“Don’t write a title your poem can’t cash” (or don’t give your poem a title it can’t live up to) — is advice most of US rarely need. We are more likely to give limp, interchangeable titles to good pieces. As if we are saying that our work, and by extension our time, thought, poetry, SELVES—are of no account.
And we are all, oh, so much better than that, friends.
I want you to spend some time with titles. Start with Friday’s prompt. (And thanks to qbit for that list) Look at your own bookshelves, at tables of contents; look at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems and https://poems.com or any other site with a good mix of the new and the old.
Jot down titles that tug at you. [ I was doing something similar recently, and in a book I didn’t know anything about, found the poem called: I Am Washing My Dead Father’s Dishes. The poem below that might be about almost anything, though I suspect that if I find and read it… well.]
While you are doing that, on another sheet of paper, begin inventing titles of your own. Go back and forth. Let yourself enjoy being serious, silly, self-important, humble—you won’t be asked to cash the check. Play with that for a while.
Pick one of the titles and write the poem it wants. Keep it between 6 and15 lines, because you might just want to do more than one.
Later, some day when you feel antsy and want to write but can’t find a handle, pull out some of your own poems and sort them according to how well you think their titles work. Narrow these to two or three of your worst offenders and, starting with the longest, try to find where the poem is hiding its real name.
First, read the piece aloud. Mark any spots that were difficult. Maybe two clunky consonants back to back or a superfluity of polysyllabics. Look for a simple fix. You aren’t revising, just swatting flies. Read it over again, asking yourself: What is this about?
1) Give the poem an explanation. (Or three) Something like
“Poem About Being Bored” or “Poem Written To Explain Proust”
2) Give the poem a place.
“Poem Written While Eating Ice Cream At 4 A.M.”
“Overlooking the Slaves’ Graveyard At Andrew Jackson’s Home”
“For Quickly’s Big Check“
3) Sum the poem up with one word
3b) Two words
4) Rephrase the first/last/best line
Read it aloud again, marking the words you like best
5) Play with using one/some of those words in the title
Look at all of the experimental names, read the poem again, set it aside.
Repeat with the next poem.
Happy Tittling. See you on Thursday.