The following publications have excellent archives of lyric essays


Glatch, S. (2023, February 28). Writing without limits: Understanding the lyric essay. Writers.com. https://writers.com/lyric-essay

lyric essay

  • explores the elements of poetry and creative nonfiction in complex and experimental ways
  • combining the subject matter of autobiography with poetry’s figurative devices and musicality of language
  • a gold standard of experimentation and language
  • conquering the form takes lots of practice
  • combines the autobiographical information of a personal essay with the figurative language, forms, and experimentations of poetry.
  • the rules of both poetry and prose become suggestions, because the form of the essay is constantly changing, adapting to the needs, ideas, and consciousness of the writer.
  • typically written in a poetic prose style
  • no one-size-fits-all definition
  • open-ended form
  • there is no form to a lyric essay—rather, form and language are experimented with interchangeably, guided only by the narrative you seek to write.


  • there’s no reason you can’t break the bounds of expression
  • incorporate poetry into the essay itself: start your essay with a normal paragraph, then describe something specific through a poem
  • express a different idea through a POV shift, a list, or some other form
  • borrow from the braided essay, the hermit crab, and other forms of creative nonfiction

contra personal essay

  • Where the personal essay transcribes experiences, the lyric essay creates them.

contra prose poem

  • lyric essays can also be prose poems
  • A prose poem, broadly defined, is a poem written in paragraphs. Unlike a traditional poem, the prose poem does not make use of line breaks: the line breaks simply occur at the end of the page. However, all other tactics of poetry are in the prose poet’s toolkit, and you can even play with poetry forms in the prose poem, such as writing the prose sonnet.
  • there’s no clear dividing line between the two. Often, the label of whether a piece is a lyric essay or a prose poem is up to the writer.
  • differences
    • Lyric essays tend to be longer. A prose poem is rarely more than a page. Some lyric essays are longer than 20 pages.
    • Lyric essays tend to be more experimental. One paragraph might be in prose, the next, poetry. The lyric essay might play more with forms like lists, dreams, public signs, or other types of media and text.
    • Prose poems are often more stream-of-conscious. The prose poet often charts the flow of their consciousness on the page. Lyric essayists can do this, too, but there’s often a broader narrative organizing the piece, even if it’s not explicitly stated or recognizable.
  • similarities
    • Rejection of “objective meaning” and the desire to set forth arguments.
    • An unobstructed flow of ideas.
    • Suggestiveness in thoughts and language, rather than concrete, explicit expressions.
    • Surprising or unexpected juxtapositions
    • Ingenuity and play with language and form

how to write

  1. start with your narrative
    • get words on the page
    • Start with a simple outline of the story
    • Focus on the main plot points and what you want to explore
    • highlight the ideas or events that will be most difficult for you to write about
    • Where words fail, form is key.
    • Combining difficult ideas and musicality allows you to find the right words when conventional language hasn’t worked.
  2. Identify moments of metaphor and figurative language
    • use as many metaphors as you need as long as they aid your message
    • start by reimagining your story as an extended metaphor.
  3. Investigate and braid different threads
    • braid different story lines together
    • the freedom to play with form makes braiding much easier and more exciting to investigate
    • use poetic forms to braid different ideas together
    • braid an extended metaphor with the main story
    • separate the threads into a contrapuntal, then reunite them in prose
  4. Revise an existing piece into a lyric essay
    • start by writing the essay as you normally would then revise to include the elements of poetic form and figurative language
    • identify the parts of your draft that don’t seem to be working, then consider changing the form into something other than prose.
    • When words don’t work, let the lyrical form intervene.
  5. Write stream-of-conscious
    • chart word-for-word, the exact order of their unfiltered thoughts on the page.
    • followed different associations with their words, one thought flowing naturally into the next, circling around a subject rather than explicitly defining it.
    • earnestly excavates the mind, creating a kind of Rorschach test that the reader can look into, interpret, see for themselves.


Even professional essayists aren’t certain about what constitutes a lyric essay, and lyric essays disagree about what makes up the form.

After students learn the basics of poetry, they may be prepared to learn the lyric essay.

Lyric essays are generally shorter than other essay forms, and focus more on language itself, rather than storyline.

Hussey, R. (2021, November 19). An introduction to the lyric essay. Book Riot. https://bookriot.com/an-introduction-to-the-lyric-essay/

lyric essays

  • Lyric essays set out to create certain effects with words, often, although not necessarily, aiming to create beauty. They are often condensed in the way poetry is, communicating depth and complexity in few words.
  • They may be more suggestive than argumentative and communicate multiple meanings, maybe even contradictory ones.
  • Lyric essays often have lots of white space on their pages, as poems do. Sometimes they use the space of the page in creative ways, arranging chunks of text differently than regular paragraphs, or using only part of the page, for example.
  • They sometimes include photos, drawings, documents, or other images to add to (or have some other relationship to) the meaning of the words.
  • What distinguishes them from other essays, which can also be about any subject, is their heightened attention to language.
  • they tend to deemphasize argument and carefully-researched explanations of the kind you find in expository essays.
  • they are more likely to explore and suggest than explain and defend.

contra prose poem

  • if you put prose and poetry on a continuum, with prose on one end and poetry on the other, and with prose poetry and the lyric essay somewhere in the middle, the prose poem would be closer to the poetry side and the lyric essay closer to the prose side.

Brewer, R. L. (2022, April). What is a lyric essay in writing? Writer’s Digest. https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-nonfiction/what-is-a-lyric-essay-in-writing

anyone can write a lyric essay. It just involves applying more interesting and artistic writing tools than a traditional personal essay.

the lyric essay is one that demands an adventurous spirit.

Lewis, K. (2021, October 26). A guide to lyric essay writing: 4 evocative essays and prompts to learn from. Read Poetry. https://www.readpoetry.com/a-guide-to-lyric-essay-writing-4-evocative-essays-and-prompts-to-learn-from/

  1. Draft a “braided essay.”
  2. Experiment with nonfiction forms.
  3. Travel through time.

Since lyric essays are typically longer and more free verse than poems, they can be a way to address a larger idea or broader time period.

  1. Bring in research, history, and data.