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Poetry Recommendations To Launch Your New Year


To help usher in the new year, our poetry reviewer Tess Taylor wants us to seize the spirit of the day.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: By the time this week rolls around where we all unplug a little and dream a little, I get back into this idealistic space where I just want to be surrounded by wonderful books and start the year surrounded by things that I love to read.

CORNISH: Books of poetry, of course.

TAYLOR: And I was thinking about how poetry is kind of an idealistic space, and so is New Year's. And our ideal selves are maybe a little bit more dreamy than our regular workday selves. And perhaps that's why New Year's Day is a great day to start to think about reading poems.

CORNISH: And while Tess Taylor is a professional poet, she wants us all to remember that poetry is play.

TAYLOR: I was thinking about this Margaret Atwood quote. "I read for pleasure, and that is the moment that I learn the most." So one of my New Year's resolutions this year is just to try to read a poem for pleasure every single day.

CORNISH: To launch this project, Tess has selected some New Year's-themed poetry. First up, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

TAYLOR: There's such a wealth of New Year's poems. Tennyson is actually the poet who wrote ring out the old, ring in the new. I mean, we say that all the time, but it's from this famous Tennyson poem from the 19th century. And it says, ring out the old, ring in the new, ring happy bells across the snow. The year is going, let him go. Ring out the false, ring in the true.

CORNISH: Up next, "I Am Running Into A New Year" by Lucille Clifton.

TAYLOR: (Reading) I am running into a new year, and the old years blow back like a wind that I catch in my hair, like strong fingers, like all my old promises. And it will be hard to let go of what I said to myself about myself when I was 16 and 26 and 36, even 36. But I am running into a new year, and I beg what I love and I leave to forgive me.

You can just feel that sense of motion and determination. And that poem's on fire. I love it. And they are sort of imaginary states that we're cultivating in our self. And, you know, like I said, the new year is - it's very real in the sense that we've all agreed to it. But on the other sense, there's something totally arbitrary about it. It's this - it's an imaginary ritual that we agree to go through together. And I think, you know, in that, it shares something kind of magical with poetry.

CORNISH: And finally, some warm humor in the form of haiku by Robert Hass.

TAYLOR: It's got this lovely quality of waking up. And the poem is all in Haiku. And he says, (reading) New Year's morning, everything is in blossom. I feel about average. Blossoms at night, like people moved by music. Napped half the day, no one punished me. Fiftieth birthday, from now on, it's all clear profit, every sky.

And then he has this wonderful line that you can just take with you for the rest of the year when you're letting things go. Don't worry, spiders, I keep house casually.

CORNISH: An unexpected image at the end there of welcoming spiders, keeping the house casually, just resolving to embrace life as it is. That was Tess Taylor with some poems to kick off 2019 for you - "After The Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa" by Robert Hass and Lucille Clifton's "I Am Running Into A New Year" and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "In Memoriam." Tess Taylor's most recent collection is "Work & Days." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.