Writing for Expression: How to Make Your Words More Artful & Lyrical | Hanif Abdurraqib | Skillshare

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Writing for Expression: How to Make Your Words More Artful & Lyrical

teacher avatar Hanif Abdurraqib, Writer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Poetic Language


    • 3.

      Abstract Poetry


    • 4.

      Narrative Poetry


    • 5.

      Lyric Essay


    • 6.

      Live Reading


    • 7.



    • 8.

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About This Class

Looking to become a more expressive writer? Harness the power of poetic language to connect with readers and craft your most compelling work yet.

No matter your genre of choice, using beautiful, carefully crafted language is the foundation of creative writing. Join writer and poet Hanif Abdurraqib to learn how you can draw from different types of poetry to craft work that reflects your true voice, every time you sit down to write. Drawing from examples of his own and others’ writing, Hanif teaches you how to identify and craft language that connect with readers every time. Key lessons include:

  • Types of poetry you can use in your work
  • Narrative tricks to build story structure
  • Writing exercises to strengthen your work

Whether your focus is personal essays or literary fiction, every writer can benefit from the study of poetic language. This class will give you a tool to reach for every time you write — helping you break down the barriers of genre, connect with your reader, and write the meaningful work you’ve always imagined.

Meet Your Teacher

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Hanif Abdurraqib



Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first full length poetry collection, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was released in June 2016 from Button Poetry. It was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize, and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. With Big Lucks, he released a limited edition chapbook, Vintage Sadness, in summer 2017 (you cannot get it anymore and he is very sorry.) His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in winter 2... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: The way we're taught writing when we're young usually puts the type of writing into boxes based off of genre. Mean we spend our entire lives afraid to open those boxes and mess them up a bit. But now that I write without the boundaries of genre hold me back, I see my writing as much freer and much more in line with the way I want to create. Hi, I'm Hanif Abdurraqib. I am a poet and essayist and a critic from Columbus, Ohio. I began writing non-fiction, writing criticism and music reviews, and through that, I gain an interest in poetry, and not only poetry, but what poetic language could do for the type of non-fictional writing. You might think poetic language is limited strictly to poetry or you might not read poems at all. But the object of this class is to show you how that language and how those styles and devices are transferrable to any aspect of your life no matter what you write. We're going to look at two different types of poems, abstract and narrative, just to get your creative mind spline. We'll show you how to use these tools outside of the boundaries of poetry and insert them into other writing. In each video, we'll show you how writers are doing this in their own work, and we'll highlight areas in their work where they're specifically doing it well. Then, we'll give you some short writing exercises to show you how to access some of those tools and tricks on your own. Learning how to blend these works and when genres has really opened up my writing in both poetry and non-fiction. I'm excited to show you how you can do this outside of poetry and create those worlds in any type of writing you pursue. 2. Poetic Language: Before we dive in, we're going to talk a little bit about what poetic language is and where it's most commonly found. The goal of poetic language is to give it an enhanced imagination to that which would otherwise be written or talked about directly. Non-poetic language or direct language is language that often shows up in places like journalism, where a writer has to get a direct point across to a reader usually backed with some information. There is less room for poetic devices in this writing because the readers takeaway is very clear and strictly defined. Direct language may look up and correctly described the sky as blue. Poetic language on the other hand, will look up and describe for you all the things the blue reminds it of, like a baby's blanket, or a flavor of ice cream, or a pair of well-worn beloved shoes. This separating allows me personally to step back from the more analytical nature of criticism or long form analysis, and involve myself in another way that raises the stakes and makes it personal. Using poetic language allows you to break free from the rigid structure and give your ideas and concepts and curiosities more breathing room, which gives the reader more space to enter and potentially see themselves in your work. Once you make yourself comfortable with this language, you can use it in forms of writing that may have more structure to them and learn to stretch those structures out further and further. The main poetic devices will be working at are metaphor, tone, imagery, and abstractions. Taking these outside of the poetic world you, can insert them into any writing you choose. And in doing so, widen the scope with which you can approach that writing. Once you get these devices down, you'll have a wider toolbox to write anywhere you want. Poetry by nature, allows for heavier topics to be discussed because of its language