Monday, September 7, 2015

Chelsey Clammer: Lying in the Lyric

I know I can make this all poetic and shit, can find some metaphor to wrap this essay up in—give it some pretty pauses and illuminating illusions. Or, hell, I can wallow in the sorrow of the story that I’m not quite sure I want to tell you yet with some soft, long sounds, avoiding words with k, with that hard c, sidestepping the cackle of the stark ch.

Instead, I can soak in the l’s and s’s, meander my way around some w’s and hit an r or two to give certain ideas and sentences more emphasis.



Some one-word paragraphs.


And here’s ________.

An incomplete sentence.

I know the poetic pretense here can proficiently populate the reader’s inner parenthesis with some self-deflecting linguistic tricks, can expose myself not through sentienting but swaying, as in persuading sentences, traversing into the categorical territory of “vulnerable” as I raw myself out with words such as emotive, mawkish, expostulate, lugubrious—the ones that are big hits on the GRE vocabulary test.

***Then I can throw in a triplet of asterisks***

Now, in this post-uber-lyric-ized moment, I find that to be a futile task.

Because there’s no lyric or lovely, no poetic way to say I’ve been lying to you lately.


According to its popular opinion-ed definition, there shouldn’t be any prescribe-able form to the lyric essay. That would defeat the purpose of a lyric essay’s elemental and unconventional innovation. Though I could tell you about the characteristics I have come across—which may at some point include the term vulnerable, or more likely brave, and how I have started to despise the exaltation of that latter concept in regards to writing nonfiction. One could say that in order to gain readership, one could take a traumatic (read: vulnerable) experience and transform it into a type of art, could dress it up with lyric language and bring poetry to the pain in order to honor it. But that’s not being vulnerable. That’s called being deflective and pretty.


Here, I will begin to address you, because you could be the person I’m lying to, and while you most likely are not that person—I am, after all, admitting to a lie and therefore am hoping you don’t read this—if you do read this then I’ll hope that you, like all you readers, assume I am not addressing you, but the general “you” as a literary device to bring you (the reader) more into this confessional essay.

It makes you a part of this.

Part of pain art is sharing.

You’ll be more receptive to my lying if I can find a lyrical way to admit all of this. My command of language can bring you into a more conceptual space—how I can distract you with beauty, because what I have to tell you is ugly.

So far, I think this is working.

We are now a third of the way into this essay and all I’ve really done is make a vague (yet so vulnerable!) admittance that I have been lying to you lately. The subject of said lie is still silent, because I’m still clearing my throat.

And now I’ll add in a beautiful quote in order to give you an image not of me doing that thing I’m lying about, but to ricochet away from, to delay my confession.

“I live between mountains and take my smallness, like a pill, upon waking.”—Catherine Pierce

The lie is not that I haven’t been taking my medication.

The lie is not that I wake up angry each day because I’m still alive.

The lie has nothing to do with my body.

That’s a lie.

It’s time to lay this all out for you, because if I take this any further, the suspense in this essay is going to fizzle.

If it hasn’t already started to.


Elements of a lyric essay: Metaphor. Research. Memoir. Pace. Poeticism. Odd concepts. Fragments. Surprising verb and/or noun-turned-verb (ie, a noun verbed). Surprising structure. Surprising imagery. Unconventional associations. Juxtaposition. A declarative and/or witty and/or telling title. Subtle humor via wordplay. Quirky way of looking at and addressing the theme(s). At least one paragraph so elusive that even the author isn’t quite sure of what she’s trying to say.


Mandatory elusive paragraph:

“Lie” is a word of which I’ve learned how to live, live with. With this word tucked into my pocket—into my little pocket of my lie-filled world—I’ve created a cornerstone of my life based on living myself into the corner of a liar identity, an identification with (the) (“)lying(”).


Actually, I’m not certain I’m anti-fizzling. Don’t I want all of this to go away? Don’t I want to keep up the lie and continue to fade into each day? Don’t I want you to think that everything’s fine, that of course I’ve been eating, and so of course isn’t it true that I don’t want you to discover that lie for as long as I can lay it down in the air between us?

We have arrived at the setup of the lie.

Yes, I’ve been eating. True story. But at thirty-two-years-old, I have yet to figure out how to not un-swallow.

Lately, each day, I’ve been puking.

Always, every second, I’ve been hating my body.

Shame prompts lies. Everything’s fine. Here, look at this beautiful line:

Tell me then what will render the body alive?

That’s not actually my line.

It’s Jorie Graham’s.

But it is my question.


You can’t prescribe a lyric essay. There is no take two fragments and call your asterisks in the morning of the next chunk of white space offered. Something just dawned on me. I tell my freelance clients that, when you have no clue what the hell to do next in your essay, or even if you have no idea what the hell you’re actually doing in an essay, then lyric the shit out of said essay. Get all hybrid-ish with it (which, though phonetically identical, is not the same as a European person under the influence of marijuana, a “high British” person). Scoot yourself into a hermit crab’s shell and see if thinking about your vulnerabilities (read: confessed lies) in the form of a job application brings some awesomeness to your essay.

Name: Bulimic.
Previous work history: Clinical Director of the Surplus Food Non-digestion Department.
Education: BA in Sound Muffling.


I could end this on an apology. I could end this with a plea. I’m going to end this quietly, sneaking off to a space where I can be alone and do my thing and hopefully you can’t hear me.

This is called muffling. Hushing. The let’s move on already-ing.

And now I need a metaphor or a statement that will tie this all together, that will circle back to the beginning, because my life is a cycle (fill empty fill empty fill empty fill) but all I can feel now, post-revealing, is the stark separation of mind and body because of my shame, because of sharing. Now I can only hear the harsh sounds of k, of c, of ch, and even of q. I question the chasm created by killer li(n)es.


One should mention hiding behind form. Or, to not have every essayist hate me for such a statement, one should instead mention content shaping into form. Or, complex content contemplated through an unconventional structure.


I must admit, I don’t know much about face-to-face confessions. I deal with the world through my words. Though I know that feel of vulnerability when letting go, when letting it all out. A laundry-drying clichĂ© of sorts. Though perhaps a more apt word to use in this specific essay is purge.

You’ll still love me, trust me now that I’ve told you all of this?



Some one-word paragraphs used for prevention and protection from facing you.


And here’s ________.


A switch in point of view and now I can hide behind you.

You admit a lie. You know you need to stop doing this. You don’t know if you’re talking about the lying you need to quit or the puking. You just know you need to stop doing something. You don’t know how to stop doing anything. You are addicted to everything. You don’t understand how you became such a hot mess, though you wonder if it has anything to do with how you dress the ugly realities of your existence with creative sentences. You refract, though hopefully not repel. You realize every sentence in this paragraph begins with you. You know that’s not okay. But (!) it works so well to hide in writing, to let the conversation curve around vulnerability and into craft. What a great point of view we have going on here. Let’s talk more about that. Let’s look at juxtaposition and pacing out a fragmented narrative arch.

Let’s get over it.

Be done with it. 


If this essay is published it will prove three things:

1. People understand what a lyric essay is
2. I’m holding myself accountable to my indiscretions
3. I’m counting on this confession to make this my final purge

Chelsey Clammer is an award-winning essayist who has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown, Founding Editor of, and is an editorial intern for Graywolf Press. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, was released from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. Her second collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Winter 2015. You can read more of her writing at:

1 comment: