'Essays,' Edited by Dorothea Lasky, Out Now from Essay Press

By
Jessie Shohfi
November 21, 2022

Essays, edited by Associate Professor and Head of Poetry Dorothea Lasky, was recently released by Essay Press.

The collection features essays written by poets, challenging the limits of the form and engaging with the expectations that are inherent to their work. Contributors include Ariel Goldberg, Ken Chen, Wayne Koestenbaum, Tracie Morris, Anaïs Duplan, Raquel Salas Rivera, Brandon Shimoda, Cecilia Vicuña, Fred Moten, and Mónica de la Torre '95.

“The term essay itself was coined by Michel de Montaigne in the 1500s," said Lasky, "and it comes from the French word, essai, which means to test or experiment with what one knows as a learning tool (and is in some opposition to the terms we use to discuss the essay now, such as thesis). As we move forward, deeper into this new century, I want our thinkers and writers to move beyond this linear thinking into the realm of what an essay by someone like Montaigne might do. His essays do as they say they will—they test out ideas, they are unafraid to get messy in their execution, they are brave enough to go forward into the uncharted waters. In them, it's completely beside the point to get back to where they started, let alone where they'd say they would go. They are simply beside the point. It's true.”

Essays found its origin in 2018 at a Columbia event at the Lenfest Center for the Arts called More than a Manifesto: The Poet’s Essay Symposium. The symposium invited poets to speak in response to the prompt, “create or comment on the notion of a poet’s essay.” 

Introducing the keynote speaker, theorist and poet Fred Moten, Lasky said, “I hope that we have begun to open up the ideas that for poets, the essay form can be a place to just be. Moten is someone who so distinctly employs both forms. It is hard to tell often when reading him if you are reading a poem or an essay. Certainly we could say that we are experiencing both.”

Moten’s keynote address was titled, “Recess and Nonsense: The End of the Poetry World and the Ends of the Poet.” After speaking, Moten was asked about his take on the relationship between poetry and theory. He responded, “These analytics we have about the academic versus the non-academic have the same level of precision as chemotherapy: they burn up what they’re supposed to heal . . .I feel like everything is much more complicated and requires a much higher level of precision, and by precision I mean lyricism. I just don’t see anything that we don’t need, so we need a lot of different ways to talk. We need to be able to hang out with one another and hear all those different ways that people use to talk.”

Essays is available for purchase here

Dorothea Lasky is the author of six books of poetry and prose: Animal (Wave Books, 2019), as well as ROME (W.W. Norton/Liveright) and Milk, Thunderbird, Black Life, and AWE, all out from Wave Books. She is also the author of several chapbooks, including Snakes (Tungsten Press) and Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse). Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and Boston Review, among other places. She is the co-editor of Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry (McSweeney's) and is a Bagley Wright Lecturer on Poetry. She holds a doctorate in creativity and education from the University of Pennsylvania and has been educated at Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Washington University.