and because of the uses of devices in the work. A metaphor can describe something traumatic or awful for example without plainly laying out what that is. Using these devices isn't placing emotional distance between yourself and the actual topic, but doing that can play some distance between yourself and the reader who has to come into it on their own. So, place that you most commonly find poetic language is of course poetry. But a place that you might find some poetic language outside of the realm of poetry is a lyric essay. Let's compare and contrast taking a look at a poem by Sarah Kay and the lyric essay by BJ Hollars. Let's start out with Sarah Kay, Dreaming Boy. This is a poem that revolved its narrative around gender and romance, and the complications of the two. I think the thing that you'll want to look for and understanding of poetic language particularly in this poem is the imagery, the imagery that pops out in the narrative like the first time I kissed the girl, I did not like the way our faces melted into each other. Where was the hard jaw? The cinnamon, I could not breathe through all her lilac. So, you'll notice that she's painting a picture of this girl she kissed, by ascribing imagery to that moment and not describing it directly. We're ascribing things like cinnamon, breathing through lilacs, there's gentle imagery, there's beautiful imagery attached to this moment that isn't just describing it as a simple kiss. So, the concrete event is the first time Sarah kissed a girl. But what does being unraveled from that concrete event is the imagery of the hard jaw the cinnamon, not being able to breathe through lilac, dreaming about being lost in a forest of a terrible tidal wave. So, when you have an example where there is a concrete moment, the work of the poetic language is then to pull as many imagery threads out of that moment as possible which Sarah does here. So, this were a direct language, perhaps a piece of journalism. The kiss would be described and all the small details that would make the kiss a kiss. Because it's poetic language, we're getting a lot of different ways that it's coming across, which expand the possibilities for a reader and what that reader interprets it as. Another big advantage to the poetic language especially as it's used here, is that the author is inviting the reader in, the author is asking the reader to understand a part of their history in as many ways as possible, which broadens a door for a reader to come in and get to know the author on a personal level. Towards the end of the poem, you can feel the author's conflicts about gender very present and very clearly stated, "I guess what I am saying is that you make me feel like a boy, like the boy I have always been. At night, I climb trees and wear cargo shorts." That is a trick of tone and a narration in of an invitation for a reader to understand the person's dreams. Not all poems are written with the speaker as the I in the poem, but many can be very comfortably much more comfortably then say journalism, where the I is asked to be minimize if not taken up completely. Within a poem, poetic language obviously has the most opportunity to flourish. But it can also flourished in the spaces outside of a poem. For example, let's look at this lyric essay by B. J Hollars, A Tribute on a Monument To The Pigeon. A lyric essay is an essay that relies more on the lyric or the poetic language of the lyric than it does a particular argument. A lyric essay can be differentiated from a poem by its structure, which usually relies on a narrative backbone in which there is a clear conclusion. This is an essay that is short and about driving to see a monument for the passenger pigeon. But, where thrives in using poetic language is in its imagery and its chase to build a world around what seems like an otherwise simple trip. For example, when describing the state park that he drove to B.J Hollars says, "The park is a freshly shaken snow globe, beautiful but not desolate." So, instead of saying simply, it's snowing outside at this park, he describes the part as a shaken snow globes, something that a reader can most likely relate to or at least has an understanding of, that adds to the beauty of the pace and tone of the piece without using direct language. What this piece does do? Is utilize a narrative structure despite being a lyric essay that bends towards poetry, and some of this lyricism and devices. So, you'll see the beginning in which B.J Hollars is striking out in search of a passenger pigeon. We drive towards the middle,in which he describes arriving at the intended destination, "Once I arrive at my intended destination, I realized I've hardly arrived there at all". Then, like all traditional narratives, there is an ending. "I am breathless, frantic, checking my watch; my time here I know it's short." Well, Hollers is just describing the end of his trip at the park. So, there is a beginning middle and end, but what's happening in between there is a lot of narrative language and poetic devices that really enhance the stories quality. Despite the fact that these are written in two different authors, we can not only see that there are some similarities between the two, but we can see how smoothly they mirror each other and how smoothly one can be transitioned into the other. So, if you buy into these ideas, you'll then see and hopefully understand that this language can exist anywhere in any structure you choose. Now, that we have a little bit more direction about how poetic language can work both inside and outside of a poem, we're going to go through an example of an abstract poem, a narrative poem, and a lyric essay, with each piece will end with a prompt to help you get started. Abstract poetry will help you write freely and without structure leaning more into the devices of the merit of themselves. Merit of poetry on the other hand, will help you get back to the comfort of structure while still not abandoning some of what you learned before. The lyric essay ties the two of them together to create something in nonfiction. By the end, you'll have the tools to transition between multiple styles of writing with ease. Let's dive right into the first one, which is abstract poetry. 