Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life, resembles [Alexander] Chee’s in its resistance to prescriptive instruction and the authoritative pedagogical impulse in favor of sketching edges and contours of what it means both to write and to be ... This is a woozy writing crafted in cycles and slippages, in repetition with minor variances. It is, well, life, and the body, repeating, repeating, repeating, like breath and blood, at once inexorably the same and ineffably different. As readers of this writing, then, we do not learn a craft so much as gather and sense, sift and glean, becoming aware through accretion, collection, absorption, rereading. We are not told how to write in clear terms; instead, we are shown what writing actually feels like and what words can be made to do.
The book's ... nineteen essays...aren’t quite this or that; most are misfit pieces Boully couldn’t fit into her projects over the last two decades. Together, they coexist to spin a web of knives, witchcraft, magnetic poetry, monarch butterflies, love affairs, heartbreak, death, and discussions of Boully’s writing craft. But to call this a book of craft is to do it disservice. Boully doesn’t give you tips to better yourself as a writer. Instead, she discusses her own writing life ... By sharing the vulnerabilities of her own craft, it’s as if Boully gives writers forgiveness for theirs. The magic of Betwixt is not prescriptive, but subjective; Boully splays open her own torso and readers divine what they need to from the spill of her organs ... By sharing these personal experience, the point Boully seems to be making is that the writing life is not just about putting words on a page, but observing, daydreaming, and feeling.
Boully is an author who often takes bold formal steps: Her first book, The Body: An Essay is made up entirely of footnotes to an absent text. In her preface to this collection, Boully explains that the essays contained within span her career to date — that they, in her words, 'began to appear when I began to write truly as a writer.' ... What emerges from the cumulative experience of reading them, then, is a glimpse inside a singular authorial voice, and the way that life experiences and a literary aesthetic are intertwined. The overall effect is hypnotic. Throughout Betwixt and Between, she uses unexpected juxtapositions to achieve a powerful effect. Several of the essays within feature self-consciously sprawling titles: The Art of Fiction and How to Write on Grand Themes are two examples. Both essays eschew rote advice on craft and instead delve into the idiosyncrasies of Boully’s own life experiences — and, in doing so, neatly leap over the oft debated argument over the personal vs. the universal ... For all that Boully can write in a heady register, she also incorporates familiar questions in these essays: Family, identity and desire all occupy plenty of space within the text ... Betwixt-and-Between is living proof of that: It’s not only a powerful demonstration of writing as life, but of the ways that lived experiences can illuminate and transform writing.
Jenny Boully’s fifth book, Betwixt and Between: Essays On the Writing Life, does not neatly assimilate into the tradition of writers writing about writing. Historically, these books blend memoir and how-to into quick, comprehensive, and illustrious reads ... Betwixt-and-Between subverts this style by discussing her existence as a writer, rather than the concrete task of writing itself. She lays no claim as to who the writer is; in fact, one of the themes that acts as an adhesive for this otherwise erratic collection is her outright cry against classification: 'I am sometimes called a poet, sometimes an essayist, sometimes a lyric essayist, sometimes a prose poet…I find these categorizations odd: I have never felt like anything other than whole.' In this effort, she does not wish to nail down a dictated method—she looks to show what she as a writer attempts: 'Can you give to someone else what has been? That’s the task of the poet.' ... A prospective reader should consider their intentions when they approach this book ... Notwithstanding, Boully’s belief on writing as creation does not differ from what has previously been written: 'How writing then differs from violent weather: in storms you have not where once you had; in writing you have where once you had not.' Yet, it is this inventive dissection of the subject that makes Betwixt-and-Between a necessary inclusion to the writers-on-writing canon.
This book stays true to [Boully's] genre-bucking tradition rather than manifesting as a dry, textbook-like rendition of how to write like the ones she chaffed against when she was younger ... Boully feels the world deeply and understands its liminal natural—the betwixt-and-between of it. In her descriptions of the writing life, which are mostly essays about her life since 'writing should be [your] life,' as she tells her students, Boully captures this shifting, hard to pin down world in her characteristic poetic prose that keeps readers swirling ... in short, here, as elsewhere, [Boully] does what she wants, beautifully.
A poet and essayist likens writing to witchcraft, love, and 'the craft of getting someone to love me.' ... As a teacher, Boully was visited by a textbook representative who offered her many books to help teach her students the craft of poetry or nonfiction writing. Horrified, she recalled the exercises she had encountered as an undergraduate, which resembled 'therapy: confronting an experience with the goal of moving beyond it to free oneself from buried trauma.' For Boully, the process is far different, rooted in a philosophical journey for meaning, sincerity, and, not least, love. The author’s prose is reminiscent of Lydia Davis’—spare, elliptical, unexpected—and sometimes, in her rhythmic cadences, of Gertrude Stein’s. In the literary world, Boully confesses, her genre-bending often causes consternation. 'I may look like an essay, but I don’t act like one' she writes. 'I may look like prose, but I don’t speak like it.' She may look like a poet, too, or a fiction writer: 'The need to write fictions,' she offers, arises from the desire to say one thing and mean another ... Graceful meditations on love, loneliness, and the magic of words.
This erudite, incisive collection of 19 essays from creative writing professor Boully blends the personal with the instructive. While discussing the writing process, Boully opens the door to more intimate topics, such as growing up with a multiracial background, falling in love, and coping with post-breakup heartbreak ... Throughout, she exposes the mind of a writer at work, capturing moments both of inspiration and of gnawing doubt. In On Writing and Witchcraft, Boully compares her teenage fascination with witchcraft to her present craft, which can demand psyching herself up into a mindset that makes her feel creative: 'staging a certain sacredness before the sacredness can start.' ... Fellow practitioners of literary nonfiction will find Boully’s writing relatable and charming.