Ah, the “new year”. Time to brow-beat yourself into saying you will do a bunch of things that do not really appeal but that you have a vague sense are “good for you”, insofar as the media has said so. Count down the days until the “new routine” begins to fall apart because… well, because it’s not what you really want or need at this moment, right?
Resolutions, “new you”s, all that stuff: it’s absolute BS, friends. It’s clickbait; it’s a way to sell you stuff. (Under capitalist patriarchy, it’s almost ALWAYS about selling stuff, esp to women and others taught repeatedly from birth that they are not sufficient in themselves. RESIST THIS. It’s also good for the planet to resist.)
If you want to make a change for you, AMAZING. If you think things are actually moving along about as well as they can possibly move, for now – stay in motion, friends. Stay in motion.
But, if you’ve got a bit of an itch: why not try something completely different, just because, well, it can be a lot of fun to shake things up and see what shakes down as a result?
This was our accidental decision, way back in January 2021. Mina is a big fan of the Word of the Year (#WotY); Kim is a fan of taking down the Christmas tree on 1 January, vacuuming, and then pretending like nothing ever happened. But last January, we got to talking about ways to mark the passing of the seasons, of time, and about how to stimulate ourselves in ways we knew we wanted to be stimulated.
We’re both writers, but both of us do lots of other stuff besides, stuff which often gets in the way of pen-to-paper. So we decided we’d send each other poems – every two weeks, on a Sunday, for the whole year. The poems could be long or short, they could be planned and fussed over or banged out on deadline because OOPS-nearly-forgot. The only thing they needed to be was our own, a snapshot of a moment, maybe, or the capture of a memory. Anything we wanted to express, anything we wanted to share, on that particular Sunday.
To mark the end of our year of writing poems to one another, we’ve decided to share our favourites – one of our own, and one of the other’s – plus a few thoughts on what the challenge meant for each of us.
My overarching memory of this challenge will be of haikus. I love the form (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables – that’s it); I admire its capacity to capture one image, one tiny slice of the lives we’re living, arrested in stillness like a photograph. The haiku is also a handy container to have on hand for all those Sundays that get away from you, when it’s getting late and you realize that there’s a message from Mina in your inbox but you’ve forgotten to write your poem AGAIN.
At the same time, though, the gift of this poetry exchange is contained, for me, in the promise of the haiku: to stop (even if only briefly), just breathe, then look at the world for a minute, maybe smile at what you see. To look, twice: to see a thing more deeply than a passing glance can offer. Most of my own haikus were composed in my head on my bicycle; as I was swooping through curves or punching a climb, I’d note and observe and begin to put smells, sounds, and passing glances together. It made the rush or the climb or the slog or whatever so very much, briefly, richer.
Many of Mina’s poems share a similar love of the earth and its blessings, alongside fear for its imminent destruction. Writing from the position of ultra-runner, mountain biker, and committed meditator she’d often reflect on the gatherings of a day outdoors. Sometimes, though, she’d ground herself in the lesson of the haiku: simply stop, stand still, look around, and take careful note – as in this, my favourite of her non-haiku pieces:
The reckonings through observance that Mina and I both practiced in our poetry also allowed me to reflect a good deal on my own strength this year, something that’s increasingly precious to me as I move through some major life changes. This year I realized I am in perimenopause: all the signs are turning up, not least of which are body composition changes that I struggle, at times, to accept. I’m getting older, even though the woman in the mirror is still a girl to me.
This year was also a tough one for my relationship, and not long ago, despite our love for one another, my partner and I decided to part. This was doubly painful for me because I’m a 47-year-old heterosexual woman living in a patriarchy. I ask myself, at my lowest: how many more chances might I have?
It can be very hard simultaneously to feel one’s strength and to hold on to one’s vulnerability – but being both strong and vulnerable is what it means to be human, to accept our responsibilities and our limits, too. This poem of mine, also from March, reminds me of this important paradox.
I want to write ditto. Everything that Kim said. And … I was soliciting ideas for my annual challenge last January, when I realized that so many of my challenges were about self-denial and discipline (don’t shop from Amazon, don’t buy any clothes, don’t drink diet coke etc…). I wanted a challenge to flourish for 2021. There was already enough pandemic deprivation going around. We came up with this poetry challenge. I had no inkling of how attached I’d become to the practice. Even when I forgot and dashed something off in 10 minutes, I was filled with pleasure. There was no grade, just the act of sharing and reminding each other of our creative impulse. Lovely.
Kim mentioned that she wrote a lot of her poems on the bike. I wrote many of mine in the liminal space between sleep and waking, also on runs and a few times during meditations. The haiku form was particularly beguiling. I offer one of mine here from 14 November 2021, that feels particularly aligned with our mission at this blog:
a surge of vitality/a race toward grace/how much longer will I be?
I hate having to choose favourites of anything, so the idea of one definitive, throw-down, hands down poem of Kim’s that I loved from our year was impossible. And easy. Because there were many. So, I chose one of hers that speaks to our mission here, too and takes a different form:
We’re still writing poems to each other, it turns out! We both so miss the challenge that sometimes, in the darkness of early 2022, we shoot poetry texts at one another across the expanse between us (aka, most of New York State and part of Lake Ontario). Here’s a final haiku from us, a summing up of our year in moments, snaps, and syllables:
The gift of poem/graceful challenge to create/2021
How about you, readers? What mindfulness or beauty-based hopes, dreams, or challenges are you cooking up for this coming year? Let us know!