3. Abstract Poetry: First up is Abstract Poetry. Abstract poetry is poetry that relies more on imagery and abstractions, the narrative structure. The goal of abstract poetry is to pull the eye and the focus away from plot or story and instead asa reader to focus on the small elements of the story, independent of whether or not they're moving the story forward. So, for example, if I were to write an abstract poem about having a sandwich for lunch, I would not write about what was on the sandwich or where I was sitting, I might instead write about what a beam of sunlight looks falling over the sandwich bread. The two main aspects of abstract poetry that we're going to be talking about, abstractions and narrative tricks. An abstraction at its most simplest definition is anything that deals with ideas and concepts as opposed to concrete moments. This is inherent to poetic language because it allows you to deal strictly in feelings and ideas and not the concrete elements of journalism for example, which rely you to deal in facts and direct language. The second aspect of abstract poetry we're going to be talking about are narrative tricks. Things like repetition or unreliable narration, because abstract poetry doesn't have a traditional narrative structure, these tricks allow you to build a narrative structure of your own making. Abstract poem typically read as if the writer is trying to work something out in their own head and inviting you along for the ride as opposed to a narrative poem which might feel like a writer is trying to sit down and tell you a story. In this poem, Dead Doe by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, we'll see a great example of a writer trying to work out a larger concept in a more abstract form. Broadly, this poem was about death or the many different forums that death can take and the way it impacts our lives. The abstraction is that it uses the image of a dead doe on the side of a road, to articulate the many moving parts of death and the way it can shift both within our vision and in our hearts. So, what you'll see first is what I was talking about with unreliable narration. The first two lines offer the author answering her own questions. The dead doe lay on her back in a field of asters: no. The doe lay dead on her back beside the school bus stop: yes. We're presented with two direct contradictions just from a jump, which leads to another set of questions that the author wants us to ask of ourselves. What are we seeing? What are we hearing? Could we be mistaken with the poem we've entered in what it's asking of us? This is a perfect example of unreliable narration. We're being told one thing and then immediately it is being refuted. Another thing is being presented and it is being accepted as the ideal. By setting the table unreliable narration, it sets an expectation for a reader, that what they're reading and what they are hearing is going to be expected to shift as the poem goes on. We're being asked to keep up with the writer as she works through this process. We're starting out with these two lines. This allows this poem a freedom as it goes on, to build upon these abstractions and build upon this unreliable narration. You'll see immediately the unreliable narration shows up again in the third and fourth line. Her belly white as a cut pear. Where we waited: no: off from where we waited: yes. As we work through the poem, we can see the questions the author is asking and answering of herself begin to accumulate. Here, we can take the gilt-edged strolling of the clouds: yes. But the risen from the dead: no! The haloey trouble shooting of the goldfinches in the bush: yes: but in season. By doing this, the poem almost becomes a conversation entirely between the speaker and themselves, which allows the reader to witness it and then build their own narrative on top of that. Because this poem is a strict invitation into a writer's mind, it's almost impossible for it to be linear, it's articulating the way that actually we think, which is rarely linear and often scattered and sometimes answering our own questions and trying to make sense of what we're taking in. As we get later in the poem and the pace kind of begins to slow down, we'll see the author slowly beginning to reckon with that using strict inglorious imagery, such as, the dead can mother nothing, nothing but our sight. They mother that, whether they will or no. They mother our looking, the gap the tongue prods when the tooth is missing. In doing this, Bridgit Peggen Kelly is ascribing death a lineage. Death becomes apparent, something that we are both attached to and cannot avoid. So, death is first approach abstractly, but then to pull the reader in a little closer, it's given the body of a mother, something that most kind of relate to in elicits a response out of many readers. She then will do this because of the talent and contexts that was set up front, where we learned very quickly that this is a trip through the mind of a person, with the rules can be a little looser and the things that we're asked to believe and asked to follow along with are more of an internal wrestling with the truth. At the conclusion of the poem, beginning here, we see the doe laid dead: yes: and at a distance, with her legs up and frozen, she tricked our vision: at a