By AJ Scolaro
James Richardson’s “Vectors: Forty-five Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays” was first published in Ploughshares in the Spring of 2000. Richardson grew up in the nearby Garden City, and attended/now teaches creative writing at Princeton. Of course I did not know this at the time I chose the poem, but anything written by a professor at the most prestigious college in America should be good, right?
This poem is attractive to me because it does not read like a traditional poem. It is more like reading a list of realizations. It seems as if the author took a mind expanding drug, and wrote this poem to share his trip with us. I say this because many of the aphorisms sound ridiculously similar to something I’d hear from the people I know who enjoy those kind of drugs.
“Vectors: Forty-five Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays” by James Richardson is exactly what the title describes it as. This poem seems like a creative approach at a list of aphorisms. It does not rhyme, or follow any syllable pattern. When read aloud the poem almost sounds philosophical. It is worded to seem complex when the ideas are mostly just messing with the reader’s brain a bit. I find the aphorisms intriguing because they force me to think in a way that I usually wouldn’t. The aphorisms seem overwhelmingly obvious, while at the same time require a lot of deep thought. Aphorism number fifteen reads, “Easy to criticize yourself, harder to agree with criticism.” This seems stupid at first, however once you think about it for more than “ten seconds,” it makes a lot of sense. Anyone can criticize themselves for something they do, but usually we convince ourselves it’s alright or it was a rare occasion. Very rarely do we really focus on our own criticism. This aphorism only skims the surface of all the topics Richardson covers in the poem.
Aphorism number thirty reads, “The wounds you do not want to heal are you.” At first, just like most of these aphorisms, this statement seems meaningless. However, when the reader ponders it, he will realize that Richardson may be trying to express the idea that our experiences and choices make us who we are. Whether he be talking about a mental or physical wound, both can characterize who you are. One wound I have is a chronic problem in my hip. I hurt it skiing when I was young, and it always haunts me. Skiing has always been a large part of my life, as I used to compete and have always had a love for the sport. Thanks to my hip pain, I will always remember my skiing experiences, and how skiing was a part of my youth.
The one aphorism that really stuck out to me was aphorism forty five. In this last aphorism Richardson finally seems to acknowledge the fact that he is writing a poem rather than a list, because it is about “an end.” Aphorism forty five says “To feel an end is to discover that there had been a beginning. A parenthesis closes that we hadn’t realized was open).” Upon rereading the poem I realized that there never was an opening parenthesis, so it was physically impossible to have been able to realize it was open. Here the poet is bringing another realization to our attention. Humans only realize how great something is until it’s over. It’s like closing a chapter of your life you never realized you’d started. For me this would be my childhood. I’m only realizing now (that I’m almost 18) how much I’ve gotten away with these years. A parenthesis of my life is closing that I never acknowledged was open.