Beston Jack Abrams turns 89 today. As he approaches his tenth decade, I honor and celebrate the “ancient aphorist,” as Jack refers to himself, with what I consider his top 10 aphorisms, excerpted from Abramisms: Lives of the Ancient Aphorist, Volumes I and II and the steady stream of new sayings it is my privilege to receive from Jack. For more Abramisms, see my posts from 2007, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Happy birthday, Jack!
#10. At this point I am less concerned about the future simply because there is less of it; and as for death, as with any adversary, fear is reduced as proximity increases.
#9. If we don’t accept reality today, it will not disappear but will return tomorrow as myth and legend.
#8. The ear is a better communicator than the tongue.
#7. Grace is to win without bragging; lose without excuse; live without complaint and share without regret.
#6. Contentment wears slippers; curiosity wears boots.
#5. Complete arrogance is the result of incomplete data.
#4. To be a success first show up, pay attention and then show up again.
#3. Nothing causes greater adherence to an opinion than opposition to it.
#2. A well conceived conclusion may also be an introduction.
#1. The first impression reveals as much about the observer as the observed.
“Editors Lough and Stein prove that good things come in small packages with this collection of modern aphorisms — short but sweet nuggets of wisdom, humor, insight, and clever turn of phrase.” Thus begins the Publishers Weekly review of Short Flights: Thirty-Two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration, and Wit, to be published November 1. The book includes aphorisms by former poet laureate Charles Simic and 2010 National Book Award finalist James Richardson as well as writers including David Shields, Stephen Dobyns, Ashleigh Brilliant, H.L. Hix, Charles Bernstein, Alfred Corn and me, among others.
“The 32 contributors (many of them poets),” the PW review continues, “introduce their work with prefaces, often confiding what the aphorisms mean to them. Their efforts delve into philosophy, self-reflection, and witty observation, often with what Lough, in his introduction, calls a twist (as in Oscar Wilde’s “I can resist anything except temptation”). Whether offering social criticism (such as Steven Carter’s gently barbed “Much can be tolerated by condemning it”), fine advice (as in James Guida’s “Bosses, like cats, should have to wear little bells to warn of their approach”), or keen definitions (“Panic is worry on a tight schedule,” according George Murray), each writer presents a worldview in bite-sized, memorable bon mots. Admittedly, another old saw — “A little goes a long way” — is also applicable, and the book is probably best dipped into at intervals. Not every writer will be to every reader’s taste, but there is sure to be something for everyone in this proverbial box of chocolates.”
Here is a selection of what Short Flights contains…
Eternity is the insomnia of Time. —Charles Simic
Success repeats itself until it is failure. —James Richardson
I tend to choose narcissists as my friends; that way I don’t worry that they’re talking about me behind my back. —Sara Levine
I can name everything I have given up, nothing I have not. —H. L. Hix
The best remedy for worry is disaster. —Steven Carter
Knowledge is what happens when you rob suspicion of doubt. —George Murray
Astrology is the one religion with practically no believers and countless followers. —Irena Karafilly
In the beginning there was nothing, in the end there was Wal Mart. —Hart Pomerantz
The first kiss in the world was a bite. —Lily Ackerman
I love originality so much I keep copying it. —Charles Bernstein
It’s solitude if you like it. Loneliness if you don’t. —Eric Nelson
If you don’t have anything nice to say, post a comment. —Ann Lauinger
To see clearly, one must very often squint. —James Geary
Gertrude Stein once dismissed Ezra Pound as the ‘village explainer’. In his aphoristic writings, Georges Perros (1923-1978) at times comes off as the ‘village complainer’. Though born in the literary hothouse of Paris, by his mid-thirties Perros settled in a quiet town on the coast of Brittany. There he wrote his aphorisms and lived apart from the writerly crowd.
Not unlike the dour and acerbic Cioran, Perros’ aphorisms languorously lash out at the absurdities of human life, expose personal weakness, and interrogate the nature of love: “Any woman putting me into an erotic state makes me want to make love with another woman.” Like a boxer working out in front of a mirror often he is the target of his own jabs: “The less I lie, the more I blush.” The wit and humor of many of these pensées relieves some the darkness of those other pieces, which seem to be drafts for a suicide note: “Suicide doesn’t mean wanting to die but, rather, wanting to disappear,” and “I see only absences.” Perhaps a prelude to the last section of this book, which is a series of journal entries written as Perros fell into severe cancer treatments, and which he seemed to take on with heroic stoicism: “I dwell inside my shadow.”
Here’s a Perros selection, from Paper Collage (Seagull Books, 2015), translated from the French by John Taylor. (For even more Perros, see the Fall 2010 issue of FragLit Magazine, edited by Olivia Dresher, an accomplished aphorist herself, where John Taylor published an extensive group of Perros aphorisms.