distance. She was for a moment no deer at all but two swans. So, using that image, the author is saying death became something different than it was when we first happened upon it. We saw two swans and they were fighting or they were they were coupling. In this example, the doe is on its back, into the writer's vision, the doe becomes two swans, its legs transform into two swans. This is as abstract as it gets because it is something that I think that most of us can't envision, but we are here trusting the writer who has already proven to be somewhat unreliable on their narration. This abstraction is a risk and it's asking us to take that risk with the writer. What we're saying is that, the image itself, does it really matter? It's one of those specifics that an abstract poetry can be pushed to the side because what we're being asked to follow is the larger concept of death becoming two things or the capability of death have pro meanings and multiple ways to live in the world. The image itself is secondary. The primary thing a reader should be looking for and following is the concept itself. The repetition in this piece might seem subtle, but it's actually not. It's the consistent answering of questions that show up in the poem. The yes and the no at the end of statements, it's showing that we are inside of a person's mind and they're trying to articulate how our minds generally work, where we are left to answer our own questions when they're asked internally. When you're faced with anxieties or trying to tackle heavy concepts, think of how your mind works. You're often answering questions on your own, sometimes in a repetitive fashion. By doing this, Bridgit Pegeen Kelly is tapping into a very human instinct, the act of posing questions in your own head and then answering them there as well. As you can see in this poem, there is no defined structure. What's driving it forward instead of this kind of abstract internal monologue, which leads to the grand payoff which allows us to define death into something more than it is and approach it in an abstract form. To get you writing, lets start off with a small writing exercise. Choose a feeling and an object, then try to convey the feeling that will be description of the object. Consider choosing sadness and a cloud. In a description of the cloud, you're going to reach into sadness without naming sadness itself or perhaps naming the way sadness makes you feel or the way sadness sits in your life, or the impact that has on your days, or your body, or your mind. The description of the clouds should tap into all of those things, so that the emotion becomes clear. The goal here would be to have a reader be able to identify the feeling without having it directly spelled out for them or ever named explicitly. Try to convey this in less than 10 minds and use abstractions or narrative tricks to guide you along the way. Next up, we'll get back to structure and look at a layer of poetry that utilizes structure and its form. We're going to look at some narrative poetry. 4. Narrative Poetry: After learning about abstract poetry, and it's abstractions, and it's kind of loose structure, it's good to return to narrative of poetry to see how structure can fit back in the poetic devices. Narrative poetry relies on the basic story structure of beginning, middle, and end, while still leaving some room for whimsical and imaginative language. So, the two main elements of a narrative poem are narrative structure or story structure in rich details, details which serve largely to eliminate the merit of structure which is winding and poetic. Abstract poetry for example, isn't really grounded in details as much as it is ideas and concepts. Narrative poetry on the other hand, is grounded in really succinct and clear details to help a reader parse their way through a widening narrative. Let's see how that comes to life in this Jon Sands poem, ''Moons Over My Hammy''. What's great about this poem, is that it is a poem largely about adolescence, very broadly, but is about one night that is taking place in several different locations, and what works well, is that there's so much detail that grounds the poem in the narrative that is whining and is moving around, but there's so much small detail that the reader never gets lost. So, for example, the beginning of the poem, technically begins in the second line, ''I'm not above Denny's 3:00 AM breakfast, I'm just from Cincinnati.'' So, already we're getting an idea about what is going down, and where the writer is from. A little bit further down, you get this image about Waffle House, ''Where the hash brown options describe my 16-year-old brain cells tonight.'' You don't have to know about Waffle House, so you don't have to know about hash browns, or you don't even have to know anything other than the fact, but this is a night in which the writer is 16, and we are to understand that this writers are no longer 16. So, this is a reflection, right? The details really continue throughout the piece, and so we get another location, Mark Baker's Dad's townhouse. With that, we get the additional detail that Mark Baker's Dad is gone on business. There are small details about alcohol. The specific alcohol that's being consumed. What Jon is wearing, ''I wear American Eagle everything because it's an affordable Abercrombie.'' As this goes on, and as this piece unravels, let's say the middle. The middle in this poem is where the stakes are raised, and the stakes are raised about here when he defines Alicia Westen, who spends an hour over his lap at Mark's dad's vomiting into a plastic garbage bag he is holding, each time passing loud echoey loud gas. The cast of characters expands beyond just the poet himself, and the townhouse that these people are in is slowly