* celebrating with sei shonagon & yahia lababidi

In celebration of the release of my digital chapbook, The Book of Flight (Essay Press), this week’s Influence will be focused on work that I feel is in spirit with the project.

Hyakuninisshu_062First up is Sei Shonagon, who I wrote about in October. I had reason to return to her lists in The Pillow Book recently, and continue to marvel at the surprise-charged prose:

16. Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster

Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy. To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.

It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of raindrops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

The cumulative effect of sensory details is at turns charming and striking. It becomes a matter of where the writer leaves you: When the “wind blows against the shutters” it takes one’s breath as well as the narrative away.

signpostsAnother writer whose work has meant more and more to me in the past few months is Yahia Lababidi. Here’s a sample from his collection, Signposts to Elsewhere: aphorisms & other tailored thoughts:

The personal made universal is art’s truth.

Impulses we attempt to strangle only develop stronger muscles.

The irony of the writer is that of a private person in a public profession.

Venom poisons most the people who carry it.

What I see as the “tailoring” of the aphorisms and thoughts in this collection is something akin to a fingerprint. Throughout, Lababidi does a great job of tempering the didactic and distant nature of the aphorism with a bit of down to earth humor and wisdom.

Here’s another sample:

Dreams: what get us through the night, and oftentimes the day.

Tattoo: graffiti on a masterpiece.

Disgust can be constructive as a spark igniting transformation.

It is not lovers who compose poetry, but Love.

This last line especially speaks to me about the nature of what it means to be a writer, that there is a purpose beyond ink on page at practice through us.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with kind words about The Book of Flight (available for free online)! Thank you also to everyone who has shared their thoughts about Everything We Think We HearIt’s been a big couple of months for me. Thank you for reading, y’all!

Happy tailoring!

José

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