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Poem: 01.05.16

At the New Year, the list genre returns with a vengeance when people make their annual resolutions. Laynie Browne’s list poem follows the usual form with its numbers and occasional imperative. Browne’s list, however, is an anti-list, a list for the imagination and strangeness, asking the reader to misplace the year, to avoid the dangers of beginnings, to “Refuse to look at detailed maps.” In the new year, Browne’s speaker isn’t looking for the usual pedestrian and mundane resolutions that we name for ourselves, such as losing weight or saving money. Instead, her resolutions argue for openness, freedom from the past, the self and the known, for something unknown and magical. Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

01.05.16

By Laynie Browne

1. Misplacing the year is useful.

2. Pretext may grow into medicine.

3. Ignore numbers until they become secret persons.

4. Pour out this metal thermos. But it isn’t a thermos, that’s just an
image to help you physicalize an intellectual process.

5. If you want to transform a book you’ll need ingredients.

6. Read lines from an enchantress when you want to be a bird.

7. Ingest liquid prose when you prefer to be fluid.

8. A good title only proves you have work ahead of you.

9. Remembering your potency impels me further. I want to be im-
paled by a poem.

10. Beginning is always precarious. Avoid snow-covered terrain and
long-haired ponies. Avoid skipping ahead, as I’ve inadvertently just
done.

11. Return to certain constitutional texts when you need protection.

12. Refuse to look at detailed maps. You don’t need to know the fu-
ture.

13. Your headache isn’t fake — but pretend if you can.

14. Fantasize that for the next six hours you will not stop.

15. All pain will end almost immediately.

16. If you are able to endure forgetfulness.

17. Welcome imperfection as you would a cup of tea served to you
by a beautiful, devoted attendant.

18. Your attendant will stay as long as you like.

19. When lost, reread these instructions.

20. Don’t speak.

21. Ecstatic impulse is now.

22. Continuously — you.


Victoria Chang is a poet whose latest book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Laynie Browne is the author of many books including “Translation of the Lilies Back Into Lists” (Wave Books 2022) in which this poem appears, “In Garments Worn by Lindens” (Tender Buttons Press, 2019) and the anthology “A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on the Poet’s Novel” (Nightboat, 2021). She is the recipient of a Pew Fellowship, the National Poetry Series Award and the Contemporary Poetry Series Award, and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.

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