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Lance Larsen’s Aphorisms and Anaphora

In a sentence, Lance Larsen captures what others would struggle to express in entire books.


“I would say my first love is poetry, with nonfiction as a delightful side gig, a hustle of some sort,” said Lance Larsen as he began his presentation at the March 4 English Reading Series. Larsen’s repertoire marks him as a poet through and through: he is a former poet laureate of Utah, author of five books of poetry, and recipient of a fellowship for the National Endowment for the Arts. This was an afternoon for prose, though; attendees would shortly be treated to a total of six short nonfiction pieces, all bearing the close attention to language and careful observation of the world that make Larsen’s poetry resonate.

One of his essays, “Clean,” tells a story about Larsen’s son eating a bug for money at age six, a story that Larsen thought about for over twenty years before he found the words to capture it. He read, “I picture a tiny puddle of saliva and bug parts in his palm. A boy staring at the viscous mess, then the terrible slurping, a sacrament he gagged on first, then managed to get down, then remembered with something like longing. If that’s not a metaphor for rumination, for trying to hold a world together with sticky words, with spit and memory and curiosity, I don’t know what is.”

He then moved on to another nonfiction piece, this one drawing heavily on anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses) to evoke the power of memory. The piece, called “My Lord Of,” conjured up sensory recollections of a trip to Madrid: “My lord of March in Madrid and a desultory stroll through Paseo Park. My lord of buying sweet yams from a vendor and devouring them in their skins, even the burned parts. My lord of green grass springy so I throw myself down.”

In a piece called “Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet,” Larsen took concision to the extreme. Aphorisms, as Larsen explained, are pithy, memorable statements or stories which contain some truth or insight. Aphorisms must meet five requirements: they must be brief, definitive, personal, and philosophical, and they must have a twist.

The entire piece consists of 40 aphorisms, but Larsen only shared 17. For a taste, here are a few:

  • What makes us human? Metaphor, the opposable thumb of thought. 
  • Most of us possess the morality of a village well: saving parched travelers by day, drowning stray pups by night. 
  • A woman needs a man the way a manatee needs a glockenspiel. 
  • Writing poems is like duck hunting at age 13. You sit in the cold for hours waiting for something to fly over. When it doesn’t, you blast away anyway and hope something beautiful will fall from the sky. 
  • Most brain surgeons cannot draw a tree. 

Some aphorisms evoked a chuckle from the crowd, others evoked a contemplative murmur as the words grew in their heads.

If you find yourself chuckling at these aphorisms or mulling them over when your thoughts wander, discover more of Larsen’s writing online and in bookstores. And you can hear more readings from acclaimed authors at the English Reading Series.