MY brother Richard used to test his proposed resolutions for the coming year right after Halloween. "The ones I can see aren't going to work out," he said, "I get rid of those."
That my late brother -- an actor who typed professionally to support himself -- took his turn-of-the year resolutions so seriously makes me wonder whether he'd worked out in advance the decision to end his life at age 39 on Independence Day.
As a poet laureate, I still get a chance to remind people, the young especially, of the power that language wields when it's uttered freshly and with honesty and imagination. Language that is used to lie, cajole, deceive or conceal gets in the way of clear thinking. Listen carefully to the rhetoric of big-bucks politics or big-bucks think tanks or big-bucks medicine or big-bucks broadcasting or big-bucks business of any kind. Then run in the opposite direction. Even though in his "Republic" Plato condemns poets along with democracy as a form of government, no democratic society can withstand the bloodsucking, paralyzing effects of dead public discourse. Offerings of caringly composed poetry are like crosses held up against vampires. Make that empires.
"Fixity of purpose" is one way the dictionary defines resolution; "determination" is another. I propose yet another: Think of resolution as simplification. Just as a head crammed with fear and stress yearns to be shrunk, so a life cluttered and jammed with stuff longs and needs to be sorted out, swept clean and set straight.
For me this breaks down usefully into a lovely new opportunity to sail rather than chug through yet another brand new year and to resolve to do the following:
* Write three pages a day on "A Piece of Cake," the novel you've nurtured for years and years. As any fool can calculate, only one page a day adds up to 365 pages. By making this resolution public, you'll come in earlier than if you go on uttering and reiterating resolutions in private or in silence.
* Draw up a "Things Done" list as well as a "Thank You" list. Mostly, you worry about stuff you think you'll overlook as you dive headlong into sometimes taxing and always entangling schedules. It's important to check off what you've actually done and to thank those who helped.
* On your desk or table next to each of your telephones, keep a working pen or pencil beside a pad of paper or stack of index cards. How much more of your life do you want to spend reaching urgently for something that doesn't work or isn't at hand? Even a cheap digital voice recorder is better than nothing.
* Memorize one poem per week, either yours or someone else's. To own a poem by memory differs greatly from clutching the visual text of that poem. Words on paper are the same as musical scores; recitation from memory is a solo performance, a jazz trio, a string quartet, an orchestra in full force. Sing from the heart.
* Rather than write by hand only at bedtime or on waking, take time away from your keyboard at intervals during the day to "jam" by hand. With you as the audience for those pages, all those scribbled notebooks you've filled across the years make exciting reading. They also give your poor neck and shoulders and arms and hands a break.
* Get back into the kind of verbal action that, like drawing and sketching, you used to love in your early days and nights. Like a graphic artist, record the look and feel and smell and taste and sound of what sits and lies and stretches out before and beyond what you still regard as "you."
* Clean house. Get rid of half of your personal belongings. Having just moved from one residence to another, you can only welcome the perfect opportunity to slice your holdings dramatically. Everything you think you own actually owns a piece of you. You and your spirit need room to breathe. Notice how belongings keep boxing you in.
* Spread love. Let those close or close by know how much they mean to you. How else are they going to know? Write that piece you've been contemplating about how important it is to acknowledge with a greeting or a smile every lost or angry or disconnected or impoverished person who crosses your path. This includes people like the blond, well-dressed, middle-class woman in the market last week who cursed you and everyone else she passed in the aisles. "Enemy Combatants" -- that'll be your title.
* Speak less and listen even more closely than you do now. This ought to be self-explanatory, but you still have to remind yourself that although silence may not exactly shine as brightly as gold in these dark times it won't hurt to shut the hell up and pay attention. While you and everyone else foam at the mouth, the snows of Kilimanjaro and the ice caps at both poles are melting. Fran Liebowitz spoke truth when she said that many of her writing students have trouble writing credible dialogue because they think the opposite of talking is waiting.
* Remind yourself again and again and yet again that This Is It. That is to say, this melting moment is it, is all you've got. Write this out on a Post-it note and paste it on your bathroom mirror. Then, morning or night, when you glance or gaze at yourself, you'll know the score.
* Don't forget your visit to San Leandro Juvenile Hall and how quickly all the girls and boys -- all 60 or 70 of them -- raised their hands when you asked: "How many of you have lost a family member, a friend, a loved one, a classmate or a neighbor to violence?"