Reprise: Burning the Old Year, Again

by | Dec 31, 2021 | Weekly Prompt

Happy New Year! Let’s ring in the new year all week, all month. I plan to keep the new year feeling going at least until Spring. The Venetian new year begins March 1, so we can spend at least two months burning the old year (per our reprise of a poem and prompt for today) and beginning the new.

But for our Julian New Year moment, I’d like to reprise the very first Write Away Prompt. Think of it as a ritual, a virtual New Year’s Day bonfire. So here is our reprise of a prompt–really more of a remix, since every year provides its own melody against the familiar bass line (expect more references to bass in future prompts; I received a bass guitar for Christmas and hope to come up with a little Write Away riff).

I begin every new year with this poem: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye. It evokes bonfires and sweeping up holiday crumbs, unfinished projects, bits of confetti. 

Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   

transparent scarlet paper,

sizzle like moth wings,

marry the air.

Here, Nye is not describing the sturdy logs that provide the sustaining fuel of the fire. She’s not even describing kindling. These are the incidentals, the scraps you toss in, the ones that become fine glowing strands that float into the night. 

“I begin again with the smallest numbers.” 1/1. Scratching together a tiny start to a new project or habit or practice, hopeful, again, of seeing it through to the next 12/31. 


What of the old year are you burning? What are those things that still “crackle after the blazing dies?” 

Start with a list. Conjure all that flammable detritus with the kind of sparkling imagery that sizzles in Nye’s poem. Last year, I encouraged thinking small. It would be easy, I said as 2020 ended, to go big–and general. To avoid that, and turn to the specific, I asked you to imagine there’s already a communal fire ablaze, turning to ash all that we collectively rue about the year. You aren’t responsible for burning all that yourself, so gather your own private scraps and slips. The lingering regrets or resentments. 

Thinking small is still okay. But if you’re like me, you’ve got more that’s accrued in 2021. More to clear out. So I’m cheating, this year. I said above that Nye is not talking about “the sturdy logs that provide the sustaining fuel of the fire,” but you don’t have to adhere too strictly to the poem. 2021 gave me hard, substantial material. Too much, sometimes. Some, I have to let go, but not in some kind of trash fire. It’s the kind of burning that makes way for new growth. The kind of burning that lights the way, sparks the engine. I’m burning bigger stuff, with more intention. Real fire, not fireworks.

Okay back to the reprise.

If you write fiction, write what your character would burn.

And sure, even if you write nonfiction or poetry, the dates on the calendar are really just numbers. Arbitrary, unmeaning. Nothing is really solved; the baggage and spare change and troubles of the old year heave forward into the new. So what would you burn now? Not when there’s a clean slate (because there never really is) but today?

You could make this literal: write it, build a fire, burn it up. Let yourself make the meaning and observe the shift. Feel the heat of the fire against the chill of the new. Mark the contrast. Write it.