poetry wednesday : burning the old year

burning paper 02


Burning the Old Year

By Naomi Shihab Nye


Letters swallow themselves in seconds.

Notes friends tied to the doorknob,

transparent scarlet paper,

sizzle like moth wings,

marry the air.


So much of any year is flammable,

lists of vegetables, partial poems.

Orange swirling flame of days,

so little is a stone.


Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,

an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.

I begin again with the smallest numbers.


Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,

only the things I didn’t do

crackle after the blazing dies.


Poetry is often times a daunting art form, one we’ve had the joy knocked out of by zealous English teachers for whom everything must have a meaning. But it doesn’t have to have a meaning. It can just be sounds that are satisfying to say in a row. Read poems aloud; savor the sounds of the words. That is all. If a crack appears in which meaning can get a foot hold, that’s wonderful–all meaning is personal, not universal. Love that meaning, or love the absence of it, but don’t let experiences of trying to guess the right meaning stop you from relishing what poetry is: flow.


patti signature on white


  1. Flow indeed! – a movement – poetry is where we can shift our relationship with meaning – where we can disturb the automatic response to word image – if one reads a line and that line allows the reader to experience individual images – without directing one down the path of agreement – What color is a black bird – this returns space for the text and the reader to create – there is a form called Checklist

    number whatever you are writing on 1 to 33 – number 33 must be the word Degrees (and only this word) I mention this form because it is the personal meaning you mentioned – what goes on the list can come from anywhere – what you read – from your own head – anywhere

    something happens personal and you choose it “that`s for checklist” and you keep going until the list is complete – I find the ones that take months to do very interesting because even though the gathering is spread out over a long period of “time” the list in the end reflects a specific ear – a listening personal – a theme of sorts – how long it takes to do a list depends on the person doing it

    Thank you your post and the opportunity to share my response — merci!

    Here is the last one I completed


    1 Good string

    2 That was the last kiss

    3 This side of permanent teeth

    4 Leave LA it`s a parking lot

    5 When the food is real good – the children will jump up from the table and dance while they eat

    6 Leaving empty handed

    7 Can you use it as an ashtray

    8 What it requires to speak to you

    9 What is beautiful is to be invaded, inhabited, disturbed, obsessed, deranged by a work

    10 Despair is not a giving in – it is located in renewal it belongs to the breath

    11 devices to water the graveyards

    12 in a word

    13 Clapping and Vienna go way back

    14 You really have know idea

    15 Getting out just in time and going back in

    16 Who called you

    17 Look again

    18 Experience-abilty of experience –diminished

    19 Every letter structurally is a letter from a dead person

    20 The visionary role of Robert S. Wallace

    21 We never stopped drawing on the walls

    22 Writing as punishment

    23 I threw it into the river

    24 Speak now or forever write whatever comes to mind

    25 I wouldn`t even call what I write poems

    26 The whole magical universe is dying

    27 And yelling helps me

    28 All species are doomed at conception

    29 I make no separation

    30 Lungenentzündung

    31 It begins from the middle

    32 The Art World – repeat this nonsense until you hear The Heart Whirled

    33 Degrees

  2. Poetry is highwire fancy dancing or deep sea diving, but the rules bend and shift, scintillate and define. The words seem heavier with meaning sometimes or light as the hair shifting in the wind on a fairy’s left arm. Sometimes, just writing bits and scrapes opens up a wound or a joy and the words flow. I love Nye’s lines of “So much of any year is flammable,lists of vegetables, partial poems.” That is the way memory works. The year my mother battled breast cancer for the second time, I wrote a poem every single day or reworked on from other days. It kept me sane and grounded and at the end of the year – I had a chronicle of her survival. She relished reading the journey from a different point of view and our relationship was changed forever by both the cancer and the poetry. Poetry was the crucible for survival. It brought sanity and eventual joy. Who can ask for anything more ( I think I should sing that last part.)

  3. that photo put fear in me, that would be a very painful letting go….turning to ash all that once was so important….

  4. After taking an online class with a lot of close reading, it feels so good to simply enjoy words beautifully and surprisingly put together — “letters swallow” and “marry the air.” Thanks for sharing that one.