Lyrical Essay

The Lyrical Essay.

The lyrical essay has a great deal in common with poetry, and like a poem its narrative develops ideas through imagery and sense impressions. 

So you should make use of poetic effects such as alliteration, assonance, rhythm, meter, repetition, white space, and so forth.

The form can combine unexpected content, such as fragments, found objects (texts).

And yet it is still an essay.

A formal essay is clearly written to express an opinion––a point, or an objective.

The lyrical essay should still have its point, but it can be more suggestive than dogmatic.


Here are some thoughts about the Lyrical Essay from the Seneca Review:

• Combines prose and poetry

• Constructed from a distillation of ideas

• Mentions but doesn’t expound

• Suggestive but not exhaustive

• Relies on associations, imagery, and connotation

• Makes reference to other genres, such as film, music, literature

• Arranged in fragments as a mosaic

• Based on stories that are metaphors

• Based on intimate voice

  • Crafted with lyrical language
  • Can be inconclusive. 

Here are four categories of Lyrical Essay.

Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, in “Tell It Slant,” identify four categories of lyrical essay:

• The prose poem or flash nonfiction essay

• The collage essay

• The braided essay

• The “Hermit Crab” essay

1. The Prose Poem. It is crafted like prose but reads like a poem. It is written in sentences, not verse. The writer uses poetic devices, such as imagery, symbolism, simile, metaphor to create a prose poem of one or more paragraphs. The writer also uses literary prose by using alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme.

2. The Collage Essay. Like an art collage, the collage of a lyrical essay is based on a collection of fragments from different sources. For instance, prose, poetry, quotation might be combined. The use of juxtaposition is used. The writer separates each section with white space, an asterisk, subtitles, epigraph.

3. The Braided Essay relies on the lyrical examination of a particular topic. The writer uses fragments of detail from different sources . According to Brenda Miller in “Tell IT Slant”, the writer fragments the essay into separate pieces that repeat throughout the essay. There is a weaving of different ideas, such as quotations, descriptions, facts, lists, poet language, imagery. This essay also allows for an outside voice to provide details, along with the writer’s voice and experiences. 

4. We’ve already played with the “Hermit Crab” Essay.

Here’s a Lyrical Essay:

Baudelaire Street by Chen Li
(Chen Li was born in Taiwan in 1954. He is regarded as one of the most innovative and exciting poets writing in Chinese today, and is the author of fourteen books of poetry and a prolific writer of prose).

Life is worth less than a line of Baudelaire’s poetry. Thus I may as well simply call the few streets that I routinely pass by, “Baudelaire’s.”

My Baudelaire street starts at dusk. When you put down your briefcases or school bags, when you turn on your TVs or video game consoles, I, hand in hand with my bicycle, slowly leave my childhood.

I would ride past a dental casting clinic, where the self-taught pseudo-dentist uses his instruments to quickly stop your toothache, or to pull out your decayed tooth and fit you with a denture, which leaves you with gum inflammation within a year and in more pain than when you went in.

I would ride past an oyster-omelet shop, where the mom is frying oysters and the pop is adding eggs—picking them up from a basket, squeezing them open and throwing the shells out, as if he were a robot. Their son is busy collecting the eggshells from the floor and giving them to the doctor’s wife next door, to be used as a nourishing face mask every morning and evening.

I would ride past San’s family electronic toy store. I stop abruptly in front of their doorway, stand on top of the bike and shout loudly, “Long Live the Republic of China!” All the passers-by look at me in astonishment. Only she, who’s in her room, knows that what I really mean is: “I miss you!”

I would ride past a wealthy family’s house, with a sign on its doorstep that says “private garage, no parking please.”

I would ride past the house of an even wealthier family, with a sign on the ground next to its entrance that says “parking is prohibited in front of the garage.”

I would ride past a small eatery that sells fried tempura and pig’s blood cake. I can’t help walking in, for hidden in pig’s blood is our drool; besides, their lovely daughter is my classmate from primary school.

I would wait for my primary school classmate to hand me another pig’s blood cake when her parents aren’t watching. I would ask her parents, “Does A-Hui still work at that American firm in Taipei? When is she coming back?”

I would ride past a bridge. At the end of the bridge always stands a man that looks like a battered old leather suitcase, dragging behind him a bunch of battered old leather suitcases.

