September 25, 2018 by The Citron Review
One of the characteristics that I find most exciting about the personal essay is its malleability. “Malleable,” coming from the Latin malleus, “hammer,” is an appropriate term here, I think—the writer can beat the essay like hot iron into whatever shape she deems necessary.
Another way to think about it, if we want to give the personal essay some agency, is to consider an observation from Phillip Lopate: “The essay is a notoriously flexible and adaptable form. It possesses the freedom to move anywhere, in all directions.” Flexible, adaptable, free, a thing that seems to act of its own accord. I like to picture it as a polymorph, a shape-changer, a creature that can take on different forms and aspects at will.
Yet another way to consider the essay is to treat the shape and the content distinctly. Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola identify what they call hermit crab essays, which acquire their structures from the world around them: “The ‘shells’ come where you can find them, anywhere out in the world. They may borrow from fiction and poetry, but they also don’t hesitate to armor themselves in more mundane structures, such as the descriptions in a mail-order catalog or the entries in a checkbook register.” The personal essay, then, can reveal great depths while occupying the shape of a grocery receipt, or it can slip into the language of lyric poetry to convey a chance encounter on a sidewalk.
In this issue of The Citron Review, we present personal essays that explore the possibilities of the essay itself. They have borrowed and taken from elsewhere, have embodied other forms and genres, have found shapes and techniques that are necessary for their very existence. My fellow creative nonfiction editor, Marianne Woods Cirone, and I are proud to present them to you. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.
Thanks for reading,
Creative Nonfiction Editor
The Citron Review