Books for Poets | Mailing List | Copyrights | About Us


Year End

January 2022

As a year ends, we often look back on what we have experienced. That review may bring to mind what we have accomplished and good memories. It may also include regrets, things undone, and things we wish we could forget.

In a poem from 1784, "New Year’s Verses" by Philip Freneau, he blesses whoever came up with the idea of a year.

Blest be the man who early prov’d
And first contriv’d to make it clear
That Time upon a dial mov’d,
And trac’d that circle call’d a year;

I'm not sure if all of us would bless that calendar maker. Some might instead curse.

December is filled with holidays that mark the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. Though some of us in the North might be sad to see winter arrive, since ancient times both solstices were viewed as a celebration. Starting on the winter solstice, the days get longer moving to the vernal equinox and the start of spring.

From the Scandinavia Yule, to Hanukkah, to a bonfire on Mount Fuji and the Hopi tradition of Soyal with its Sun Chief,  the day of the "sun's rebirth” is often marked with fire and light.

For this issue, we looked at "Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye (Words Under the Words: Selected Poems) which seems to follow these fire traditions. In her short poem, "Letters swallow themselves in seconds" and notes "sizzle like moth wings" in a "swirling flame of days." 

Read the full poem. Is Nye is actually burning something or is this a metaphor using the idea of burning? What does she mean when she says, "I begin again with the smallest numbers?" Why is it that "only the things I didn’t do" are what will finally "crackle after the blazing dies?"  (If you have thoughts on this poem, please post a comment below.)

The end-of-year celebration that seems closest to Nye's poem is from England. The modern-day (and possibly short-lived) “Burning of the Clocks” festival in the seaside town of Brighton takes fire as a necessity for lighting the dark days of winter. People wear clock costumes and carry paper lanterns to the beach to put in a bonfire. Do they symbolize wishes, hopes, fears, or Time itself?

In ancient cultures, marking time for farmers planting crops and tending animals was important and treated at times as religious. Winter was dangerous and the return of light and warmth was critical to their survival. The Neolithic who constructed Stonehenge did so to monitor movements of the sun and seasons and it probably had religious uses too. At the winter solstice, where the tallest trilithon at the monument once stood is where the sun would have set between in its narrow gap.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere but here it’s a cold, wet winter day.
I’m in the holy space of my car with coffee breath fogging the windows.
Outside I see the end of the year walking around the park path that circles
the frozen pond where the ducks and geese still gather unaware of everything.
Ignorance is not bliss. Thinking that the Earth was the center of the universe
didn’t make anything better. It was always the Sun, that ball of fire that today
reaches its maximum or minimum declination and you are having your
longest or shortest day and yet rather than the Sun stopping for a moment
I am feeling more equinox in the holy space of my car, not a church or temple,
certainly no cathedral, but a small chapel where I write in this book words
that are the closest thing I have now for prayers at the end of another year.

Charles Michaels


Slipping down the year to solstice, I wake
to a dark house. Silence. WiFi is frozen
to its dish. No internet, no TV news to tell me
when this might end. For centuries
the calendar has marked an earthly date;
and we keep changing calendars, never
satisfied, burning our old pages. By flashlight
I check the month magnetized to fridge
(silent, cold). Even the dawn is dark,
dimming enough to show steps cloaked
in unexpected snow.
Crumple old papers, overlay with tinder –
remember how the live-oak accomplished
itself, just missing the driveway as it fell.
Assemble larger kindling, logs. Strike
a match for light, for warmth, for a pulse
inside the house, getting us through
to an end; fired by what once was alive.

Taylor Graham


In the naive times, with belt-length hair and a copy of Mao’s little red book at his hip, he watched her not watch him. She was lustrous curls and he was fifteen, all id and aching.

In the angry times, consumed by betrayal stunning him flat, he railed through his day, wondering where the ache had gone.

In the knowing times, dismay rested on one side of the fulcrum as he gathered the opposite of grimness.

Rounding the turn at Torrey Pines, as bald as the ball at his toe, he watched a schooner rise and fall, and all was id and aching.

Rob Friedman


Each year ends
At its appointed time
Win or lose, we choose
Which days to burn
Which to enshrine

In the small days of December
We look back ... contemplate
Moments we felt joy, regret
Bitter taste of failure
Sweet taste of success

A new year begins
Pregnant with promise
Fresh start, new possibilities
Hope restored
We find a second wind

Frank Kelly


This year's end
stumbles in the dark
clutching its tattered coat;
a feverish figure that gropes
its way
towards January's
pre-dawn light.

Beverly Rosenblum


The winter sun redacts its glowing fire
While cold invades to strip our warmth away,
Our world sent spinning to its winter pyre.

Ashes to ashes sing the poet’s lyre
As trees denude themselves from day to day;
The winter sun redacts its glowing fire.

Ice covers roads, melts the soil to quick mire,
The poor curl up to keep the chill at bay,
Our world sent spinning to its winter pyre.

Each year we die, and turning in a gyre
Phoenix earth is piled with snow, like stacked hay;
The winter sun redacts its glowing fire.

Dead ground awaits her vanished golden sire
As darkness swallows all man has to say,
Our world sent spinning to its winter pyre.

And we, proud humans in our lofty towers,
We dream about the green of distant May.
The winter sun redacts its glowing fire,
Our world sent spinning to its winter pyre.

Robert Miller


My mom called it waiting for the bells
I wasn’t sure where the bells were
or from where they were coming
but I most definitely didn’t like the waiting

This was not Christmas eve with
the promise of good things come morning
These bells were such that would ring in the new year
as the current and soon to be past one would burn out
never to be seen again

I disliked the celebratory coming and going
the emotional anticipation
of giving the old year the heave-ho
filled my child’s brain with anxiety

Though I suppose I’ve never been good at
letting go and embracing the new,
It was not fear of what lie ahead
but rather a sadness over the loss
of the year I’d come to know

I think upon all those eves
and that great compilation
of tiny embers of sadness
and of plastic-coated milk cartons
with time gone missing
- but to where?

I wonder

If the year past – is not the year of the scapegoat?
the sacrificial lamb?

Do we incinerate the year to annihilate
all the wrongs bestowed upon us and by us?

Do we hope to extinguish all that was wrong and ugly
just by counting down from ten?

Poof-all gone

Is it a clean slate we get
by erasing all the things we burned for?
And for some believers,
all the things for which we’ll burn?

Maybe the holiday yule log is just
a precursor to the bonfire to come
The menorah aflame, the carol-like chants
music somber, music joyful
- death to the old year!

All is forgiven if not forgotten
as we throw back
our heads,
our champagne,
and laugh

Dancing upon the ashes
of our misdeeds, missed chances
and missed loved ones

Poof- all gone

Terri J. Guttilla


needle drop rings tree
two hyacinth bulbs sprout green
fall, spring, in winter

Lily Hana Hayashi


Today I look out the window
and see myself as I want to be-
in the little girl walking her dog,
coaxing him to make a move on;
in the teen on his bicycle, daring,
arms stretched skyward, inviting
me to release, to take on the challenge;
in the lovers, halting Time,
if only for one kissable moment;
in the far-reaching live oak, dropping
its tired leaves, welcoming a fresh
season, a fresh perspective, entertaining
new life; in the paltry, not-so-sure-
footed, elderly gentleman, insisting
upon, with each step, another day,
an untapped magic, a renewed will;
in the lemony jonquils pushing
through winter’s hardened earth
to testify once again of heaven
come to earth.

Jo Taylor