What is creative nonfiction? Or more specifically, what I yearn toward—the lyric essay? Even as I write down these questions, I see in my head the first
disconnected threads of my answer weaving themselves together—that owl in dead winter draping its nest with the carcasses of rabbit. And the dry buzz of the electric wires overhead,
something like rain falling down over us in those cold woods. (Note to Self: What is it about a suspended, hot electrical wire that makes the air weep? Look it up.) And that student in my first creative nonfiction class —the round-faced, middle-aged housewife from India I broke the heart of—dead now.
Already I run my fingers over the weft and woof of my words —ahh, the terms of weaving again, and, better yet, the word baana, from India, derived, Wikipedia tells me, “from another hindi word, bun na or bunai, which means making with threads or strings.” (Note to Self: image of my Indian housewife unwittingly weaving her primitive essays with the long golden threads of her Indian childhood, what she never realized the beauty of—those pungent, spiced boxes from her own mother arriving overseas to her forlorn American kitchen. Do something with this). And now I think of Penelope, three years weaving and unweaving her shroud against the din and banter of her unwanted suitors who would marry her mourning for her lost Odysseus —
Is this the siren call of the lyric essay? Its utter plasticity—(Note to Self: stick with weaving)—its intricate tapestry, its finger-worn threads guided into the freed forms the creative nonfiction writer calls braided, collage, hermit crab? The whole spectrum of writing—poetry, essay, fiction, drama, the personal “I” reflective, objective, ruminating—possible as opposed to the linearity and stifling objectivity of the journalist’s prose? Or the rack and ruin of the purist’s freshman composition?
On the Lyric Essay « Ben Marcus
"We turn to the lyric essay - with its malleability, ingenuity, immediacy, complexity, and use of poetic language - to give us a fresh way to make music of the world. But we must be willing to go out on an artistic limb with these writers, keep our balance on their sometimes vertiginous byways. Anne Carson, in her essay on the lyric, 'Why Did I Awake Lonely Among the Sleepers' (Published in Seneca Review Vol. XXVII, no. 2) quotes Paul Celan. What he says of the poem could well be said of the lyric essay: The poem holds its ground on its own margin.... The poem is lonely. It is lonely and en route. Its author stays with it. If the reader is willing to walk those margins, there are new worlds to be found." - both excerpts from