Sunday: Write a Big Check

“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 and 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.


22 Thoughts

  1. Tiana Clark has a book title “I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood”. Mysterious. Sounds like science fiction, or Christian mysticism. In Fact: The book is in three sections. I Can’t Talk. About the Trees. and Without the Blood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, interesting. Jam three titles together and get a new, cooler title!

      Here are the top 10 out of the 50 or so I made up in a 10 min non-stop Title Fight. Now I guess I’ve got to pick one of these…

      1. Tubers Rooting the Mind
      2. Fish Bonnet
      3. Tumbrel
      4. Pleasant Wires
      5. VJ Goes to the Piano Store
      6. Toothpick Slander
      7. Bento Box of the Mind
      8. Splinter Night
      9. Top-Fuel Hippo Racing
      10. Singsqually

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hmmm. I don’t have anything yet, but here’s my list, too.

    K.I.S.S. I.T.E.S.
    * I Never Listen to Children
    * Suppose, Presupposition, Supposer, Suppository
    * These Things, These Don’t-Blame-Me Things
    * Old Once Meant a Tribe of One
    * Black Barbie
    * Diseases I Have Caught from Commercials
    * Fan Killed by Flying Tee Shirt
    * Wasn’t There a Building There Last Week
    * Tiny Guy Says the Label on the Toy
    * M y Mother and Aunt in White Cotton Slips Where the Road Fords the Creek Branch, * August 1955
    * I Have Symptom _________
    * Suits of Armor Dance to Soldier’s Joy
    * Wherein I Order Used Clothing Online
    * The Sun Disappeared While I Was Writing This Poem
    * Does the Mockingbird Know What He’s Saying

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Apropos of not much, I thought I’d make a cento of book titles, so here you go:

    A journey with two maps
    where the sidewalk ends.
    We make the road by walking,
    bored and brilliant.

    Wake, siren,
    the soul of an octopus,
    a tree within,
    the heart’s invisible furies.

    One hundred years of solitude.
    One hundred aspects of the moon.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here is a title I found
    “I Forget Who I Said It To, But I Remember How, Afterwards, They Looked at Me As Though I Had Driven A Steak Knife Through Their Mother’s Hand” BY RACHEL MCKIBBENS

    I’ll get something written this evening – off to the crazy right now.


  5. So, this doesn’t feel ready for my WordPress site, but I think it will bear some revision. Interesting prompt, for sure.

    Thoughts Abandoned in a Kitchen Cupboard

    Door ajar, hinges loose,
    lines up just right.

    Inside, the mismatched cups,
    their chipped saucers a
    constant source of tiny
    unexpected cuts on fingers
    old enough to know better.

    My span of attention isn’t
    what it used to be, if
    it ever was, that is.
    (At the moment, I am
    in attendance, if not
    exactly here.) I think.

    I think I remember
    another time in this
    kitchen of mine. A
    time of ours, not of all
    these bloody hours with
    all their mismatched

    Liked by 1 person

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