We live in an age where writing is genre-fluid.
Some of us have learned, some of us have adapted, and some of us have always been there. Wherever you are in the spectrum right now, it is a wonderful time to experiment: there has never been more visibility for hybrid artists; there has never been a greater time to create hybrid art.
I always like to think of hybrid as the merger of X + Y: music and poetry, image and essay, vegan donuts and medium rare steaks. In writing, hybridity is the place where we discuss works that have always paralleled—as opposed to intersected—the literary establishment. This trajectory is what makes hybrid form such fertile ground for intersectional, intertextual, and multivalent cultural thinkers—the people who both exist and resist on the margins.
Want to get started? Here we go:
1. Ask yourself a question.
What do you want to know? Hybrid form is about the exploration of one incessant thought that plagues your memory. An answer of which one cannot come to in the form of one poem, one color, one short story, one traditional form. What do you want to know? What are you asking yourself? I like to begin with What happens/ What could happen if…?
2. Answer the question.
But don’t just write your answer down. Put it in a dress. Decide that its only means of saving the world is through contemporary dance. Lick it. Take pictures of it. Give it a scent and a diatonic scale. If your question does not require an answer that bursts to be explored through the sensory, you are asking the wrong question. Repeat step one or don’t hybrid. To not hybrid is perfectly fine, but if you must hybrid, find a question you can answer in multiple modes, each one its own form of delight.
3. Be in conversation.
If <hybrid = X + Y>, I like to think of collaboration as the “equals” sign. You do not have to work with someone else to make hybrid work (you don’t have to work with anyone else in order to collaborate) but putting yourself in conversation with the people, work, and places that inspire you is what makes hybridity visionary. I’m always impressed by the multi-dimensional talent present in the world we think of as writing, but we all have limitations that might prevent us from executing the full vision of our creative work just because we haven’t enlisted the help of a friend. Find the answer to your equation, but think of archivists, visual artists, bassists—any number of specialists—as part of the formula.
Shayla Lawson is the author of three hybrid poetry collections—A Speed Education in Human Being, PANTONE, I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean—and a forthcoming collection of essays from Harper Perennial. Her work has appeared in Guernica, ESPN, Tin House, and Salon. She is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo Artist Colony, and serves as Director of Creative Writing at Amherst College.