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Vol. 16, No. 4, 2017
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yahia lababidi's

reviewed by


Yahia Lababidi’s last book, Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems (1993-2015), debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases, and was featured on PBS Newshour. Lababidi’s first collection of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere (Jane Street Press) was selected as a 2008 ‘Book of the Year’ by The Independent, in the UK. He’s also the author of a critically-acclaimed collection of essays, Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly-Dancing; a series of ecstatic, literary dialogues with Alex Stein, The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi.


The term aphorism comes from the Greek aphorismos. Hippocrates is the first one known to use it-as the title of a book containing brief sketches of medical conditions and remedies. Over time the definition of aphorisms has evolved to its current one: a statement containing a general truth.

I happen to believe though, that what we call aphorisms today are the earliest form of poetry. I cannot imagine longer poems with complex connected ideas evolving without a period where local axioms and cultural sayings developed extensions and connections. Before they added the philosopher’s stones of universal archetypes that complete the alchemy of great poems.

None of which is to say that aphorisms have not themselves evolved, refined and become one of the supreme expressions of the poetic soul.

Having had a chance to preview Yahia Lababidi’s new collection of aphorisms (Where Epics Fail), I can also tell you that there is no better place to tap the hidden and manifest wisdom of the aphorism than this sublime collection.

Lababidi’s poetry is eclectic and through that very eclecticism it is unique. Incorporating elements of spirituality, philosophy, romance and-most charmingly-the art and alchemy of poetry itself, it defies classification. What better way to illustrate this than a few examples from the book itself:

Hedonism , mistrustful of life’s bounty, is left with a fistful of feathers (while The Great Beauty flies away).

Unmistakable shades of Confucius here, yet it is not a beauty of logic and balance alone that the aphorism hints at. It is one enriched by mystery. Here is also visible a rare poetic skill. This is the ability to say much in a matter of one sentence of the English language. Emily Dickinson is the name that comes to mind when it comes to this ability-but if you spend some time unpacking aphorisms like these in Lababidi’s books you will find marvelous glimpses of it.

The one who hates themselves, sees that hated self in everyone they meet.

Here is one of the most poignant expressions of the psychological phenomenon of 'projection.' One that speaks truer to the raw human experience than any you will find in a text book.

I’ll finish with this, one of my favorite ones from the collection:

Cynicism’s knowingness cheats itself out of true knowing.

This one resonates profoundly not only with my own personal experiences but with the troubled and confused soul of our times. There is so much here to learn, so much to feel. In times of great turmoil, be it pain, fear or anger that governs our feelings, the only way to stay sane seems to be holding at bay the feelings themselves. This for me is what defines the cynic’s motivations. Not an innate apathy, not having insights other’s lack, but fear. Namely a fear of pain and a fear of not knowing.

Which brings me back to Yahia Lababidi. There is romance, mystery and even a hint of pain in his poetry. But what is present with the most potent emotional energy is love and the need to heal with love. And if you listen closely, some of this elixir may find its way into your soul.

Despite the intrusion of technology and the physical and emotional noise it brings into our lives, poetry is alive and well. It’s heart is beating with as much vigor as it ever did. It’s power is just as earth-shaking and fierce as ever.

As for it’s capacity to love and heal, traverse the passages of Where Epics Fail to discover that.


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