This is a Good Poem January First


You asked for a monthly poetry exchange, you get a month poetry exchange.  How about Rita Dove to start a MUCH BETTER YEAR?



Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading
glorious shade. If you don’t look back,
the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits –
eggs and sausage on the grill.
The whole sky is yours
to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.


Rita Dove, from On the Bus with Rosa Parks, 1999

ETA: Just woke up.  Couldn’t see the poem, either.  Welcome to 2018.  ARGH.




46 thoughts on “This is a Good Poem January First

  1. Happy 2018. Write the date a few times to get yourself settled in.

    Jenny, I can’t see a poem, not from any browser. I can see the purty dead butterfly with print atop it and your reference. But no poem or link to it.

        1. Sorry! I think whoever had the photo up must have taken it down because the space was still there but no photo, just a little blue question mark. There’s an image for 2018 for you.

    1. I know, I know, I don’t know what happened. I couldn’t see it, either, when I finally woke up this morning. So I put the text in. Argh. It’s a great poem, too. Well, Rita Dove, of course it’s great.

    1. I had this brilliant idea that it would be better to put photos of pages of books with the poems on them instead of just typing in the poem. Great start to the new year.

    2. I love that last little bit of it – the pleasure of warmth and light when it’s cold and dark out is one of my favorite things to find well-expressed. I found a poem for my bullet journal that speaks to that, too, I’ll share it below.

  2. My favorite New Year’s poem by Thomas Hardy – written for 1900.

    The Darkling Thrush

    I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-grey,
    And Winter’s dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
    The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
    And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

    The land’s sharp features seemed to be
    The Century’s corpse outleant,
    His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
    The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
    And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

    At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
    In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
    An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
    Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

    So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
    Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
    That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
    Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

    1. Whoops. Advertisement does not actually belong in the middle of the poem. Sorry for missing that.

          1. But he uses Tess to reveal the basic hypocrisy of men as well. The scene where Angel confesses all – expecting to be forgiven – but turns furious when Tess confesses to him is masterful.

            And Bathsheba Everdene – I found her fully fledged in both her faults and failings. Of course it didn’t hurt that I saw the movie with Julie Christie and Alan Bates before I read the books.

          2. Yep. He essentially fridges her to teach a lesson to men.
            Mostly, though, he’s just so damn bleak. “Life is hell, you’re helpless in the hands of Fate, and then you die.” Nope.
            Also, he invented the cliffhanger, so he’s got that on his slate.

  3. Trust
    By Thomas R. Smith

    It’s like so many other things in life
    to which you must say no or yes.
    So you take your car to the new mechanic.
    Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

    The package left with the disreputable-looking
    clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
    the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
    all show up at their intended destinations.

    The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
    Wind finally gets where it was going
    through the snowy trees, and the river, even
    when frozen, arrives at the right place.

    And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
    is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

    1. Nice, thanks for sharing! A nice reminder to notice when things work out, not just when they don’t – and, of course, to trust that they will.

  4. To the New Year
    W.S. Merwin

    With what stillness at last
    you appear in the valley
    your first sunlight reaching
    to touch the tips of a few
    high leaves that do not stir
    as though they had not noticed
    and did not know you at all
    then the noise of a dove calls
    from far away in itself
    to the hush of the morning
    so this is the sound of you
    here and now whether or not
    anyone hears it this is
    where we have come with our age
    our knowledge such as it is
    and our hopes such as they are
    invisible before us
    untouched and still possible

  5. Rereading Frost

    Sometimes I think all the best poems
    have been written already,
    and no one has time to read them,
    so why try to write more?

    At other times though,
    I remember how one flower
    in a meadow already full of flowers
    somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

    as you get to the top of a hill
    in Colorado, say, in high summer
    and just look down at all that brimming color.
    I also try to convince myself

    that the smallest note of the smallest
    instrument in the band,
    the triangle for instance,
    is important to the conductor

    who stands there, pointing his finger
    in the direction of the percussions,
    demanding that one silvery ping.
    And I decide not to stop trying,

    at least not for a while, though in truth
    I’d rather just sit here reading
    how someone else has been acquainted
    with the night already, and perfectly.

    by Linda Pastan

    I spent today cleaning out my old papers and stories and thousands of pages of notes and research. Considering that everything I’ve attempted has been done well by billions of others, I needed to reread this poem. Now ready to try again —

  6. My husband sent me this Sean Heaney poem many years ago. We celebrated our 30th anniversary this summer. It rings even more true to me today, and seems like a good note to start the year in.


