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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Do You Title a Poem?

Brian Miller, over at dVerse Poets Pub, raised this question, which led to an interesting discussion. This is my take on it:

For me titles are among the most difficult pieces of writing. I usually find them last – except when prompts from some sources suggest them at the outset.

I used to leave some pieces untitled if nothing suitable occurred to me, but then John Hewitt at PoeWar Writer's Resource Center insisted poems should always be titled, to help oneself and more importantly the reader identify, recall and locate them. He said, if all else fails use the first line as title. So now I do, and agree it’s preferable to having numerous pieces called ‘Untitled’. Sometimes, using half the first line is effective.

I have found that very general titles don’t work well. It’s not much use calling something ‘Autumn’ or ‘Bird’; it doesn’t identify the particular poem sufficiently. Even Keats said ‘Ode to Autumn’. I was guilty of a lot of very general titles when younger. If you’re prolific like me, you can find yourself using the same general title several times over for different pieces; not a great idea. (Also, such vague titles are pretty boring, aren't they?)

I agree with those who say that you don’t want to give away the whole poem in the title.

What do you think, dear readers?

6 comments:

  1. I confess, titles are my "thing". I don't always get the one I want but I try very hard to come up with something that works for me and the reader. I want something provocative usually, and interesting, and, as you say, that doesn't give the gist of the poem away. I'll often try and find a quote that works and use part of it for the title or a part of a line from the poem but I admit, I sometimes like using titles that have little bearing on the poem, they just seem to "suit" the words they sit atop...it's hard to articulate those...I do believe tho', titles are important and should be given at least some thought.

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    1. Thanks, Sharon. It's fascinating what different approaches people have. :)

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  2. yes, generic titles don't help the poet, reader or the poem.

    the title (and first line sometimes) come last once it's all hammered out and you know what you want to hook someone towards, without misleading in tone or content. the title is the first impression and it passes or fails to be read on that.

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  3. Rightly said Rosemary! I find on hindsight some general titles recurring when I trace them back. It gets utterly confusing. After reading Brian's take I made my titles more specific to the poem. It certainly looks better! Decidedly my titles forthwith are more than just one word! Thanks for sharing Ma'am!

    Hank

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