[NOTE: From mid-2013 to the end of 2014, I meditated on a single poem each weekend. Not as a poet or even in a technical/academic way but simply to appreciate its insights, craft, language, and what it meant to me. Particularly, I enjoyed discovering poets from around the world. I might start that back up again in 2018 — we’ll see.]
As we try to put 2017 behind us and look forward to 2018, many of us are reflecting on our past accomplishments/challenges and planning how to fare better. Those of us who are past a certain age find that bright-eyed optimism has slowly given way to a clear-eyed skepticism, given what these last two years have wrought around the world. Still, we are hopeful creatures, aren’t we? So here are four poems to help us get into the right frame of mind for the new year. These are about the moment when we reflect back on our past accomplishments (The Moment by Margaret Atwood), how we plan for the future (Plans by Stuart Dischell), the hopes with which we aim to begin again (The Land of Beginning Again by Louise Fletcher), and the thought of doing something over and doing it better (Next Time by Joyce Sutphen.)
As always, my notes on the poem precede the actual verses to provide some non-technical context and background. If that is not your thing, by all means, scroll on down to the poem first. Click the title links below to read the full notes and poems. Enjoy.
1/ The Moment by Margaret Atwood — All of us, at some time or another, reach a certain stage in life when we’ve accomplished certain things we’ve always wanted. Of course, there’s been a journey of tremendous hard work, difficult trade-offs, and just the sheer blood-sweat-and-tears of it all. At such a moment of victory, it is only natural to stop and reflect on the gains. Yet, often, we don’t fully grasp the meaning of that particular moment or event. We’re likely either basking in the joy of having got the things we’ve longed for or filled with relief at having made it through as intact as possible. We’d prefer not to consider the transience or uncertainty of that ground that we stand on. We’d rather not consider how something hard-won is not necessarily fully or forever ours because that would simply negate all the focus, attention, and effort we’ve put into getting it. And that’s what this weekend’s poem is about.
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the center of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
2/ Plans by Stuart Dischell — This is a poem about hope-filled dreams. About how every single one of us tries to plan out our lives to be that perfect, ideal, and elaborately-detailed vision that we may never be able to live up to. But, oh, it’s such a bittersweet pleasure to weave these exotic threads together endlessly in our imaginations, isn’t it? To add more and more color and texture with each re-imagining till, after several such “planning” sessions, we’ve practically lived that other life more vividly and more fully without having to take a single step.
She plans to be a writer one day and live in the City of Paris,
Where she will describe the sun as it rises over Buttes-Chaumont.
“Today the dawn began in small pieces, sharp wedges of light
Broke through the clouds.” She plans to write better than this
And is critic enough to know “sharp wedges” sound like cheese.
3/ The Land of Beginning Again by Louise Fletcher — At the beginning of each new year, many of us have our personal rituals and traditions to help us to look ahead and articulate a few desires, hopes, and wishes to ourselves and, perhaps, our loved ones. For some, this may be a quiet contemplation while, for others, this might involve something more elaborate like the above Scottish tradition. Then there are those for whom the thoughts of beginning again are really more like past regrets clothed as future wishes — things they wish they could undo or redo. We all have these thoughts. And this is the crux of today’s poem. Yet, for all that sadness, it is a lovely poem because it paints pictures of possibilities.
I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
4/ Next Time by Joyce Sutphen — We have, often, way too many “Next time I’ll….. “ thoughts through the course of a single day, whether we consciously acknowledge them or not. In a way, they allow us to move on from things that didn’t go quite according to our hope, plan, or vision. We promise ourselves that we’ll do it right the next time, which helps us carry on. This thought of doing something over, again, better — we all surrender to it. It is a bittersweet human condition. On the one hand, it shields us from disappointment in the circumstance and, possibly, ourselves, while, on the other, it allows us to avoid accepting that a moment passed will never truly repeat itself ever again.
Next time I won’t waste my heart
on anger; I won’t care about
being right. I’ll be willing to be
wrong about everything and to
concentrate on giving myself away.
I wish you all a terrific new year ahead. May you have many reflective moments, may all your plans come to fruition, may you have many wonderful beginnings, and may you get plenty of “next time” second chances to do more, do better.