The New Year is upon us, which means parties, bowl games, and the inevitable year-end reflecting. Have you met all your goals and found ways to simplify your life? Well, don’t worry—no one has. Every year, though, many of us vow over a glass of champagne to kick that habit, better manage our time, or call our parents every week. Here are some poems to help you reckon with reckoning.
Kick the Habit
“On Quitting” by Edgar Guest: This poem is a direct challenge. Guest asks whether the “pluck” you’ve shown in the world matches your private muster. The only way to tell—give up something that you love.
“A Farewell to Tobacco” by Charles Lamb: Lamb’s hyperbolic allusions to Bacchus, ancient Egypt, Katherine of Spain, and the like romanticize tobacco. Instead of renouncing smoking altogether, he resolves to replace time spent on the bad habit with time spent praising it—in other words, he writes a poem instead of lighting up.
Just Do It
“Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye: Nye burns through a year of memories—literally. Her biggest regret at the start of a new year? Not doing what she set out to do the year before.
Sections 1 and 15 of “Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman: Perhaps Whitman understood better than anyone else the importance of balancing one’s desire for inwardness with living a public, dynamic life. In “Song of the Open Road,” he invites us to put aside our books and papers and venture out.
“Living” by C.D. Wright: Wright’s poem is a giant to-do list: take out the trash, go to the post office, make car payments, all of it interrupted by reveries on the self—”My mind like a mirror that’s been in a fire,” “Our love a difficult instrument we are learning to play.”
Find More Time
“Time Problem” by Brenda Hillman: The fact that Hillman is carrying on a conversation with both her young daughter and Stephen Hawking as she writes “Time Problem” sheds light on the double-edged nature of time. How can we understand its absurdity and feel inextricably bound to it?
Get Out of Debt
“XII Mon. February  hath xxviii days” by Benjamin Franklin: At age 20, Franklin developed a plan to observe 13 virtues. Like most of us, he sometimes failed, but his wisdom lives on. Here Franklin reminds us that our actual needs are few, and that “fancy” and “pride” are among the forces that trick us into thinking we need to possess more than we actually have.
Spend More Time with Family
“Eating Together” by Li-Young Lee: In 12 short lines, Lee captures all of the tenderness and tension that can exist in a family meal. Though we may feel exhausted by our families by the time the new year rolls in, Lee reminds us that we’ll miss the most ordinary occasions when a family member isn’t with us any longer.
“New Year's Day” by Kim Addonizio: After another year of far away loves and high hopes, the poet thinks perhaps acceptance is the best way to maintain equilibrium in the new year. “Today,” she says, walking in the mud on the first day of the new year, “I want to resolve nothing.”