by Patrick Madden

Sublime Physick (essays)

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

A follow-up to Patrick Madden's award-winning debut, this introspective and exuberant collection of essays is wide-ranging and wild, following bifurcating paths of thought to surprising connections. In Sublime Physick, Madden seeks what is common and ennobling among seemingly disparate, even divisive, subjects, ruminating on midlife, time, family, forgiveness, loss, originality, a Canadian rock band, and much more, discerning the ways in which the natural world (fisica) transcends and joins the realm of ideas (sublime) through the application of a meditative mind.

In twelve essays that straddle the classical and the contemporary, Madden transmutes the ruder world into a finer one, articulating with subtle humor and playfulness how science and experience abut and intersect with spirituality and everyday life.

Teaching Resources

If you'd like to adopt Sublime Physick for classroom use, or if you simply want to learn more about essays (my own and others'), I've assembled some resources below.

Lecture: Patrick Madden Writes an Essay; Or, Transmuting the Ruder World into the Finer

Recorded at Vermont College of Fine Arts, 1 January 2015

In this 40-minute lecture (plus 15 minutes of Q&A following), I talk about my writing process, specifically the writing of "Spit," the first essay in Sublime Physick. With high-quality audio and video, and integrated PowerPoint slides, this lecture is designed for classroom use to supplement teaching from the book. Basically, I'll cover your class for you one day.

Writing Prompts

I asked a dozen of my current and former students to create writing prompts derived from each of the essays in Sublime Physick. If you or your students are looking for inspiration for your own writing, here are some exercises you can use. I've created a two-page PDF file that you can print out double-sided and fold into a booklet that will fit inside your copy of SP.

Craft Essays

Over the past few years, I've published a number of my conference papers, or have written original papers, exploring issues of writing craft.

"In Praise of Quotation" Bending Genre blog. 17 February 2014.

Working within and against avant-garde, genre-bending ideas and techniques, I here argue for the archaic essay practice of including quoted work from others in your essays, not as support for an argument but as conversation and accompaniment.

"Finding a Form before a Form Finds You" TriQuarterly. 29 September 2015.

Thinking against my own default writing practice, here I gather a number of essays (by others) that borrow forms, such as a final exam, a Google map, an eBay auction, etc., and I praise the value of constraint and play.

"Against Getting It All Down" TriQuarterly. 28 October 2014.

Making almost the opposite point from the essay above, here I celebrate and encourage writing without plot, to see how the language itself inspires what follows. I also give a few writing exercises to help put this into practice.

"Finding My Way". Superstition Review blog. 12 Jan 2013.

As in the essay above, here I espouse and expound upon discovery-writing, with different examples.

"Aliased Essayists". Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies 1.2 (Spring 2015).

You know how essays are supposed to be nonfictional, and how people get riled up when they discover a nonfictionist fictionalizing? This essay tries to complicate the issue by recalling several essayists in the past who've invented narrative and personal details in their essayist's persona.


Recorded at Brigham Young University, 12 September 2014

In this 2014 reading, I read several short essays, including "Moment, momentous, momentum" from Sublime Physick (which begins at 15:55), as well as some new and unpublished work.

Recorded at Brigham Young University, 26 February 2010

In this 2010 reading, I read my essay "Asymptosy" (published in Quotidiana, supplemented by all sorts of audiovisuals that demonstrate the essay's many examples.