I would ride past a bar. Sometimes the male accordion player would come out, and greet me warmly, “Little brother, let’s be friends.” I would smile warmly and leave. I had come to know long ago that the girls in the bar aren’t worried about him, because they say he loves boys more than girls.

I would ride to the corner of Fraternity Street. I pause there for several minutes, waiting for a woman wearing gold, wire-rimmed glasses to elegantly reverse her light blue car; two out of three times she would end up bumping into the signboard erected on the side that advertises healing stones.

I would ride past a cotton quilt store.

I would ride past an aquarium.

I would ride past a sexy lingerie store that many men pass but few women enter, where a lot of beautiful lingerie is hung.

I would ride up to a sushi and sashimi snack bar. I stare at the colorful neon signs in front of me, until I hear the female owner of the jade shop on the opposite side of the street speaking in a whisper to her husband, “Watch out for this youngster who stops here every day—is he after our stock?”

I would ride swiftly past you.

I would ride swiftly past my adulthood.

And ride back to my childhood. Because I know life is worth less than a line of Baudelaire’s poetry.


Home Bodily Repair Kit

by FLEDA BROWNJanuary 8, 2015


Hair Painting

The cuticle of the hair must be opened so that dye can reach the cortex. Open-heart surgery used to require breaking the whole chest apart. All spiritual traditions say you have to lose your life to find it. My body is losing itself, my hair is losing its pigment. More than 75 percent of women and a lot of men color their hair, even though after only two weeks, gray will show at anyone’s roots. My hairdresser has a technique called “painting” that leaves streaks of gray, a more natural look. It is a delicate art form. I seem to be compelled to strip away the veil; it is my art to both expose and hide, never revealing how much of either. Gray hair’s texture is coarser, which is an advantage, since it needs to be uplifted to counteract the effect of gravity’s extended relationship with the jowls. You can’t really turn gray overnight. Your psychological state has a significant impact on the hormones that can affect the amount of melanin deposited in each strand of hair, but the effect of emotion takes a long time to see.



The beginning of my problem was when I got the idea I was above the earth. It was my head, thinking it ran things. But gravity is why I couldn’t altogether escape. Neither can the moon, trapped in the dimple earth makes in space. My body is sagging into a trough. How big our planet is, how fiercely it wants to win. How long can I hold it off? The stars, too, can barely maintain themselves. Gravity squishes hydrogen into helium—one hundred million years later, a star is born! Gravity keeps on trying to crush its child, and finally does. My bones will be dust. The fleshy part of my stomach will forget posture. My organs will turn off their intercoms. I would weigh 21.6 pounds on the moon. How good would I be in bed? I would have to learn floating. I love his weight on my bones. There are three blankets on our bed, all welcome. My problem is that I think I can wake up and throw them off, that I can be free of the part that goes on when I’m helplessly asleep.


Overview and Objectives of the Neck

The neck is a column or pipe with several smaller pipes inside it, so as to be able to make various kinds of music out of air. Its lift and curve has been likened (he has likened it) to a swan’s, a winning combination of elegance and vulnerability. But here’s the thing: the exterior column is covered with such fragile skin that it loses its grip on itself year by year. Its first sighs are called Venus rings, as if from too much loving. The strap muscles do what they can. You can strengthen the base, but the crumpling goes on. Who would have thought I’d end up so trivial? Do I think I am Mandelstam in his gulag, writing immortal and perfect poems about butterflies, poems that contribute to the Greater Social Good in ways understood by only a few? Or do I think I can flaunt the sadness of my neck like a scarf, theatrical, signaling to the audience some grand, private despair?


The Brain

His body has cooled down since I first used it for my furnace. In The Matrix, the heat and electrical activity of human bodies are used as fuel to create a simulated reality. Humans live their lives in dreams while machines run the world. The dream world is also called samsara. I have spent years imagining my life, while it was actually here, cooling and shining out of a pure sense of itself, beyond repair. My words have made not one dimple in its surface. The brain thought it had won, but its stories wore thin from use. It was giving the same explanations over and over: He did this, I did that, this is why, as a result. The one place delusion is still nice, though, is with my light brown eye shadow and faint brush of blush to suggest excitement and a dusky sexuality. But it’s too much to manage for long. In one theory, the biggest stars collapse into black holes until the laws of gravity fail. We can’t call it collapse after that. We could just as easily call it love, the only unmooring visible from here.