    Masons, when they start upon a building,
    Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

    Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
    Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

    And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
    Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

    So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
    Old bridges breaking between you and me

    Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
    Confident that we have built our wall.

      1. I agree. I think Heaney must have been a keeper too. He was married to one woman from the time he was 27 until he died and apparently “His son Michael revealed at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died.“

        1. Oh, wait, that’s Seamus Heaney? No wonder. He’s magnificent. His Beowulf is beautiful.
          So is that final text.

    1. This is so romantic I cried.

      Sidenote: I’ve always hated that “romance” has definitions both about love and idealism – I want a word for all the absolutely concrete and realistic things that are part of loving another person.

  7. Temporary Well Being
    Kenneth Burke

    The pond is plenteous
    The land is lush,
    And having turned off the news
    I am for the moment mellow.

    With my book in one hand
    And my drink in the other
    What more could I want

    But fame,
    Better health,
    And ten million dollars?

    The “having turned off the news” is particularly apt, for me.

      1. I’m trying a new regime: to look at the Guardian online (my news source) once a day, in my lunchbreak, only. Any articles I save for later I read at the weekend instead of a Sunday paper.

        I stopped listening to or watching the news on the radio or TV thirty years ago. But now it’s online I realize I’m checking it for too often. All that scare-mongering is bad for the soul.

  8. If it’s OK to share a home made one, here’s one I wrote New Year’s Day in 2009

    Turn on the lights!
    Gather together.
    Ring out the bells, louder, louder.
    Shout, sing, cheer!
    At the revel’s heart
    Throw up fireworks, great harnessed thunders,
    Let flash and bangs explode together.
    Bring meat and drink and be merry,
    Gather companions tight around you.
    Sing, ring out bells.
    Chant, count aloud.
    Bring noise and lights and fellowship.
    Let there be no quiet or solitude
    Between old year’s end and new one’s start
    Let there be no slip
    At the fulcrum point
    For the silent breath of the waiting dark.

    1. I love it! It’s like New Years celebrations are rituals keeping everything from falling apart at midnight. Thanks for sharing!

  9. The Joy of Being by Sandra Fowler

    Beyond the glass snowfall is luminous.
    Winter burns like a lamp upon the sill.
    The old house creaks in deference to the wind.
    Kind eyes affirm that cold cannot come in.

    Time for the robins? If you say so, Friend.
    Praise for the woodfires that have warmed our past.
    Red firelight paints the ceiling with itself.
    The joy of our mere being is alive.

    We do not yet concede the mood to spring,
    The scent of lilacs and the young, green trees.
    For us bare branches are articulate,
    They tell us all we ever need to know.

  10. Tattoo

    What once was meant to be a statement—
    a dripping dagger held in the fist
    of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
    on a bony old shoulder, the spot
    where vanity once punched him hard
    and the ache lingered on. He looks like
    someone you had to reckon with,
    strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
    but on this chilly morning, as he walks
    between the tables at a yard sale
    with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
    rolled up to show us who he was,
    he is only another old man, picking up
    broken tools and putting them back,
    his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

    from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

      1. His mastery of what a line does in a poem is incredible. Each line can stand on its own without the others.

        Eating poetry

  11. James Wright

    Suddenly I realize
    That if I stepped out of my body I would break
    Into blossom.

    A Blessing

    Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
    Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
    And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
    Darken with kindness.
    They have come gladly out of the willows
    To welcome my friend and me.
    We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
    Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
    They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
    That we have come.
    They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
    There is no loneliness like theirs.
    At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
    I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
    For she has walked over to me
    And nuzzled my left hand.
    She is black and white,
    Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
    And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
    That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
    Suddenly I realize
    That if I stepped out of my body I would break
    Into blossom.


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