Good news! The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900 has chosen my extended critical essay, "Useful Ambivalence: Adventures in Lyric Essay Land," to be part of their 2010 conference. I will present the paper at the University of Louisville in February of 2010.
Here is the abstract for the paper (see below). I'd love to hear from anyone who has been working in the form. Why do you choose to make use of the dual possibilities of the lyric essay? What challenges does it present?
This essay, “Useful Ambivalence: Adventures in Lyric Essay Land,” explores the blurring of boundaries between poetry and essay, as well as the interstitial space between them where magic sometimes happens. What is a lyric essay? Why do writers seem to choose hybrid genres more frequently now? Are clear demarcations between genres meaningful? Can a lyric essay exist apart from its words? What is the role of Truth in this genre?
This work will examine the apparent interdependence of form and content in lyric essays. It will also seek to establish a working definition of the term “lyric essay,” look briefly at its origins, and closely examine three examples in the genre: The Body by Jenny Boully, “The Theory and Practice of Postmodernism: A Manifesto” by David Antin, and selections from Joan Didion’s The White Album. In the close readings, I will examine elements common to essays that have been termed “lyric,” either by the authors or by editors who anthologize their work. Excerpts of each of the aforementioned works appear in John D’Agata’s seminal anthology, The Next American Essay; a self-proclaimed lyric essayist, D’Agata will frequently serve as a guide throughout this study. This essay shall also posit explanations for the recent proliferation of works that resist categorization, i.e. what is to be gained from blurring the lines?
“Useful Ambivalence” will also investigate the craft of the lyric essay. How do the aforementioned writers use juxtaposition, negative space, jazz, narrative, and other techniques to render meaning? Finally, the study ends with an envoy addressed to readers and writers who might wish to continue investigating the form of the lyric essay.