Mystery Hybrid: Further Thoughts on the Lyric Essay


I did a recent post on an article featuring explanations of the lyric essay and today I would like to open up one more quote, this one, from Judith Kitchen. She writes: 

“…Like a poem, the lyric essay must not only mean, but be. It is a way of seeing the world. A hybrid—a cross between poetry and nonfiction—it must, as Rene Char said of the poet, ‘leave traces of [its] passage, not proof,’ letting mystery into the knowing. Or the knowing to incorporate its mystery. And part of that knowing is through sound—the whisper of soft consonants, the repetition of an elongated vowel that squeaks its way across the page, the chipping away of k-k-k-k, the assonance and consonance of thought attuned to language. The internal rhyme of the mind. “(46)”


1. The lyric essay must be. I don’t know if I understand this particular angle. I assume it is referring to the shape or path of the piece as it is as an experience, the essence or the spirit of the essay–the presence of it over and above its meaning, the “character” of the piece, perhaps.

2. It is a form of perception (a way of seeing). This is straightforward enough. It allows us to be aware of the frame of the piece and how it is, not only what it stands for. It is not framed only in expressing a logical argument, but in presenting the argument in ways that may seem strange, unusual, unique, or even cinematic. It is an experience in a new way of seeing. 

3. It is a hybrid, leaving traces of its proof. The lyric essay does not seek to demonstrate, but to infiltrate, to linger and fester in the mind of the reader. A fragmented piece, while reading it, might baffle the reader, but upon exit, upon reflection, cracks that went unnoticed might rise to the surface and take a wholly new form.

4. Mystery. The lyric essay is a space for wonder, for curiosity, for smearing and blurring, for making clear (or making messy) and for slicing, dicing, cutting, and weaving. It is a spot of suspense and beauty, a thing-in-itself, and a passage–a corridor.

5. The importance of sound. Like the way a song lingers, the lyric essay should linger as more than “information,” but more as an entrance. One should enjoy or revel in the pleasurable experience of voicing a lyric essay, of reading it aloud, be drawn in by the sound, the music, the poetry. 

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