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Seneca Review - Spring 2005

  • Subtitle: New Lyric Essayists
  • Issue Number: Volume 35 Number 1
  • Published Date: Spring 2005

I Wanted to Write a Poem, William Carlos Williams explained why he reduced a five line stanza so that it would match a four line stanza: “See how much better it conforms to the page, how much better it looks?” Unsurprisingly, this same attention to form–form for form’s sake, as an aesthetic consideration, perhaps even more than a literary one–characterizes much of the work of the fifteen writers Seneca Review features in their Spring 2005 edition “New Lyric Essayists.” Both Seneca and lyric essay editor John D’Agata seem to have a fondness for the term “new.” When Seneca began publishing what it has dubbed “lyric” essays in 1997, they declared them “new terrain,” though the newness of that terrain is debatable. The essay has always been, by definition, an “experimental” form. Consider, for example, the fragmented nature of much of Montaigne’s digression and aphorism-ridden work or the mode of essay writing know as zuihisu in Japanese, practiced by writers such as Kenko as early as the 13th century. However, Seneca is to be heartily applauded for continuing to remind readers that essays need not be the boring five-paragraph theme too many generations of composition students were once forced to digest. Of note here is the lead piece “The Pain Scale” by Eula Bliss, as well “Raptors, Grammar and the Electric Clock Bird” by Colette LaBouff Atkinson, two works in which content, form and an essayistic inquisitiveness about how fact intersects emotion, come together in a mix that’s as heady and satisfying as a Dirty Martini. While not all of the essays here are quite as intoxicating–a few struck me as not worth the time to piece together, the ever-present risk of fetishizing form–Seneca Review never ceases to be provocative, and those who like essays as jig-saw puzzles will no doubt have a ball playing with some of these pieces. [– Kathe Lison

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Review Posted on April 14, 2016

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