Aphorisms by Zoran T. Popovic

The Balkans is surely the most prolific place on earth for aphorists… Zoran T. Popovic was born in Sombor, Serbia, and now lives and works in Pancevo, near Belgrade. He’s been writing satire since 1986 and has published six books of aphorisms, including Organized Decadence (1994), Aphorisms and Other Tales (2002), and Connected Opinions (2004). In true Balkan tradition, Popovic’s aphorisms are filled with bitterness and bile, particularly in regard to politics and human nature. Yet these dark musings are ringed by a brittle satirical laugh that redeems things, but only a little bit.

Man is no longer an endangered species; even cannibals have switched to a healthier diet.

Sisyphus was promoted at work. He got a bigger stone.

Justice is on my side; the judge is my friend!

The condemned man’s last wish: Hang my lawyer!

I have only one fault: I am not perfect.

Aphorisms by Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern is best known as a poet, and a teacher at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, but in 2004 he published a book of aphorisms, Not God After All (Autumn House Press). In the introduction, Stern explains that he wrote the aphorisms over a period of about two weeks in the spring of 2002, quite a sustained period of spontaneous aphoristic combustion. “These aphorisms, petite narratives, whatever they are … represent my feelings during that time, feelings that were angry, arch, focused, political and unified,” he writes. “They also reflect both my reading and the sheer accident of my experience.” Once again, I thank the ever aphoristically alert Jim Finnegan (check out his blog, ursprache) for bringing Stern’s aphorisms my attention.

Walking down I don’t count the stairs
as I do when walking up.

If there was time I’d stop
saying good morning to Zeno.

There is no difference between
one whip and another.

What is more bloodthirsty and
oppressive, God or Country?

Aphorisms by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson (see pages 303–304 in Geary’s Guide; Peter also did some translations from the Italian for the book) is back with a new collection of aphorisms, Spirits of the Stair (Shearsman Books). Robinson’s first aphoristic collection, Untitled Deeds in 2004, was inspired in part by his experience teaching in Japan and in part by the euphemism-infested realm of public discourse. In the evocative language of the publisher’s blurb for Spirits of the Stair: “Finding weapons of mass destruction in the speechifying of politicians, and the toxicity of pension plan promises, feeling chilled by global warming, and hot under the collar, the poet found no other respite than to reach for his notebooks. What came from them were wrung-out dishcloths and acupuncturists’ needles, sound bites that chew on what they eschew, salves for old saws, and less-is-more morsels.” These aphorisms are savory slices of life, lip-licking slivers of literary sushi, delightfully delivered from only half-way down the stairs, from where they ring unerringly true. (Sorry for the purple prose, but that publisher’s blurb really got to me…) The current volume is an enlarged and extended selection, which includes all of the aphorisms from Untitled Deeds plus a lot more. Here is a seductive sampler, as chosen by Robinson himself:

In any evolving pattern or series it’s the elements that appear not to fit which will prove the most significant.

To hear the Christian Fundamentalists talk you’d think they were born again yesterday.

A charm offensive: an offensive charm.

The unexamined life is not worth living. The over-examined life is unendurable.

The aphorist’s palliative care: the relief of pain through the careful insertion of innumerable short, sharp needles.

By all means aspire to the stars, but try not to suck up to them.

I would ask the Churches if they couldn’t try to be a little more ecumenical with the truth.

Ah life: an aphorism waiting to happen.