Lesson No. 1: Introduction to Braid, Crab, and Collage Essays



Oh, lyric essays! How I love thee! Seriously. The lyric essay can be very freeing.

Or not.

Hermit crab essays, found essays, and acrostic essays all contain within them a certain form that the writer must work with in order to make the writing, well, work. The forms and “rules” can help to guide us in our thoughts, or perhaps even push us into trying to figure out our unknowns in different ways. All of that said, lyric essays might at times feel confining. Towards the end of the “Playing with Form” chapter, Miller comments that the wide variety of other forms/structures of writing allow us to find just the right structure that can fit our lyric essay. Of the different forms she says, “all these speak with recognizable voices that might work as the right container for your elusive material” (117). But how do we know if we have found the right container?

Sounds like it’s time for a Tupperware party!

Lyric essays encourage us to, in a way, shop around all of the influences and instances of forms of writing that surround us every day. Once we find that container, then we can just go with it—explore all of its turns and walls and perhaps even challenges that are presented to us. One thing to be aware of, however, is that there might be times when you want to make a point or tell a scene or shift the thoughts this way, but that way is outside of the perimeter of your container. If you find that your container is no longer allowing you to discover the essay in a way that would feel best, then leave the container and go somewhere else with the thought, your concept. You can always go back and edit the essay into that container. It’s quite frustrating when we keep trying to write a great essay by using an intriguing form, and that form is confining us instead of holding us. Freeing us. Switch containers if needed, or disregard containers all together—for now.

An important aspect of lyric essays is that the reader is engaged with what’s going on in the essay. This is important. The writer must engage with reader through the writing. She needs to be right there on the page, ready to guide us while also finding her own new attitudes.

All of this is to say that form can encourage more writing, or writing may encourage less form. Most of the time, though, it’s a symbiotic relationship: I give you words, you give me a structure. Then everyone’s happy. The end. So just keep writing, nudging at boundaries and fearlessly trying to find a whacky form to contain your complicated thoughts and memories. Writing is what brings us back to ourselves, and so perhaps the forms we use for a lyric essay will also bring us into a new understanding of ourselves and our stories. A different perspective. Who knows what will come of it. Either way, keep writing.


  1. Miller mentions juxtaposition a good number of times in her chapter. How juxtaposition is putting a puzzle together, or finding the right two paint chips perfectly compliment and enrich one another. The corner piece can exist on its own, and purple doesn’t need green to be complete. But then that quandary comes along, how the sum total is greater than its parts. In “Time and Distance Overcome,” Eula Biss uses a type of juxtaposition that brings the two different strands of the essay into a conversation with one another. Thinking about elements of both strands, which images stick with you the most after you are done reading it? What was your immediate response when Biss shifted focus away from telephones?
  2. Miller states “As a reader, we are invited to interact with this essay, creating it as we go along, since there is no one way to read it. This, too, is one of the joys of lyric forms: they often invite the reader in as cocreator” (114). In what ways did you have to interact with the text when “reading” both Shea and Clammer’s hybrid pieces? Thinking about the ways in which Purpura thinks some hybrids fail while others succeed, do you think Mickey Darr Shea’s hybrid “essay” was a success?
  3. If the lyric essay can be used as a way to express what you don’t know, what are some of your “not knowings” you can try to figure out through a lyric essay?
  4. How are you hybridized? 

Writing Exercises

  1. Collage: Make a list of your ten most favorite words. Write two or three sentences for how you came to love each of those words. Then, cut up each section and sit on the floor with the strips of words and their personal meanings. Rearrange the paragraphs as best as you can so that one thought/section naturally leads into the next. If you have any spots where this isn’t working for you, then keeping going. Trust the process. Something will find and fit into its space.
  2. Juxtaposition:
    1. You can approach this exercise in a couple of ways:
      1. Go back and forth with the two topics as you write them
      2. Write each topic separately than get them tape and scissors and put them to work. Do whatever works for you!
    2. Ok, now about the two topics
      1. Write for at least 15 minutes describing what you do for your normal wake-up routine. Starting from when you wake up, describe the actions that you are performing right when you get out of bed. Give the reader a sense of who you are through these actions.
      2. Now, write for at least another 15 minutes describing what your nightly routine is. Give us the images and actions that really show who you are.
    3. Now spend some time weaving them together. Whether through theme or images or words or sound, find a way to have these two different routines speak to each other through juxtaposition.
  1. Hybrid: Think about a situation from your past in which you had a very strong and emotionally negative response. Fill out THIS WORKSHEET as if the questions asked are referring to that tough situation.
  2. Hybrid, again: Think of a person with whom you have been in relationship with (good or bad). Label the parts of THIS WORKSHEET in context of that relationship. Metaphors are your friends in this exercise. You can label the parts with one word or four paragraphs or whatever you feel inspired to do.