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ON LOOKING BOOK REVIEW

On Looking

By Lia Purpura



“On Looking” by Lia Purpura is a beautiful collection of lyric essays on a variety of topics. Instead of the other collections of essays I’ve read thus far, Lia Purpura uses the tread of the lyric essay form as the thread that joins these pieces together. Many of the essays, including the title essay, are about a specific theme whether it be aesthetics, form, or invisibility. These essays that explored themes deeply rather than broadly were my favorites throughout the text. They showed me just how important it is to slow writing down and take the time it takes to really explore a certain subject. I think that seeing the lyric essay in action also helped me to solidify this idea, one that was difficult for me to grasp previously. I’ve noticed in my own writing that when I approach the “slow down” that Purpura has mastered, I become concerned that my writing will be rambling and babbling. Purpura utilizes different forms and sources and ideas when she does this which ensures that it doesn’t appear to be babbling, instead the essays read far more like poetry; every sentence and word and reference having multiple meanings.


I wished I had the opportunity and time to read this text, or even certain essays multiple times. Because they read like poetry, something I have never felt terribly comfortable with in my ability to understand thoroughly, they take more time and concentration. My favorite, and the most helpful essay to me was “On Form” where Purpura explores the arguably abstract idea of form by using a variety of forms. She writes “ When thinking of jellies we have to suspend our bias toward hard skeletons with thick muscles and dense tissues’ He means in order to see their particular beauty, to see them, we have to suspend our fear.” (23) This line was particularly resonant to me both in the context of the essay and in the context of my own writing. Before reading this essay I had become frustrated with Purpura’s lyric essay, unaccustomed to its meandering thought process and variance in form. This quote however made it click; just because I am not yet comfortable with this particular form, doesn’t mean that it does not possess a distinct and characteristic beauty. Additionally, I had been hesitant to write lyric essays such as this before, partly because I didn’t think I could. They seemed complicated and not really understanding them while reading them made me believe that I certainly couldn’t write any myself. I needed to understand that the lyric essay, and quite possibly writing in general is about suspending our fear. It’s about pushing the pause button on our fear when we sit down at our keyboards and being comfortable, or at least ok with the idea of willingly doing something that we fear. That may be working out things from the past that one would rather have left forgotten or it may mean finding a new form to work with. There is beauty simply in the suspension of fear.


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