Memory is like the mantel of a fireplace. Covered with curios that one must be careful not to break but that one can no longer see.
Man is the only … thing of this world that raises its eyes to the sky as if it were asking a question.
How to make the other person stupid without his noticing? Love him.
Having nothing to hide except that you’ve nothing to hide.
I’m sure that God exists. As for believing in Him, that’s another matter.
As soon as man feels eternity, the moment falls off the hook.
It takes the stupid a long time to understand; and the intelligent, not to understand.
Man, a sum of subtractions.
Sitting next to me in the café was a gentleman laughing while reading The Financial Times.
Curiosity, the bee of ignorance.
When my dog sees me completely naked, it doesn’t recognize me.
I never heard a fisherman say he loves the sea.
He said softly what he thought out loud.
He was more intelligent than his own average.
Human beings are old babies.
You need character only two or three times during your lifetime.
There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. … It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. —from “Poetry and Marriage” in Standing by Words
At one time, the Master attended a formal tea ceremony … picked a piece of dried snot from his nose, and, trying not to attract any attention, went to place it beside him on his right. The guest there pulled back his sleeve in disgust. So the Master tried to place it on his left; but the guest there also recoiled. Realizing that he was stuck, the Master simply placed the snot back in his nose. —Curious Accounts of Zen Master Ryokan
Lance Larsen, poet laureate of Utah and a professor at BYU, is the author of four poetry collections: Genius Loci (2013), Backyard Alchemy (2009), In All Their Animal Brilliance (2005), and Erasable Walls (1998). Individual poems have appeared in Slate, New York Review of Books, Orion, Paris Review, Poetry, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, TLS, Best American Poetry 2009, and elsewhere. His essays also appear widely, three of which have been listed as notables—in Best American Essays 2005, 2009, and 2013.
Pants down, garage door up: how alike the sensation of exposure.
In triumph or despair, pet a cat.
Theory is a leaky cup.
To climb a new mountain, wear old shoes.
Wonder is the yeast of the imagination.
Fraud or Freud: for seven drafts not even my spell check could tell the difference.
Interesting piece by Michael Erard in Aeon on how to design a metaphor: “Designing metaphors makes you look around and realise how much of the language we use has been engineered to create its effects, in the same way that the resistance of an Oreo cookie’s cream against the tongue is no accident. To the metaphor designer, a really good, wild metaphor is a special find.”
Another aphoristic addition to the site from James Finnegan, whose Aphorisms by James Finnegan are extremely rewarding…
I’ve had the Collected Poems by Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) for many years, almost as long as I’ve been a poet. Patchen had a wide range in his poetry, from the whimsical to the politically acerbic. Recently I was pulling his collected from the shelf looking for a suitable love poem to read at a wedding. Patchen wrote many beautiful love poems, often the subject of his love poem was his wife, Miriam. Flipping through the book this time, I noticed for the first time that the penultimate piece in the book is small collection of aphorisms under the title, “’Gentle & Giving’ and Other Sayings.” Here are a few…
Gentle and giving—the rest is nonsense and treason.
No man’s life is beautiful except in hurtless work.
The autumn leaf is emblazoned with spring’s belief.
Truth is always what they don’t say.
Take taking from those who give and nobody anywhere will need any more such gifts.
Law and order embrace on hate’s border.
An ear with a hippopotamus attached—what an amazingly unlikely way for the buzz of a tiny fly to get itself heard!
In the love of a man and a woman is the look of God looking.
James Finnegan is a poet who also composes aphoristic ars poetica at ursprache. He works in the field of financial institution insurance. Willie Sutton is one of his heroes. When he’s moved to assert something outside of poetics, he posts to Tramp Freighter. A selection below …
One can only be noble when no one is looking.
You began to suspect that the self was just a thought experiment.
Don’t turn your head—there is nothing behind you that is not dead.
Many of the paintings now thought of as masterpieces were the B-movies of their day.
Religion is a superstition with a superstructure.
If ever life drives you back into a fetal ball, don’t forget in that position it’s easy to roll.
Strategy is only alive while in action. As soon as it accomplishes its mission it risks becoming structure.
Tradition is cultural tyranny.
He was a full professor at the university of himself.
I first blogged about Peter Yovu’s aphorisms back in 2012. Now, just in time for the new year, here’s a selection of his more recent sayings…
Self is to consciousness what salt is to sea.
The end plays dead and lets you find it.
Fear of Death: it’s like knowing I have an appointment with the dentist except it’s not just a tooth that will be extracted.
More often the miracle is what does not happen.
I broke a stone to see what was inside. It was no longer inside.
I peeled the label. Some of my skin came off with it.
It is always the last place you look.
The mirror I practice in does not accept my apology.
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