being populated, not only by people, but people who are getting really strong details attached to them in the narrative. Carrie Ballard who will laugh the loudest that night. And as the poem goes on, you get to see that this is not necessarily a excited look back at childhood, but perhaps a slightly regretful one in which he perhaps misses his friends, or misses the camaraderie they once had. For example, ''Tonight Ox and I throw two punches that both miss, then lock ourselves in Mark's dad's bedroom to cry and say we love each other, while Mark screams and pounds the door, and people will tell that story 11 years from now.'' That is a richly detailed segment of this piece that is giving an emotional resonance. Ox is wearing an XXXL highlighter orange jumpsuit which is a detail that is so rich that it becomes imagery, right? It becomes something that a reader can see, and touch, and feel. Then he meet at Waffle House at three in the morning, where you know Joanne, the waitress by name. By this point, the details are accumulating at such a rate that a reader can feel like they are not only inside the story, but going through the motions of it with the writer. At the end, John is isolated again. The poem closes with, ''I throw up in the bathroom before taking my scattered, smothered, covered hash browns to go.'' So, that echoes back to the Waffle House hash brown options, right? Where in the beginning of the poem, you didn't need to know what the Waffle House hash browns options were, but Jon comes back to them at the end. ''Walking the full five miles of moonlight back to my bedroom, weeping the entire way.'' Which again, in case you are not able to pick up on the sombre tone resting underneath all the revelry happening in the poem, he drives it home well to close out the narrative. To recap, there's a clear beginning, middle, and end, and there are three scenes which all connect and echo back towards each other. So, the beginning, the main detail we get is that Jon is at Mark Baker's dad's townhouse, and then he follows up with we play king's until seven people have plugged the equivalent of four natural lights. So, we know he's at Mark Baker's dad's townhouse, and that there are seven people there. That is a detailed to remember in the beginning. The middle, the details are when he begins to name the people and ascribe histories to them. So, not only does he named the people, but he details who they are, or what they're doing, and so you get the names. Again, the Carrie Ballard, and the Ox, and Jay Oliver until all the people are accounted for. Not only accounted for, but there are stakes attached to them. Jay Oliver is a 16-year-old on mushrooms he doesn't need to deal drugs, which would assume that at some point he did later in life. So, there is a sympathetic notion attached to each character who goes through something. At the end, the details that are there, are the ones that again echo back towards the beginning and middle. Jon is now the one throwing up mildly in the bathroom. Now, they're at Waffle House, and they know the name of the waitress. There's an intimacy there as well. Because this is a poem, and you are moving through these moments and these different landscapes really quickly, you need these rich details to orient a reader, so that they know what is happening when a location shifts, what time it is, who is present, and why that person's presence matters? So, if you remember in ''Dead Down'', the narration was almost like an internal monologue. As though, we're getting a glimpse inside the head of the writer. Here, it feels like we're at the feet of a writer, listening to them articulate a direct story to us. Because that though operated largely in the head of a writer, there was a lot more freedom in abstraction and imagery in a kind of whimsical nature of the way the poem came across because of how our brains work, and how our minds work, and how we articulate the things going on in our own heads. Moons Over My Hammy is a poem that is beholden to the story structure because it is relying on us to pick up on these details to get to the heart of something that happened in this person's life. Also in Moons Over My Hammy, the descriptions are so rich and vivid that they become a type of imagery themselves. Ox as highlighter orange jumpsuit for example, is something that can be visualized by the reader, and so the jumpsuit itself becomes a type of imagery. So, for example, in ''Dead Down'', the imagery was working only as a response to figuring out the concepts. Here, the imagery has to be a little more concrete because it is relying on fitting into the narrative structure that already exists. To get you writing and layering on a bit more structure, here's a writing exercise. Write a line from the beginning, middle, and end of a story that took place in three different locations. For example, if I were to write a story about the night Michael Jackson died, I would write a story that began with a dance party in a basement in Columbus Ohio where I'm from. Then I'd read about a diner, where he went after the dance party, and then I would write about my apartment after the diner, and all the things that went into each of those moments. Here, unlike with abstract poetry, you do want to be a reliable narrator. You want to be a reliable narrator by adding in details, so that your narrative can be followed all the way through its final conclusion. Then you'll write three different lines that each use imagery to paint each of those scenes. The goal here is to sharpen your ability as a narrator and storyteller while not straying from the poetic aspects that we've learned already. By starting with a beginning, middle, and end of a story, you're building a structure first, and allowing yourself to add in the rich details afterwards. For about 20 minutes with this exercise, the goal is to have a loose outline of a story that you feel comfortable with by the time you're done. Next, we'll bring in a lyric essay, and we'll start to talk about how to bring poetic language into a structure that is outside of poetry. 