It’s curious how susceptible to waning my excitement for a new year can be, fizzling out a mere twenty-four hours after the Ball drops. I’ve never really been one for resolutions; I’d rather devote more energy to New Year’s Eve. Perhaps this is symptomatic of my ‘90s upbringing: with all the hoopla over a new millennium, the nagging worry about Y2K, even Newman’s miscalculated 2000/2001 party on an episode of Seinfeld, I seem to have absorbed the belief that the anticipation for a new year trumped its actual arrival. Looking back seems easy. Nostalgia’s lure comes with a hook, and I often too quickly bite.

December 31 certainly seems more festive than January 1. And by January 2, life resumes its normal course. Folks return to work, winter break ends, the Christmas tree comes down. Poor, poor January 2. Dull doldrums. Just another winter day. Lacking the fanfare of previous days, it is now that the new year really gets off and running. It is now that resolutions make way for—even demand—a resoluteness. “Go West, young man [and woman]” may have once been the ecstatic cry of our country, but the call for the coming year is to strike eastward, to greet dawn in place of chasing sunsets.

***

Photo 1To write his long poem Tape for the Turn of the Year, A. R. Ammons fed a roll of adding machine tape into his typewriter and wrote each day from December 6, 1963 until January 10, 1964 when the tape ran out. His resolve to write each day guided him, as did the material constraints of a skinny roll of paper. As he typed, the paper would rise from the floor into the machine then spill out into the ashtray on his desk before rising once again—like a phoenix, he says—only to flow into the wastebasket where he would gather the words all up.

At the hinge of two years and unable to set the project aside until the tape was gone, Ammons mused about the nature of a day’s, a year’s, coming and going throughout the poem. Such a project, he learned, limited his writing and also his life; at times, he considered racing to the finish:

poem must be now
close to 40 feet long: I
can’t get it out
to write letters or
postcards or anything:
well
if
it
must
be
onward
to
the
end,
let’s
get
there
in
a
hurry: or
is that cheating?

That question, “or / is that cheating?” never leaves the poem. An investment in authenticity, in faithfulness to process and to days, becomes Ammons’ real challenge to himself and his readers. And near the end of the tape, Ammons sets aside his sense of limitation and makes room for possibility:

I wrote about these
days
the way life gave them:
I didn’t know
beforehand what I
wd write,
whether I’d meet
anything new:

I can get behind the sentiment in the line “the way life gave them” and its implicit stance of humility. For when we move through days with the understanding that we have received those days, we might more fully realize our days are not our own. The possibilities of a coming year sustain us. Not knowing whether we’ll meet anything new is quite the carrot to dangle.

So as I settle into 2014, I find Ammons’ conflation of life and tape all the more resonant. Though he states his preference that,

ideally, I’d
be like a short poem:
that’s a fine way
to be: a poem at a
time:

Ammons has to admit,

but all day
life itself is bending,
weaving, changing,
adapting, failing,
succeeding:

The swerves and circuits of a year may not give comfort and security, since failure and success are unpredictable but equally likely. But resoluteness helps to alleviate some of my anxiety, even making that anxiety more meaningful, a surer sign of a phoenix rising out of December 31 into January 1, and even (especially) into January 2.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    I’m continually fascinated by unusual sizes of paper for writing… post-it notes, index cards, etc. Poem + Adding Machine Tape? Completely brilliant.

    Reply

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