Looking Back, Looking Forward


We’re almost there, but not quite yet: The transition from one year to the next can feel like a liminal space, a place of in-between-ness where we hover halfway between departure and arrival. To acknowledge this time of looking forward and looking back, here are some ideas for making a simple folded book and writing prompts that engage with that liminal space between one year and the next.

A folded book sitting on a brown surface.

The whimsically named “pants book” is an engaging, user-friendly book that you can make at home with a single sheet of paper, scissors, and writing implements (and some glue if you really want to get fancy). As the name suggests, the book has two long “legs” joined at one end. This book form is also known as a simple accordion book or a U-cut accordion book, and it’s familiar to me thanks to Alisa Golden’s marvelous Making Handmade Books, one of my favorite items in the Poetry Center’s reference section.

To learn how to make a pants book, watch this 2-minute tutorial from Radio West and Marnie Powers-Torrey of the University of Utah's Book Arts Program:

Now that you have the book folded, you hopefully can see the physical echo of one year and the next with the liminal space between where the direction changes, so to speak.

A side view of a folded book and an overview view of the book unfolded.

On to the writing: We’ll put our writing about 2020 on the first “leg” of the book and our writing about 2021 on the other. Mix and match from the ideas below, or just choose one idea for each side and go with it. These prompts might be jumping off points or what you need for a finished poem. You might write several lines on each page of your book, just a few words, or as much of a poem as you can make fit. You get to decide!

For looking back at 2020:

  1. For each of the senses (sight, taste, touch, smell, sound), list something from this year that you want to leave behind you forever. Then, for each sense, list something from the year you want to carry with you into the future.
  2. List three places you couldn’t go this year, including a few words of description about each one. List three places where you spent the most time this year, including a few words of description about each one.
  3. Try writing what Broadsided Press calls a “Home Cento”: write down fourteen words you can find around you at home (nouns or verbs only, from anything you can see). Write a fourteen-line poem that uses one of those found words in each line. You can feel free to scale this prompt down to fewer words/fewer lines.
  4. Write about a conversation you wish you could have had this year.
  5. Make a list of everything you have carried with you this year, both physical and metaphorical.

For looking ahead at 2021:

  1. What is something that you would like to plant in the new year, either literally or metaphorically? What’s it going to take to help that seed grow?
  2. If you hear the word “hope,” what images flash into your mind in the context of the future? They don’t need to make sense; write down whatever comes to mind.
  3. Write a postcard or letter to your future self, including the sorts of details postcards and letters often include: Where you are right now, what you’ve been doing, questions or hopes you have for the recipient (your future self).
  4. Pick a month of the year; write an acrostic poem in which each line starts with the successive letters of the month’s name (e.g. for March, the first line starts with M, the second starts with A, etc.). Make no reference to the month itself in the poem.
  5. Inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Burning the Old Year,” what would you burn from last year, and what would that make room for in the new year?

Write your words, phrases, or poems onto the legs of the pants to make your book. As a bonus, on a small, separate sheet of paper, you might write a few lines or words about being-in-between, whatever that phrase brings to mind for you. Fold that extra piece and tuck it into the optional pocket at the center of the book (watch the video starting at 2:03 for how to use glue to make a pocket).

A folded book with a pocket in the middle and a green sheet of paper tucked into the pocket.

If you want, decorate the book with markers, crayons, paints, scraps of paper, or anything at hand. Consider giving the book to a friend or family member as a New Year's card, or save it as a record for yourself of this moment in time.

Wishing you all happy writing and making as we turn the corner towards something new.