5. Lyric Essay: Finally, we're going to explore a form outside of poetry, the lyric essay,which is nonfiction writing that combines poetic language and some of the devices we've talked about already. The difference between a lyric essay and the type of essay we're taught perhaps in a school is that a lyric essay doesn't necessarily rely on a traditional argument form, where there's a thesis and then the thesis is argued throughout the piece. So, instead of argument, you'll see things coming to the forefront like language or unconventional structure. This is a perfect final style of writing to look at because it blends from the previous two styles we've already looked at. The lyric essay has strong narrative arcs as we saw in narrative poetry, but also allows itself open to the unraveling of concepts like we saw in abstract poetry. A lyric essay is also kind of beholden to a conclusion in a the way that poetry isn't. Poetry allows you to take more liberties and more freedoms with how the poem both opens and closes. Poetry is not necessarily tasked with resolving itself at the end the way we expect an essay to. Because the goals of the styles are different, the tools that we use to accomplish the goals are also different. For example, in a lyric essay, the way the personal is utilized is by building in personal conversations and personal stories and the personal histories to build a stronger base around the point that's trying to be made. Another thing the lyric essay allows for is an indirect approach to a very large topic. A great example of a writer who's doing this exceptionally well is the essayist Kiese Laymon. We're going to take a look at his essay, "I'm a big Black man who will never own a gun because I know I would use it." This essay is largely about gun violence in America and how it relates to Blackness. However, you will see that Kiese Laymon doesn't mention guns until the third page of the essay after connecting the story about William Faulkner and Callie Barr, who cleaned up after the Faulkner family, and the devotion that Black families feel to White families, and how that's foundational to American violence. In another paragraph, Kiese Laymon brings in his own grandmother, who, like Callie Barr, spent most of her life cleaning up after richer White people in her town. We again have a threading out of multiple narratives that are becoming personal, and personal, and personal. Finally, leading up to the admission that has family owned shotguns among all of the other things they own. They own a small bit of land, their bibles, their books, and they own shotguns. So now, at least 800 words in, the revelation that we've always known is coming is that this is an essay about guns. Let's also talk about how the structure of this is working. Kiese employs a rhythmic pace and it comes out most in these sections that are structured in small sentences running down the page to kind of build an accumulation. Tell the truth, refrained from waste, consider the weak, respect age. Later, as we go on in the essay, we see moments like this on the page. "This is not a metaphor." Then at the bottom, "This is not breaking news." This creates a tension in the conversation that is being had with the reader. You'll see it again here. "This is not a deep reading of our nation's habits. This is not a progressive remotely radical reading of our nation. This is wholly descriptive." The kind of repetition that gets built-up is calling back to the type of repetition that we saw in that, though. It is more direct here, but it is still a device that is being used to frame this piece. Much like merit of poetry, this, too, has a structure of beginning, middle, and end. It's actually a little less clear here because there is so much happening but the beginning is wider, the door for entry is much wider. The beginning begins at the description of William Faulkner's and stretches down to the entrance of Callie Barr and his grandmother. So, the beginning of this piece is Kiese Layman laying out all the ways that William Faulkner relates to both Black people and these Black women in his life. The middle of the piece is where we get this kind of subtle but very direct shift into the essay being about shotguns and guns in particular in the unraveling of the owning of those guns and what it would mean to own a gun and be Black in Southern Mississippi. The end begins here where Layman begins to discuss how we can gain a less violent nation. There is an argument in this piece, but the piece doesn't begin with the argument and then spend the rest of the piece trying to unravel it. The piece begins with some personal narrative to give stakes to that argument, and then in the middle, it unravels those stakes further, and at the end, it makes the argument plain. The essay closes with Layman returning to Oxford, Mississippi and talking again about the South and him and his adult body in the South. In that, too, is taken from the narrative structure that we saw earlier, where by the end, we are back to where we began like John Sands running back to the comfort of a home, Kiese Laymon is also asking a reader to join him again in the comfort of a home in which he started the essay at. In Laymon's essay, there are pockets of language that feel poetic even though it is most when he's describing violence. For example, "If they tell you that I used the gun to harm myself, please know they're lying. If they say they saw what they looked