Aphorisms by Valeriu Butulescu

Thanks to Dan Costinas for bringing to my attention the aphorisms of Valeriu Butulescu, Romanian dramatist, poet, author and journalist whose aphorisms have been translated into more than 40 languages, including this selection in English:

A derailed tram considers itself independent.

Childhood. The only lost paradise.

Whenever I open my eyes, I am guilty of prying.

As a rule, after a high obstacle there comes an abyss.

We idolize eagles, although, hens are much more useful.

Swallows fly away in autumn. Crows remain, overwhelmed with responsibility.

Aphorisms by Richard Hugo

According to his biography on The Academy of American Poets site, Richard Hugo “from a very early age took an interest in books, fishing, and baseball.” Hugo is the author of  The Triggering Town, his lectures and essays on the craft of writing poems, a book that has become something of a classic in creative writing courses. These aphorisms come from there.

If you ain’t no place you can’t go nowhere.

Think small. If you have a big mind, that will show itself. If you can’t think small, try philosophy or social criticism.

An imagined town is at least as real as an actual town.

Words love the ridiculous areas of our minds.

If you can answer the question, to ask it is to waste time.

Hope hard to fall always short of success.

More Aphorisms by William Stafford

Back in 2009 Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, sent news of William Stafford’s aphorisms. These are now collected in Sound of the Ax, which brings together for the first time over 400 aphorisms and 26 aphoristic poems by Stafford. A selection:

All events and experiences are local, somewhere.

When the snake decided to go straight he didn’t get anywhere.

There are many of those who have sense enough to come in out of the rain who do not have sense enough to go out in the sun.

Many things true when said, the world makes untrue.

Every mink has a mink coat.

I must see farther, even when no one says, “Look!”

Aphorisms by Agnes Martin

Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, points out that this month marks the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Agnes Martin, an artist who spent many years in Taos, New Mexico. Martin did some aphoristic writing, often reflecting on her practice as an artist, which can be found in Schriften (Kunstmuseum Winterthur / Edition Cantz, 1992), edited by Dieter Schwarz:

We need more and different flags.

One who has become all eyes does not see.

To try to understand is to court misunderstanding.

Not to know but to go on.

There are two endless directions. In and out.

The measure of your life is the amount of beauty and happiness of which you are aware.

There are no criteria. No possibility for criticism.

Those with security as a goal will not move.

In graphic arts and all the arts technique is a hazard even as it is in living life.

I hope I have made it clear that the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but that the paintings are very far from being perfect—completely removed in fact—even as we ourselves are.

Aphorisms by Richard Kostelanetz

I am once again indebted to Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, for alerting me to new aphorists, this time the experimental poet and multi-genre artist Richard Kostelanetz:

“Because aphorisms are short, each word counts. And perhaps it takes a poet to create aphorisms in which the number of words is evenly counted. In this case, Richard Kostelanetz has used just 4 words per for his ‘mini maxims’. In a way, the words of this book have an extra measure of weight, because Kostelanetz’s Mini Maxims have been published by the fine letter-press poetry publisher, Adastra Press. Literally the weight of each piece of type can be felt when the printer Gary Metras, a skilled poet himself, handsets the type for each page of the book. The book Mini Maxims may be ordered from Adastra Press, 16 Reservation Road, Easthampton MA  01027, for $18.00 US postage paid. (Also available from spdbooks.com and amazon.com.)

Also, serendipitous aphorism discoverer Dave Lull came across Kosti’s Ambrose in the New English Review, Richard Kostelanetz’s appropriations of aphorisms from The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (Geary’s Guide, pp. 356-358), which Kostelanetz describes as “rewriting some of [Bierce’s] entries to make them mine and adding a few of my own reflecting his influence, not just what I wish I wrote but what I rewrote.” Here, for example, is a little quatrain from the original Devil’s Dictionary about this blog’s preoccupation:

The flabby wine-skin of his brain
Yields to some pathologic strain,
And voids from its unstored abysm
The driblet of an aphorism.

And here’s a taste of Richard Kostelanetz’s mini maxims:”

Luck cannot be duplicated.

Internal emptiness inevitable surfaces.

If uninvited, arrive late.

Anyone understood becomes predictable.

Rationalize equals rational lies.

More Aphorisms by Patrick Hunt

Patrick Hunt, about whom I first blogged back in 2008, has published a new collection of aphorisms: A Few Hundred Thoughts, from Corinthian Press. In her Book Haven blog, Cynthia Haven recounts Hunt’s recent reading at the Stanford Bookstore, including the author’s description of aphorisms as “intellectual judo—much like poetry, every word counts.” This sampling of Hunt’s take on Martial’s art also comes from Haven’s blog and prompts me to reaffirm my conclusion from 2008: Patrick Hunt is a damn fine aphorist.

Only leaves know the true color of sunlight.

Humans have stomachs twice the size of their brains and three times the size of their hearts.

A constellation is a village where stars live.

Anguish is proof of the soul.

Stars obey the same laws as snails.

Unlike comets and more like candles, souls don’t burn up but down.

New Italian Aphorists

Fabrizio Caramagna, proprietor of Aforisticamente, a site devoted to Italian aphorisms, has curated the anthology The New Italian Aphorists, featuring aphorisms by writers who took part in recent biannual aphorism festivals in Italy. The book, as Caramagna describes it in the introduction, covers the full gamut of aphoristic forms: “sententious and paradoxical aphorisms, but also poetic, visual, ‘diaristic’, and philosophical aphorisms, as well as micro-essays and micro-tales, aphorism-definitions, puzzling and fantastic aphorisms, Zen aphorisms.”

The New Italian Aphorists includes established Italian authors like Maria Luisa Spaziani (Geary’s Guide 308-309), who has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times, and Fulvio Fiori (GG 31-32), who took part in the inaugural meeting of the World Aphorism Organization in London in 2008, as well as newcomers like Paolo Bianchi, who was born in 1986. The book gives readers of English a wonderful glimpse into the vibrant, vital art of the aphorism in Italy. A selection…

We always choose our enemies among those whom we would have liked to become. They are our lost image. —Amedeo Ansaldi

Sometimes we caress one another so as not to go deeper. —Amedeo Ansaldi

Writing aphorisms is an acrobatic art: thinking without a safety net. —Silvana Baroni

For a few years it is our parents who raise us; for the rest of our lives it is ours kids. —Silvana Baroni

During our youth it’s easy to swim against the current, when we are still near the source —Fabrizio Caramagna

They were both peeping at each other through the keyhole, and at last they looked each other in the eye. —Carlo Ferrario

The fundamental question is: Will there be life before death? —Fulvio Fiori

Life lasts too long to make predictions but it’s too short to make plans. —Sandro Montalto

Melancholy is the Carbon 14 of absence. —Alessandra Paganardi

You reach the peak of happiness when unhappiness is unusually close. —Alessandra Paganardi

A good aphorism can only result from a world in ruins: it’s an Apocalypse caused by a pinprick. —Mario Parrini

I would praise him if I could deliver his eulogy. —Maria Luisa Spaziani

Koans by William Lumpkins

I am grateful, once again, to Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, for spotting new aphorists in out of the way places. His latest dispatch comes from New Mexico and the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe:

Wandering through an exhibit of 14,000 years of New Mexico art, panhistoric from the earliest native artifacts up to the vibrant contemporary scene, I encountered the abstract watercolors of William Lumpkins (1910-2000). I was intrigued by his paintings and also by one of Lumpkins’ koans printed alongside one of his works. Besides painting, Lumpkins was a forward thinking architect who early on designed buildings to exploit passive solar. His aphoristic koans show his abiding interest in Zen Buddhism as well as the concerns of art making. Reading all his short writings would require transcribing the index cards he left behind in a few wooden boxes. The few Lumpkins’ koans that I was able to track down were printed on the last page of a 1987 exhibition catalog (“Koans by William Lumpkins,” William Lumpkins: Works on Paper 1930-1986, The Jonson Gallery of the University Art Museum, Albuquerque NM, 1987):

Affirm not or deny not lest you limit your vision.

A cult of images, symbols, hymns, all clichés are but a framework of imitative practices and lead not to the Zen mind.

Go to your paper and color each morning freed from the grip of innumerable yesterdays.

The unplanned image emerges utterly complete.

When one breathes, listens to the song of the birds, feels the wind, is wetted by the rain, associate each act not with a memory but rather experience each as a thing just discovered.

Detachment is not indifference.

Aphorisms by Scott F. Parker

Scott F. Parker is co-editor of Coffee—Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate (Wiley-Blakcwell, 2011). His prose and poetry have appeared in Philosophy Now, Oregon Humanities, and Sport Literate, among other publications. His aphorisms, a selection of which is forthcoming in Whole Beast Rag‘s Homme Issue (12/1/13), are steeped in close readings of literature and philosophy, from which Parker brews close observations on the psychology of writing. Enjoy with a nice mug of coffee.

Dreams of gods—epiphenomena of neuron clusters—turtles all the way down. The most effective way to become an atheist is to first become a god.

Literature: writing that means more than it says.

A brief commentary on originality:

Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.

Even in Portland—
gray clouds obscuring mountain—
I long for Portland.
—After Basho

Sound advice is distinguished less by the quality of the advice than by the quality of the sound.

An undervalued version of truth. The lucky person is the one who hears what he needs to hear when he needs to hear it.

A postmodern apothegm: In the beginning was the World, and the World was with words, and the World was Words.

Aphorisms by Laurence Musgrove

Laurence Musgrove—a professor of, among other things, rhetoric and composition, creative writing (poetry), and visual thinking at Angelo State University in Texas—lists the influences of his aphoristic alter-ego, Tex, as Buster (Keaton), Henry (David Thoreau), Duke (a.k.a. John Wayne), and Groucho (Marx). Tex, a straight-talkin’ Texan line drawing sporting a speech bubble and a Stetson, might also cite such illustrious predecessors as Josh Billings (Geary’s Guide, pp. 13-16), Frank McKinney (Kin) Hubbard (GG, pp. 38-39) and Will Rogers (GG, pp. 53-54). Like these three aphorists, Tex dispenses folksy, homespun wisdom with a distinctly Western twist and, like Hubbard’s cartoon incarnation, Abe Martin, Tex comes fully if minimally illustrated…


Musgrove’s site Texosophy: Aphorisms, Advice & Wisecracks showcases Tex’s (which, when said aloud, sounds like ‘Texas’) sayings, many of which take the form of a Billings-esque dialectic:

Man waz kreated a little lower than the angels, and he haz been a gitting a little lower ever since. —Josh Billings


Tex and Billings also both practice cacography, the deliberate misspelling of words for phonetic effect.

Hubbard, who died in 1930, wrote a syndicated column/cartoon for more than 25 years that chronicled the sayings and doings of Abe Martin and the other denizens of the fictional Brown County, Indiana. Tex is similarly prolific if less widely published. Musgrove has lately been producing a drawing and saying a day, conveniently preserved in the Texosophy archives. Tex and Abe share a similar wry, funny, gently chiding disposition.

The world gets better every day—then worse again in the evening. —Abe Martin



In Tex, Musgrove has added a real original to the line of witty, wisecracking American philosophers that began with Poor Richard.