Online Course

Writing the Lyric Essay: When Poetry & Nonfiction Play

January 09 - February 12, 2023

Level Intermediate

Experiment with form and explore the possibilities of this flexible genre.

Additional Information

Some of the most artful work being done in essay today exists in a liminal space that touches on the poetic. In this course, you will read and write lyric essays (pieces of creative nonfiction that move in ways often associated with poetry) using techniques such as juxtaposition; collage; white space; attention to sound; and loose, associative thinking. You will read lyric essays that experiment with form and genre in a variety of ways (such as the hermit crab essay, the braided essay, multimedia work), as well as hybrid pieces by authors working very much at the intersection of essay and poetry. We will proceed in this course with an attitude of play, openness, and communal exploration into the possibilities of the lyric essay, reaching for our own definitions and methods, even as we study the work of others for models and inspiration. Whether you are an aspiring essayist interested in infusing your work with fresh new possibilities, or a poet who wants to try essay, this course will have room for you to experiment and play.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Lyric Models: Space and Collage

In this first week, we’ll consider definitions and models for the lyric essay. You will read contemporary pieces that straddle the line between personal essay and poem, including work by Toi Derricotte, Anne Carson, and Maggie Nelson. In exercises, you will explore collage and the use of white space.

Week 2: Experiments with Form: Braided Essay and Hermit Crab Essay

We will build on our discussion of collage and white space, looking at examples of the braided essay. We’ll also examine the hermit crab essay, in which writers “sneak” personal essays into other forms, such as a job letter, shopping list, or how-to manual. You’ll experiment with your own braided pieces and hermit crab pieces and turn in the first assignment.

Week 3: Lyric Vignette and the Prose Poem

Prose poems will often capture emotional truths using juxtaposition, hyperbole, and absurd or surreal leaps of logic. This week, we’ll investigate how lyrical vignettes can stay true to actual events while employing some of the lyrical, dreamlike, and/or absurd qualities of the prose poem to communicate the wonder and mystery of life.

Week 4: Witnessing the Self: Essays by Poets

Poet Larry Levis has written of the poet as witness, as temporarily emptied of personality but simultaneously connected to a self, a “gazer.” Personal essays by poets retain something of this quality. Examining essays by poets such as Ross Gay, Lucia Perillo, Amy Gerstler, and Elizabeth Bishop, we’ll look at moments of connection and disconnection. Guided exercises will help you find and craft your own such moments.

Week 5: Hybrid Forms and the Documentary Impulse

As we wrap up the course, we will continue investigating the possibilities inherent in straddling and combining genres as we explore multimedia work, as well as work in the “documentary poetics” vein. We will look to writers like Claudia Rankine and Bernadette Mayer, Roz Chast and Maira Kalman for models of what is possible creatively when we observe ourselves as social beings moving through time, collecting text, images, and observations. Students will also turn in a final essay.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration

$260.00

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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

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Testimonials

I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines.

Catherine O’Neill

Online Course FAQs

  • What day and time is my online course?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins. If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • What makes CNF’s classes different from other online programs?

    Flexibility

    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace based on your schedule. While some optional events—such as class video conferences—do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes

    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors

    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments

    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer pieces multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection

    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • What are your community standards?

    Creative Nonfiction is committed to creating a welcoming and comfortable experience for all staff and participants regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, physical appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, age, or religion.

    We expect that staff and participants will treat each other with respect in all interactions. We will not tolerate discrimination or harrassment in conjunction with any of our programs. Harassment could include but is not limited to:

    • Repeated disruption of classes, lectures or discussion
    • Deliberate intimidation
    • Unwelcome sexual attention
    • Comments or displayed images that harmfully reinforce structures of oppression

    Community posts violating any of these guidelines can and will be removed from the page at any time. Anyone asked to stop harassing behavior is expected to comply immediately.

    Harassment does not include respectful disagreement or critique in good faith. Reading and writing, by their nature, include exposure to controversial, challenging, and sometimes offensive language. We encourage all participants to follow the peer review guidelines provided by their instructor.

    When you join a course you agree to…

    • respect others and respect their writing;
    • maintain the privacy of all submitted work;
    • treat others with respect;
    • not infringe on anyone’s copyright;
    • not harass, abuse, threaten or impersonate another user; and
    • not use libelous, obscene, or abusive work.


    Online Communication Guide

    Online communication happens without the benefit of body language and tone. Therefore, it can be easy to misinterpret. The following tips may help participants engage in civil, intelligent, vigorous discourse without impugning the personal dignity of others:

    1. Start from a position of generosity (i.e. assume that people mean well)
    2. Address your post to someone or to the group. Instead of “Hey” or just jumping in to your post, try “Hi All” or “Hi [Name].”
    3.  Don’t be afraid to use emoticons and/or exclamation points! 🙂
    4. Please avoid ALL CAPS whenever possible, as they tend to come off as RUDE or YELLING.
    5. Avoid harsh or offensive language of any kind. If you’re in doubt, try rewording or reconsidering your post.
    6. Sarcasm is very difficult to convey in writing — best to avoid it.
    7. When interacting with your peers, please consider that some may have limited experience with English, online education, and/or creative writing. It’s a good rule of thumb not to write anything you wouldn’t say if that person were standing in front of you.
    8. Often writers from underrepresented groups are asked to explain everything for an assumed monolithic audience (often cis/white/hetero/masculine/able-bodied, etc. etc.). As you respond to peers’ work, keep in mind that you may not be the writer’s intended audience, and leave room for the possibility that the writer is writing for a group of which you are not a member. (For more on this, listen to this episode of Code Switch for an in depth conversation.)

    See your course for additional feedback guidelines provided by your instructor.

  • How do I find my course archive?

    All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.

  • What do the course levels mean?

    FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.
    Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.

    INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. 
    Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.

    ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. 
    Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).