like a gun between my big thick thighs or under one of my belly rolls or sticking out of the crack of my juicy black ass, please know they are doing what they do best." This is a type of imagery, right? This is the listening and type of imagery and the type of visceral imagery at that, and that too is a poetic device. So, in this essay, gun violence is a topic at the center, but what Laymon has done is built around that center topic and bought in William Faulkner, and Callie Barr, and his grandmother, and himself, and his fears. So now, the topic is stretched even wider and the lens on it is pulled out even further. Writing in this way, the getting in one space and talking about what that space allows you to see further and pulling out the lens allows you to arrive at your ideas, and your arguments, and your curiosities much easier. Because when you pull the lens out, you can see a much bigger picture and a much greater way into and out of any arguments you may want to rise. Writing in this way, creates a framework or a path for you to find yourself to a conclusion, and not just one conclusion, perhaps multiple. Poems, on the other hand, the abstract poems, and the narrative Poems aren't really asking for you to do that, and therefore your conclusions can be more whimsical and less tethered to logic. A lot of my writing takes this form because I like the idea that there's not one right answer to anything and there's not one wrong answer to anything. So, when I sit down to write, I'm sitting down with all my curiosity is on the table, willing to find as many answers as I'm capable to finding with the tools I have. So, the final exercise, let's take a look at how we can use indirect language to bring everything together for a lyric essay. So, choose a topic, one that's heavy or one that you feel passionate about, and write three short vignettes which approach that topic indirectly. You need to make sure the vignettes can feed off of each other or have some kind of connecting thread that can be pulled out of them. The goal here is to find a way into your topic without directly naming the topic itself and finding a lyrical path or an indirect path into articulating a passion that you have. Much like an abstract poetry where you named the feeling and then wrote towards not naming that feeling, you're doing something similar here, but the work you're doing here ends in finite conclusion at the end of that passion you're interested in. It's important to make sure the vignettes feed off of each other, and it's important also to make sure that the vignettes have reach detail that can allow you to unravel them into something else and something greater and something greater. They should be able to echo throughout your entire piece. So, for example, for myself, if I want to take Laymon's path and write about gun violence in America, I might first write a vignette about myself as a child playing with water guns during the summer, and then I would likely right a vignette about water and how water was a healing during the summer, perhaps opening a fire hydrant and letting the water flow out and feeling the cool water on my legs, and then I'll read a third vignette about summer and how summer defined my youth. All of those things can exist in one piece without having to name directly what they're pointing at. There should be a resolution, yes, but there's not necessarily a need for an argument to be resolved at the end. Go into this understanding that there are multiple answers to any passion or curiosity you have and not all of them can get done in this piece. 6. Live Reading: I'm going to read a piece now called, 'Defiance, Ohio is the Name of a band'. This is a piece that is a lyric essay, which is largely about my time as a fan of a band called Defiance, Ohio from my hometown of Columbus and also is about the heroin epidemic in the actual town of Defiance, Ohio, which is an actual town about two hours from where I'm from. The thing to listen for in this piece is how the two worlds connect the world of the band in the world of the town, until they ideally become one to a reader and a listener. Defiance Ohio is the name of a band, and the thing is they're from Columbus, Ohio which is confusing the folks on the East Coast when I tell them about the time they played for four hours at the Newport, and it was raining outside, but me and everyone I knew still locked arms after the show and walk down high street singing 'Oh, Susquehanna!' at the top of our lungs until some dive bar security threatened to kick all of our asses, and he had 20 pounds on all of us combined. Defiance, Ohio plays folk punk, which pretty much means that sometimes they've got a banjo or a cello crawl into bed with the screaming. All this shows feel like they were made just for you, and Jeff plays guitar for them and make singing look effortless, and I guess it is kind of because all their fans know all the words to their songs, and they sing them so loud it's like the band doesn't even have to. Their fans are often cloaked in tattoos, in trucker hats and ironic hand-me-down shirts from old car garages or Little League baseball teams. They may jump on each other's backs at shows, and they scream in each others faces, and it's like familial I guess, or I guess it is most times. One time of the show, I saw a dude with some straight edge tattoos knock out some dude who had an entire school of fish inked on his arm. So okay, it's certainly not always familial, and when the guy with the fish tattoos hit the floor, someone from a band stopped the music and said, ''Hey, listen. Don't come to a Defiance, Ohio show and fight. Cut that shit out. Hold hands with each other or some shit," which is funny to say coming from a band that put the song, ''I don't want