll allow a quick digression, here is the definition for boxicity. In graph theory, boxicity is a graph invariant, introduced by Fred S. Roberts in 1969. The boxicity of a graph is the minimum dimension in which a given graph can be represented as an intersection graph of axis-parallel boxes. That is, there must exist a one-to-one correspondence between the vertices of the graph and a set of boxes, such that two boxes intersect if and only if there is an edge connecting the corresponding vertices. --Thank you. Wikipedia!

So these areas of overlap must have something in common. If I were to apply the boxicity definition to prose poetry, the common areas would be lyricism and form. The language of a prose poem is lyrical, expressing the writer's emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way. The box-like form is what makes the poem look like prose.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about another hybrid form: the lyrical essay. I just attended a workshop on the malleable form of the essay. The lyrical essays that we looked at really made an impression on me: "Leap" by Eric Doyle and "Otis and Jake" by Geoff Schmidt. The language is lyrical. The story is told in brief flashes, like recalling a memory. White space is as important as type-space. The poem box overlapping the essay box. And also the prose poem, overlapping the essay. Interestingly enough, I found one site that categorized these two works as prose poems, though all the others (when you do a Google search) refer to them as lyrical essays or just essays. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Martha, I hope that you'll be sharing your Emily Dickinson essay on TW soon. one of my favorite quotes from her is "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."

I often got my hand slapped (metaphorically) when I was an undergraduate because writing teachers thought I wasn't sticking to what they considered the appropriate form for a short story or poem. The world likes its little boxes. Creative people have a hard time fitting into them.

We make an effort not to box in writers at TW, but we do have our TOC categories: personal essays, fiction, poetry, etc. Are those boxes? Usually, they're how the authors define their own work when submitting it, but now you've made me wonder....

I love prose poetry, too, and it seems to me that "poetry" is a key part of what this hybrid is all about. What I wonder is about the "fiction" in flash fiction. Does this mean that all flash fiction is untrue--but prose poetry can be true in the sense that memoir is true?

Writers know that fiction is based on real life, but poetry is more overtly so. I think you're right, Martha, that this could be the dividing line. But how to determine which is which? We take our clue from the descriptor, but the distinction you note compels an author to choose honestly.

David, the Hemingway passage you chose is one of my all-time favorite opening paragraphs.

I think the boxes are useful as long as they don't kill experimentation and creativity. Boundaries and forms are necessary on the one hand. How else to know what to rebel against? How else to have forms to combine? Hybrid forms are gaining ground on online venues. I have no problem with form, just with strict adherence to them. It makes it hard for writers like me sometimes. We love form. BUT! We like to cross boundaries.

Much food for thought as well in your comments, Theresa. I am enjoying this discussion! And I love this line: "An author’s persona may be close to or far away from the author’s actual self." Yes, indeed, even the most confessional forms of writing involve a persona, a public presentation of the self. That's grist for a whole series of articles in itself, but it does speak to how mediated all forms of "truth" are, including journalistic pieces. That said, the labels used for writing determine how we read a piece. That's why prose poetry is such a vibrant hybrid, in David's terms, and why it destabilizes the usual experience of reading prose.

I certainly agree that no editor should tell you that a piece you call poetry is actually "speculative fiction." I'm not even sure what the "speculative" means in this context--experimental? Basically, I call that a cop out. I'm far more comfortable with the term "prose poetry" than "flash fiction," but I see the benefits of both as useful frames, especially if it's the author assigning the label. Essentially you're saying: "Reader, this is how I'd like you to approach my piece."

Or more to the point, self-definition of a piece of writing directs the writing process. I believe the label "fiction" can be useful because it gives the writer permission to expand and recreate and defy lived experience in any way he/she wants to. I believe "poetry" is a useful label because it give writers permission to play with language, to make unusual word choices, to throw together images that compete. As David notes, you can do that when you're writing other forms of prose as well, but poetry is about painting the world with language--or that's one of an infinite number of definitions.

Regardless, I love it all. And Emily Dickinson -- ! So much more to say there. Stay tuned....

I love prose poems much, reading them and writing them. They are a great invitation to experiment. Of all the forms, I think I love the prose poem most of all.

Martha, I'm also feeling warm and fuzzy about messy hybrids and I'm enjoying the conversation here very much. I think lyrical writing has rhythm and a musical quality when read aloud. But that doesn't mean that the sound has to be pretty or pleasing. It could be a cacophony, a clashing dissonance. (I sing with a symphony chorus and we can convey a wide range of emotion and sound.) Another quality of something lyrical is its ability to express emotion, and emotions cover a wide range of feeling. An emotional response can be introspective, furious, outraged, or even comical, and on and on. So lyrical can be loud and messy as well as light and pretty.

I like your comment about being suspicious of creative nonfiction. The term begs a knee jerk response, "If we're not telling the truth, shouldn't it be fiction?" And certainly the embellishments made in James Frey's Million Little Pieces and Jonah Lehrer's Imagine have made the genre susceptible to suspicion. But Lee Gutkind, Editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine defines the genre as true stories, well told. The word "creative" does not give license to depart from what really happened (as you stated) but to use literary craft to make a true story read like a fictional one.

