Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Advent 2021, Dec 1, Heidi Czerwiec: The Resonance of Lyric Essays, or Lyre, Not Liar

I shall write about resonance. Here’s the truth: when I first heard the resonance, I sang out loud. The song burst forth, I could not stop it. And now that I’ve admitted singing, I shall admit this: what sounded forth was jubilant, rhapsodic, astounding—whatever is the opposite of calm.

Resonance is what Judith Kitchen insists with her declaration against D’Agata: “to be lyric there must be a lyre…. The lyre, not the liar.”

Resonance of origins, lyric, Orphic, endorphic. Strike a chord, an accord of notes, denoting and connoting, a word-chord of word-play, proliferating.

This is how to begin. This is how to begin again. This is how to wear your refrain with a difference. Don’t space your rhymes too far apart for the ear to hear. Don’t amplify your alliteration, lest you write like the slut you are so bent on becoming.

Resonance begins with sacred theft, then a gift, and ends with a bargain. Apollo’s sacred herd returned; the fine, Hermes’ invention, a lyre from a liar; then, offered to Orpheus. Tortoise shell strung with entrails. Hollowness that hits you in the gut so hard even Hades himself will trade with you, your lyric skill for your silent sylph of a wife.

Resonance is how we learn by rote: the English rote, small lyre the bard strums in time with the mnemonic rhymes to firm them in the mind.

We will not be discussing whether “that really resonated with me” so let us never speak of it.

Resonance: at all the “Thirteen Ways” essays, the bawds of euphony cried out.

Resonance, the rosin on the bow creating texture in the text, the drag across the strings, resinous. The bow bows to no one.

A bard, a bird, traveling throughout the piece, a Chanticleer strumming his Oo-De-Lally.

Resonance as aural tagging of significant words, signifiers spray painted with bright sound—semantic underlining, a sonic highlighter.

Songbirds decorate their nests with scraps of resonance, some spectacular bits, but beneath it, nested patterns of sound provide the structure.

Language interpretation happens in the left-hemisphere of the brain, yet musical sounds are interpreted by the right hemisphere. Resonance as the harmony of the spheres. When the tonic and fifth of a chord are played perfectly in tune, their soundwaves average to create a ghostly third—invisible scrim, thin meniscus vibrating between. Both sides are listening intently.

We carried the resonance itself. We marched for the sake of the march, simple writers, soldiering with our pens, because it was cadence, it was anatomy, and the resonance was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the resonance was everything—and for all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that we would never be at a loss for sound to carry.

Resonance, what carries, bears us back, each thread, each spoke of speech starting from the same wheel hub.

Resonance the rhythm, the soundtrack below the action, the beating heart, the pulse along the vocal chords, an unbridled galloping faster and faster until the beat is beat back. A stick in the spoke. Stop. Restart.

While refrain means to bridle, restrain a thought or feeling, the lyric refrain is freeing, unbridled, a body leaping across the expanse of the page.

Resonance a sound re-sounding, to reverberate, to echo, the sound patterning a system by which we echolocate through the essay’s space.

Resonance as sonar. In English, sound comes from Old Norse sund which also means swimming, a body in water. As well as a body of water bordering the sea. A body made mostly of water in a body of water, dissolving borders (between writer and reader, between word and speech), where the ear (whose?) amplifies sound, sounding the depths of an essay. It shall be called Bottom’s Dream because it hath no bottom.

My music theory teacher taught us sound is founded on three conditions: a source, a medium through which sound travels, and a receiver. Thus, the tree falling in a forest koan, resolved. Timber/timbre a relationship based in sound. Do you hear what I hear? Without you, dear reader, no resonance.

Resonance: I saw Doyle do it and I saw Kincaid do it, and I saw Purpura and O’Brien do it and I hang on to that.


Note: This piece contains riffs/reworkings of bits of Lia Purpura’s “Autopsy Report,” Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” Wallace Stevens “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Timothy O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Brian Doyle’s “Leap,” and borrows its form from John Scalzi’s “Being Poor”


Essayist and poet Heidi Czerwiec is the author of the lyric essay collection Fluid States, selected by Dinty W. Moore as winner of Pleiades Press’ 2018 Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose, and the poetry collection Conjoining, and is the editor of North Dakota Is Everywhere: An Anthology of Contemporary North Dakota Poets. She writes and teaches in Minneapolis, where she is an Editor for Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. Visit her at

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