I’ve heard a lot of talk about form lately – and by lately I mean in the last few years. At Antioch, where I got my MFA in Creative Nonfiction, Brenda Miller taught a whole lesson on what she called the “Hermit Crab Essay,” an essay that fits into the form of something else – a grocery list, a self-help book, a utility bill. Using this idea, a writer shapes her prose to fit the confines of one of these seemingly nonwriterly forms. The result is a creative, fresh work of prose that contains levels, internal conversations, and visual elements that are not often produced in traditional forms. Much like poets claim form opens up their poetry, so the hermit crab essay allows a writer to experiment with pushing against and staying within limitation.
So after hearing Brenda and attending an AWP seminar on experimental form, I’m giving it a go. I’m trying to write an essay about my divorce in the form of a tutorial, like those you would take to learn how to make a website or program the clock on your VCR (does anyone do that anymore?). I teach technical writing, so I’m trying to stick closely to the form and see where it takes me. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far, it’s great. But then I only just started. Things haven’t gotten ugly yet.