Short Flights: New Anthology of Contemporary Aphorists

“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

Aphorisms by Georges Perros

Another great find from Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter:

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.