My experience with the essay has been predominantly through lines of scholarly enquiry – introduction, context, analysis, argument, conclusion. This has never adequately reflected the messiness of my thinking, however (a short attention span, a tendency towards distraction, skipping between writing and reading, poem and theory and email). COVID-19 (lockdown, isolation, too many online meetings) has further frustrated my brain (flitting between stimuli, forgetting a thought half-way through conversations, and so on).
‘The lyric essay requires an allegiance to intuition. Because we are no
longer tied to a logical, linear narrative or argument, we must
surrender to the writing process itself to show us the essay’s intent. In
so doing, we reveal ourselves in a roundabout way. When we write in
the mode of the lyric essay, we create not only prose pieces but a
portrait of our subconscious selves, the part of us that speaks in
riddles or in brief, imagistic flashes.’
(Miller and Paola 109)
When I arrive home after visiting Jonai Farms (it’s a Monday, I know the work emails will be piling up), I’m reading over some notes I made years ago on lyric essays for a guest lecture I am due to give for a colleague at RMIT (so many tasks jostling for attention). A lyric essay – what John D’Agata suggests is ‘when an essay begins to behave less like an essay and more like a poem’ (172) – can deviate from the linear trajectories of traditional modes of knowledge-creation, can light up other pathways. While all essays, to some extent, ‘[simulate] the mind working its way through a problem’ (Monson), lyric essays draw potency from poetry’s toolkit – use of fragmentation (or ‘segmentivity,’ to recall Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ term for distinguishing poetry from prose), juxtaposition, metaphor, ambiguity, white space; they are ‘attuned to silences’ as well as to the ‘rhythms of language’ (Miller and Paola 108) and they demonstrate an ‘allegiance to intuition’ (109).
‘(Poetry) makes the invisible world visible. It transforms our politics by
enhancing our ability to make comparisons and draw distinctions.’
‘Turn-Pig’ (Part I) is an invitation to dirty one’s boots on pathways through an ethical problem. A spot of reprieve at Tammi’s own words – ‘A Life in Common with Nature’ – we hitch a ride on her thought-tails until we arrive at a clearing:
‘That is what makes poems an undependable vehicle for advocacy.
The poem is easily distracted. It wanders away from the
demonstration, the committee meeting, the courtroom, toward the
lake or that intriguing, mysterious light over there.’
I am easily distracted, but on this terrain, Tammi isn’t. Poem-ing together, we game an understanding to the accompaniment of Betty’s powerful lungs.