You Say You Want a Resolution

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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Do you have any advice on how to stick to New Year’s resolutions? How do poets do it?

— Carl

My impulse is to say that if a poet breaks a New Year’s Resolution, she reflects on it, maybe writing a few lines of verse in private, and then realizes that it never should have been a New Year’s resolution in the first place. Just read the first stanza from Alfred Nicol’s “New Year”:

Like an engaging lady’s whim,

Or like a tabby’s morning swim;

Like an accountant’s spending spree,

A starlet’s popularity,

A daughter’s mood, a boy’s regrets,

An open box of chocolates;

Like morning mist; like cradlesong:

My resolution lasts as long.

New Year’s resolutions are whimsical things that have been an obligation ever since hat assignment in grade school (if I remember right it was something like “Write down Ten New Year’s Resolutions”). This obligation stays with us throughout our lives, and we begin each year saying things like, “Next year, I’m going to spend less time playing video games,” or “I’m going to eat healthier and lose some weight.” We do pretty well until one day it’s too cold to go outside and play, so we have a Wii baseball tournament with our friends in our living room, and the next day, and the next day. Someone brings over the most delicious pecan pie, and sweet potato casserole, and gingerbread cookies, and we realize that we have at least three months to remain beneath the bulky layers of winter attire, so we modify, justify, codify, until the season has passed along and nobody’s thinking about New Year’s resolutions anymore. Nicol’s poem continues:

The cat keeps three paws on the deck;

The clerk, too, keeps himself in check;

The whim passes; the crowd moves on;

The boyfriend calls; the candy’s gone;

A boy forgets; the sun breaks through;

The baby sleeps: I stay with you.

If a poet makes a resolution and keeps it, then that resolution turns out to be intimately linked to a core value. That’s the best advice I can give you: If you want to keep your resolutions, find ways to link them to your core values. If your resolution is to eat healthier and lose some weight, reflect on the ways that eating healthy and losing weight will improve the time you spend with your family, or your sex life, or whatever your value may be. Personally, I like New Year’s resolutions — we all can be better people. Maybe they’re so hard to keep because we make them too specific. Maybe they should be more general, like “Next year, I will be more thoughtful,” or “Next year, I will not give up hope.” • 4 January 2010

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.

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