Designing Time: The Idea of Plot in the Lyric Essay

Tyler Mills in Agni:

ScreenHunter_1944 May. 17 19.53What is “plot” in a lyric essay? As I worked on “Home” (AGNI issue 83), I kept thinking about this question. Why? My process involves piecework. I handwrote scenes in a notebook, typed them up, and moved them around.

A half hour here. An hour there. Forty-five minutes in the dark early light of October.

Primarily a poet, I’ve always been tentative about plot. But I’ve always kept a notebook. Words, phrases, scraps of description—these are the things that the plot of the lyric essay must transform. In “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion writes,

“our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I.’… we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”

The lyric essay must transform our “erratic assemblage,” moving them into meaning like the night sky that turns toward morning. The constellations change positions, and we pick out their patterns from the chaos of darkness. The crisis that spins everything toward the main thing is realization. Realization is what the mind does with these observations. Realization is what the mind does with the world. Realization is the heart of the lyric essay—what makes it move, what makes all of its light-riddled parts hold together.

More here.