SO how does a lyrical essay differ from creative nonfiction? I'm not sure that it does. I think it is a form of creative nonfiction. I think creative nonfiction can be essay, memoir, poetry. (please correct me if I'm wrong)

In the workshop on the malleable form of the essay, the instructor started by asking how we remember things. We remember in flashes, just bits and pieces. He said that filling in the space between these flashbacks is what makes memoir and creative nonfiction unreliable (or suspicious). He compared the lyrical essay to a series of flashbacks, the way some poems focus on a single moment or memory. Then to make it an essay, rather than just string of random thoughts, the author finds the common theme or the thread that holds them all together. All the little moments then move toward a final conclusion.

I'm exploring the idea of literary hybrids like lyrical essays and prose poems for the first time and appreciate your responses. Martha, I look forward to reading prose poems in the next issue! I hope that some of Theresa's will be published.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Another way of describing the overlap between poetry and prose is to use the Venn diagram. Picture poetry as a circle and prose as another circle. Now move the circles together so that there is an area of overlap between the two circles. This is where the prose poem would live. It is where, perhaps, certain narrative poems might live. It is where the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms -- in my estimation -- would live.

I like this question about lyrical essays, Nancy, because it's made me think about what that really means. What's your definition? How does it differ from creative nonfiction? If there's one genre box I'm suspicious of, it's creative nonfiction. The journalist in me winces at the notion that nonfiction can be "creative"--although of course it can--just not at the expense of facts.

And the sense of "lyrical essay" appeals to me. It's clearly about thinking and a personal point of view with an emphasis on stylish language use.

But, yes, Theresa, you're right that not all prose poems are lyrical. (Although does "lyrical" always mean pretty? Could it be any kind of language that has a musical quality?) As for genre boxes, I also agree that they should never hobble writers while they're in the midst of creating a poem or story.

Still, I'd argue from an editorial standpoint that the frames are useful once a piece is being presented to readers. With a magazine especially, it helps readers to know whether a piece will challenge their expectations (as in prose poetry), be short or long (flash fiction vs. a novel excerpt or a personal essay), is a provocative feature or a personal meditation (an opinion piece vs. a lyrical essay), and so on.

I don't believe in boxing in literary writers with rigid genre categories; but I do believe in clarifying and framing content for readers. In an online publication, the challenge of hooking readers quickly is even more demanding than in print. At TW, we're big supporters of long features, experimental work, prose poetry, and everything else that doesn't fall into the standard online box of hot-button topic at 800 words max. We care about getting readers to great and innovative work and believe it can be done online—but it remains a continuing struggle nonetheless. In pragmatic terms, that's where the genre boxes help.

There's a lot of focus in the thread on lyricism, but not all prose poems are lyrical and so won't fit neatly into your Venn diagram. What do you do with something like Russell Edson or Charles Simic? At the beginning of Simic's "Heroic Moment" he writes: I went bare-assed into battle. The President himself heard of my insolence. I was given a flea-ridden mutt to ride.

For me, it's better to write first and name what I've written later. Otherwise I get trapped in somebody else's idea of what a given form/genre/sub-genre is "supposed" to be. In my own case, I came to the conclusion that I'd written prose poems only after I'd written them. Prose poems are really all over the place in terms of style and subject matter. It's more like a verdant jungle or, as Edson wrote in my previous example, a weird, hybrid animal. We probably have yet to discover everything that a prose poem "can" be.

I'm not worried or suspicious at all.

Perfect! I was so "boxed" in my thinking, I'd forgotten about Venn diagrams. The images are the same just one is created with polygons and the other with circles.

I'm curious, are you suspicious of lyrical essays? Do you think they are just epic prose poems?

Hi Nancy, Thanks for your comment. I see from my comments that I have rather left the impression that I can't get my pieces published, and I didn't mean to do that. I have placed twenty or so in the last year, and Apple Valley Review just nominated one of my prose poems for a Pushcart. The same prose poem was rejected, however, by other editors who didn't see it as poetry, a situation I find hard to understand in the final analysis. But I'm more determined than ever. :-)

I'm not sure I can even begin to define lyrical -- or lyric --essay. An "expository essay" has an exoskeleton, which is to say that the structure is highly visible. We can readily identify a thesis statement. Paragraphs are likely to have explicit topic sentences. The author is likely to give us the kernel of her/his idea and the outset and then flesh out the idea in a linear fashion.

A "lyric essay," by contrast, has an internal skeleton/structure. The thesis -- or central idea -- is more likely to be implicit or more likely to arrive in the essay's closing lines. Paragraphs are less likely to depend upon topic sentences, linear connection, more likely to develop by way of associative connections. The pacing is likely to be more "leisurely" than with an expository essay.

I don't say this to disparage the expository essay -- I LOVE a good expository essay -- but when I read a lyric essay, it doesn't "feel" like an essay. It's missing the exoskeleton, the explicit markers.

One of my favorite essays ever is E.B. White's "Once More to the Lake." (If you don't know this essay, do an online search; it's available.). I don't know if the term lyric essay even existed when White wrote this lovely meditation, but to me it's a lyric essay. White narrates personal experiences here -- with lovely, evocative images, with "lyrical" language. The structure is there. It has to be, or we descend into incoherence. But it's submerged. And the grip we feel at the closing line would be ruined, I think, if White had told us in the opening paragraph that it was coming.

We need a wide range of choices when we sit down to express ourselves in nonfiction. We need the more explicit structure of the expository essay AND the nuances of the lyric essay. We need to allow ourselves to write essays that are hybrids of the expository and the lyric.

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