When we first reached out to our contributors inviting them to participate in this feature, we saw it as a conversation, by which our questions would lead to an understanding of why we felt this issue was something we wanted to put out in the literary world. What we didn’t expect is the way it became a hybrid issue itself. Its form, structure, and textural presentation move between interview, essay, direct response, and something else entirely.
So this issue became the very thing we were trying to address in our questions: post-genre, hybrid, and a collection of multiple approaches and ways of thinking. We intended to write an afterword responding to the contributors, but after putting the material together, we decided that would go against what we were trying to get at: categorization/definition is a problem. The conversation should be open ended—messy, in a way; without answers. The way we think about these hybrid and post-genre texts should always mutate.
We hope you enjoy what we present here and that you continue this conversation in your own way—in the way the conversation wants to happen.
Please take a look at the wide selection of recommended readings. We feel the list gives great insight and context into the pieces, the issue, and whatever these hybrid/post-genre things are.
Hybrid Forms & the Post-Genre Approach
Several months ago, Joshua presented me with the idea of collaborating on a discussion of hybrid forms. We’d been talking about genre, the hows of it, for several years. We always tried to define it, but the definitions were never satisfying. Hybridity takes many shapes and forms; its processes are different. The work we love that is, or can be, categorized as hybrid is also made in many different ways. We’re not interested in categorizing what we do and what we’re drawn to, but we do want to find a way to discuss these works and these writers.
Hybridity to us means that genre is bent or pushed against, or used outside its normal potential; that there is a need to avoid generic parameters in order to achieve what the work is striving for. A novel in verse exists because it needs the verse to unlock the narrative; a play in verse needs the stage to exist on and off of—it needs a visible place; other forms avoid genre distinctions because some essential aspect gets lost once the work is categorized.
As humans, we have an undeniable need to tie the things we engage with to category; this act of suturing is part of our make-up. But Joshua and I are interested in pushing against that by focusing on the process more than the product. We want to discuss what makes something hybrid or post-genre; what traits and forms are there, what is absent, and what kinds of potential exist within this evolving category—how it can continue to shuck definition and avoid constraints. To us, hybridity must always evolve and change—otherwise, it’s just another genre. Sure, there are things we recognize—coding that makes us like something because of its blurring or mixing—but we are more interested in where this can go rather than what it is.
JY: The word hybrid rises up in our conversations about the work we do and like. I can’t remember where it came from, but sometime in graduate school, I started referring to my work as hybrid. I began seeing more and more books, journals, and presses that stated a hybrid focus. I recognized qualities and approaches in them that made me think there was a better way to talk about my work. But it still felt limiting. The work I was doing felt out of place among many other journals and presses. I started using cross-genre techniques because I needed a form to harness the narratives spewing out of my work—to give it a setting, a place, something to anchor the reader. I knew this work wasn’t groundbreaking. Everyone knows these practices have been around for a long time. I did it out of necessity. I’ve gained experience approaching certain forms differently. Writing a screenplay vs a short story vs a play vs a “poem” all have different approaches for me. But when I’m still in the wild early stages of working on something new, something that doesn’t yet know what it wants to be, the approach is rogue—its form and process constantly changes, evolves, blurs, depending on its direction and what’s happening on and off the page.
NW: My first experiments with form happened with post-modern dance and choreography. There, the conversation was always about form and content—what’s the framing device? What’s the container, inside of which we’ll pour these ideas? How can we best shape the viewing experience? When I moved more to writing, these were the questions I brought with me. With the ephemeral nature of dance, it’s easy to slough off movement phrases in order to experiment again and again. I brought this attitude to writing as well—the idea of the constant search for form. I talk about writing in a physical way, and I am more interested in process than product. For most of my life I wrote unclassifiable things, but because I didn’t have a language for it, I simply kept it a secret—until I discovered I wasn’t the only one. Now, I like the term post-genre. It implies that when I sit down to write, I haven’t pre-planned the classification. Like a dancer improvising through the space, it gives me the freedom to experiment with material—through repetition, shape, gesture, topography—until that moment when the container fills, when the viewer captures the essence through the window. I started Ghost Proposal because I wanted to curate a space in which to discuss process outside of labeling, naming and categorizing. It is helpful, yes, to have a shared language as a foundation for understanding different styles of writing. But what I am more interested in are the many different ways writers conceive of what I am calling, at the moment, the post-genre approach.
We don’t claim for this to be the first curated discussion of its kind. There have been conversations focusing on genre distinction happening for a long time—anthologies, essays, interviews, etc—but the conversation feels like it is only circling the core of what we want to know.
The Volta’s Mixed Forms Issue is a wonderful example of looking at cross-genre and blurred lines, but these essays don’t quite approach post-genre in the way we have been discussing it; rather, they show a sort of oscillation between prose and verse. There are some pieces that speak to what Joshua and I are attempting to dig into: C.S. Giscombe “MUTATING TEXTS” starts to touch this idea of post-genre, and Cole Swenson’s “No End is Unplanned” gets right at it:
My main interest in mixing forms, hybridizing them, etc., is to get to writing. If one is writing a poem or a prose-poem or a play or a novel or whatever, one is not just writing, and it’s that form-free, non-preconceived event that I’m always trying to get to—in short, I don’t want to write anything; I just want to write, which is impossible, of course, but I think there’s a productive kind of suspension that offers a greater openness if one can, even if just for a moment, forget what one is writing and simply write. (Evening Will Come, The Volta. ISSUE 31, JULY 2013)
We are looking for specificity in our discussion that differs from “The Mixed Forms Issue,” though they do intersect—Swenson’s essay especially is a good example. A year or so later, Entropy’s discussion of the Narrative Long Epic Poem offered insight to this growing practice of, or return to, narrative-driven writing, but its specific focus on narrative poetry ties itself to genre. The Seneca Review’s Lyric Essay issue, “We Might As Well Call it a Lyric Essay,” in which D’Agata essentially says, Lyric Essay, naw, just something I made up in grad school, is nevertheless an excellent example of what an essay can do, but again, it specially focuses on the essay. There are also anthologies such as Bending Genre, Blurring the Boundaries, Metawritings, and the ongoing Rose Metal Press Field Guides. These texts, among others, are a key foundation to enter into this conversation, but for us, the most important thing is not how we categorize but how the process happens, how the writing finds or avoids form: what is the approach, what is the process, and what does the writer call not what they’ve created but what they do.
We encouraged contributors to respond to our questions in any way they wished. Some included the questions in their response; others did not. Our questions were intended as prompts; they appear below for reference.
1. Do you categorize your work? If so, how?
2. Do you find genre constraints limiting? (in general / in concept / in publishing)
3. Can you identify hybrid forms?
4. What is the “post-genre approach?”
5. How do you see your work fitting into hybrid or post-genre approaches?
6. Hybridity is not new: how do you see your work in terms of its lineage?
—Naomi Washer and Joshua Young