solidarity if it means holding hands with you," on their first album, which was a fine album, but it had a little too much acoustic noise for my tastes. Defiance, Ohio is a real town in Ohio, and the band is not from there, and anyone who is from there either leaves or dies. In the summer of 1794, General Mad Anthony Wayne ordered a fort to be built at the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize rivers in Ohio, and when it was done, a soldier from Kentucky named Charles Scott stood in front of the forte and said, ''I defy the English and all the devils of hell to take this.'' That's how the fort was called Fort Defiance, and now a whole city spill around it by 1904, and that city was also named Defiance. In the sight of the fort is a library now or at least that's what I've been told. Me and my pals would drive up to Defiance town every now and then when we're old enough for adventure but too young to properly wallow in the depths of Columbus' scene, and we would go to Bud's Diner and flirt with the waitresses. Sometimes we would drive down the back roads screaming the words to some pumped urge out of open windows in the car. We're back in someone's parents driveway by morning and sometimes we would take out mailboxes with a baseball bat. In one time, a man ran out of a house with a confederate flag hanging from the porch, and he chased us down the road hauling us outside of all our names, and my buddy Derek said he swore he saw the man holding a shotgun, and so we stuck to the fears of our own city from that point on. The second Defiance band album came out in 2006, and it was called The Great Depression. It nearly started an honest revolution in my little corner of heartbreak, and I barely made it through 2006 alive because we had to bury Tyler and Marisa too, and then the song 'Condition 11: 11', there are the lyrics. "I remember in the kitchen when you told me your grandma died, that's when I realized it gets worse and it does get worse." It is really something to remember that you can actually be alone, and so when the band sings here so this year, I never thought I'd make it through. I put my arms around someone else who did make it, and swayed along as the clock swung itself past midnight at the end of December. I saw Defiance band in another sweaty room in '07, and everyone there was sad, and so no one was into fighting that night, and the band let the cello and the banjo strings through thick and heavy in the air, and no one seemed to mind. It's like if we all try hard enough in the same room, everyone can remember what it is to lose somebody at the same time. Defiance town is awash with heroin now, and I see it on the news, a man nodding off in a car, and two people overdosing in the same night, and 27 people drag to the town jail in a drug bust, and it is the kind of town that will hold you under its tongue, until it is ready to swallow you whole. They found the body of a kid, who used to come up to Columbus for punk shows, in an abandoned Defiance town apartment, and his body was surrounded by Spent lighters. He was at the Defiance band show where they played grandma song, and everyone put up their cell phone lights but the true punks put up their lighters and wave them when the band sang, ''Do you come from a dead people?'' Defiance town is dying off like all of Ohio's other towns that feed the bigger cities in both food and those who escape. In the Defiance town paper, I read a story about the heroin epidemic, and the headline said, ''We will not let this destroy us." Above it is a picture of a mother pulling her young daughter's frail body close to her chest in front of a worn-down house. In her eyes is a determination, and in her eyes, she is there in all the devils of hell to come and take what is hers and I thought about what it must be like to name yourself after a town that has become a ghost factory and play songs about surviving all manner of haunting. Defiance band hasn't made a record in six years, and the last one sounded like they're trying to get out of each other's way. I heard they played some Indiana dive last spring, and I heard the pit was wicked, and later that week, there was another drug bust in Defiance town, and there are times when destruction is not as much of a choice as we think it is. Man, I barely made it out of 2006 alive, and then the Defiance then song, 'Oh, Susquehanna!', the chorus that everyone sings goes, ''And I wonder, what do they do with the bodies, and I wonder, what do they do with the bodies and I wonder what do they do with the bodies, and I wonder.'' 7. Closing: So, that's it. We've looked at abstract poetry, we've looked at narrative poetry, and we figured out how to combine those elements we learned from the first two into the lyric essay. The hope is that you're able to translate this into an understanding of what makes poetic language and poetic devices so beautiful when working in any form. If you wrote a lyric essay or anything during the exercises that you feel good about, you can go ahead and upload those things to the project gallery with any additional notes or thoughts you might have. We'd love to see them. Hopefully, this journey in a beautiful language, and poetic devices, and how they blend into other types of writing, helps you not only figure out things about your writing, but also things about yourself. What poetic language allows for, is a space for you to think deeply about the topics you're already passionate about, and find different entry points in all of them, and in some ways, that's the best way to figure out your writing, and yourself, and your interest all at once. I hope you've enjoyed the class, and I hope that it enriches your whole writing life. Thanks for watching. 8. Explore More Skillshare Classes: