Art & Culture

The addiction of aphorisms

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiSep 25, 2015 | 17:43

The addiction of aphorisms

When I asked for brevity in this month's prompt, I was certain I was asking for the poems to be kept short and sweet; I did not realise that I would be constrained - by the lack of submissions - to keep my own column brief! Perhaps aphorisms are a more difficult form than any others I might have offered for poets to attempt; maybe everyone was asleep until September ended; whatever the reason, this month I have the privilege of discussing a single submission.


Goirick Brahmachari's five aphorisms are sometimes delightful and sometimes unexpected. More often than not, they seem to have snagged on a particular metaphor and sound a little repetitive. But they are what they set out to be: brief and containing more than is immediately apparent.


Goirick Brahmachari

  • 1. Within each one of us
  • there is a blue sky, some clouds
  • sailing lazily, traffic lights, paddy fields
  • and a radio; faces of people who have died,
  • forlorn bus stands in the rain
  • memories of newspapermen, postcards
  • and some water.
  • 2. Age has caged the rain
  • in narrow lanes of past.
  • Only summers now left to quench.
  • 3. Death is a river that rolls in through the valley of hope and despair.
  • Love rots in roots under a scorching sun.
  • 4. Poetry is an owl. It walks through the streets of hunger and hate.
  • It feeds on creatures of the night.
  • 5. Silence, the gap between two notes.

I love the first aphorism. Its line-breaks are unexpected but that upturning of expectation is only one of its delights. The first line is simplicity itself; but like the complexity that lies behind every apparently simple exterior, there is a wealth of detail.

I find myself wondering about newspapermen - does each one of us have a memory of newspapermen? Are they delivery boys on their bicycles or editors with their sleeves rolled up or their pallus crumpled, their hair a mess from having had fingers run through it in frustration as they try to wrestle an edition to bed?


As an aside, I'd like to mention how carefully poets need to use the words we and us. Experiences are not as universal as a certain kind of poetry has made it out to be; the trick is to notice the unique and unfamiliar and still make it recognisable to the reader.

That said, I like that the first aphorism combines the specific (the newspapermen) with the very general (and some water) which, in each reader's mind becomes a specific instance of water, and the experience and memory of it. This first aphorism does what it should: it is deceptively gentle, while concealing the dense nature of personhood and the memory bank that creates it.

The next three aphorisms have in common an abstraction - age, death and poetry - that occupies certain spaces - narrow lanes, valleys and streets - and for this reason, they are very similar to each other. In a form such as the aphorism, to reiterate such closely-related ideas consecutively is to dilute the impact of the form. That said, I am very intrigued by the lines:

  • Age has caged the rain
  • in narrow lanes of past.

The regenerative rain cannot work its magic on the present and yet, the summer needs to be quenched. The aphorism seems to combine a linear time indicated by age, with a cyclical one, where the seasons routinely expect to succeed one another. I'm not sure its ideas are very clear, but it certainly leaves a puzzle for the mind to worry about, while being pithy.

The last aphorism is probably the weakest of the lot, which is a pity, because its brevity seems to lend itself to the expression of an undeniable truth. Yes, it is true that silence is the gap between two notes, but that has always been obvious. What would have been more interesting is if the subject and object had been reversed and to see how the same idea could be expressed with wit and truth.

Aphorisms are addictive and I find that when I read aphorisms, I detect their structure and rhythm in everything I hear afterwards. I even find that everything I say sounds like an aphorism. I'm glad Goirick Brahmachari made the attempt, especially because it's clearly not as easy as it looks.

Do look out for the next prompt at The Sideways Door.

Last updated: September 25, 2015 | 17:43
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