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20 New Year’s Poems for a Hopeful Start to the Year

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Alison Doherty

Senior Contributor

Alison Doherty is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on the subway, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.

New Year’s poems are a way to reflect on the year you’ve had and look forward to the year ahead. In 2020, more than ever, we learned how little control we have over the world around us. But in dark times and joyous times and everything in between, there are ways to look inward and celebrate ourselves. New Year’s poems can be full of hope. New Year’s poems can be about regret, grief, and moving on. From Mary Oliver to Jericho Brown, this collection of 20 New Year’s poems are as varied and unique as the years we all have and the resolutions we make. Whatever happened to you in 2020 and whatever is waiting for you in 2021, I hope one of these New Year’s poems speaks to you and helps you feel hope (whatever that means to you) for the new year ahead of us.

1. “Praying” by Mary Oliver from Thirst

Excerpt:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

2. “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words Under the Words

Excerpt:

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

3. “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” by Joy Harjo from Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings

Excerpt:

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.

4. “A Center” by Ha Jin from A Distant Center

Excerpt:

You must hold your quiet center,
where you do what only you can do.
If others call you a maniac or a fool,
just let them wag their tongues.
If some praise your perseverance,
don’t feel too happy about it—
only solitude is a lasting friend.

5. “Moon Song” by Kate Baer from What Kind of Woman

https://www.instagram.com/p/CHTTnuCDr1I/

6. “Risk” by Anaïs Nin

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.

7. “Psalm 150” by Jericho Brown from The New Testament

Excerpt:

Some folks fool themselves into believing,
But I know what I know once, at the height
Of hopeless touching, my man and I hold
Our breaths, certain we can stop time or maybe

8. “New Year On Dartmoor” by Sylvia Plath

Excerpt:

This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint’s falsetto. Only you
Don’t know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The bling, white, awful, inaccessible slant.

9. “Beginning” by Lia Purpura from It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful

Excerpt:

In the beginning,
in the list of begats,
one begat
got forgot:
work begets work
(one poem
bears
the next).

10. “Big with Dawn” by Katie Condon

Excerpt:

Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.

To read more of Katie Condon’s poems check out Praying Naked.

11. “They Could Take Away” by Rupi Kaur from Homebody

12. “When You See Water” by Alice Walker from Her Blue Body and Everything We Know

Excerpt:

When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
water;
When you see water in the river
you say: oh, this is water
of the river;
When you see ocean
water
you say: This is the ocean’s
water!

13. “To be of use” by Marge Piercy from Circles of Water

Excerpt:

The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out sight.
They seem to become natives of the element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

14. “Nature Knows Its Math” by Joan Graham from Marvelous Math

Excerpt:

Divide
the year
into seasons,
four,
subtract
the snow then
add
some more
green,

15. “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

Excerpt:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in far of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

16. “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski from Without End: New and Selected Poems

Excerpt:

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.

To read more of Brendan Constantine’s poems check out Bouncy Bounce

18. “To the New Year” by W.S. Merwin from Present Company

Excerpt:

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as thought they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

19. “A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelous from Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry

20. “Rain, New Year’s Eve” by Maggie Smith from Good Bones

Excerpt:

The rain is a broken piano,
playing the same note over and over.

My five-year-old said that.
Already she knows loving the world

means loving the wobbles
you can’t shim, the creaks you can’t

oil silent—the jerry-rigged parts,
MacGyvered with twine and chewing gum.


I hope you enjoyed this collection of New Year’s poems as much as I enjoyed collecting them. If you are looking for more New Year’s poems to read you can look through 25 Poems About Life and Resilience, 15 Poems About Happiness, or 33 Nature Poems. Happy New Year. May 2021 have less tragedy and be a pathway to a healthier, safer, and more equitable society.