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Let’s talk poem titles

Help! I can’t be the only one who has this problem. Poem titles. What the &%$?!*?

I seem to have a issue with both the creative and the administrative aspects of poem titles.

Sometimes I’m pleased with a poem, but the ‘working title’ just doesn’t cut it. Or I don’t even have a working title. Sometimes I save a poem under its working title and then can’t find it. Sometimes I submit a poem with ‘title X’ which, after four or five rejections, I rework a bit and change the title, then can’t find either the poem or where I submitted it. Sometimes I have a GREAT title in my head, but can’t write a poem to go with it. Maybe it’s a pamphlet title? But I haven’t written the pamphlet either. Sometimes I look at the titles of poems in magazines and wonder at their length or quirkiness, and I TRY to write long, quirky titles to my poems. But they resist and resist until they’re just one or two words again. The first one often being ‘The’.

O gods of poetry,ย please tell me where the poem titles are, I need a clue!

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  1. Nice prose poem Robin. I’d call it Sometimes; a bit obvious I know, but it doesn’t raise expectations and does raise of modicum of curiosity. It has a little exposition, which is always good as the poem doesn’t then have to do it, but possibly could do with more. It doesn’t need to be called for example, ‘Sometimes A Sonnet’ because we can see that it’s a prose poem. It really conveys how you feel about writing titles, but not too much. So, yes, I’d go with the title Sometimes. But I’m no god!

  2. I have much the same problems with titles. You don’t mention using the first line or the first words of a poem as the title, something which quite a few poets are quite keen on. But losing poems because of working titles, improved titles, submitted titles etc., – that is awful I agree. So time consuming and frustrating. I’m always doing it. Perhaps we should number each poem?

    • Good idea, Meg, or ditch the titles, like Emily Dickinson? I’ve done the ‘title as first line’ thing too – sometimes that can work, I agree.

  3. I live in awe of poets who seem to come up with perfect titles every time.
    I know the titles are important in terms of catching the eye of the reader and luring him/her in. However, I draw solace from greats like e.e. cummings who didn’t give a toss about titles!

  4. Write down those titles when they do pop into your head (you never know), unfortunately there is no magic titling poetry wand – try to capture the essence – it is the poet’s blurb. Good luck.

    • Ah yes, the magic titling wand – but perhaps there is, and we just haven’t quite found it yet? Like the Holy Grail … thanks Nina ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Yes, titles can definitely be a pain! To call it what it is, to call it what it could be or to call it what it really isn’t! Just read a useful piece on this very subject by Tamar Yoseloff available on The Poetry School website as a PDF download, some words of wisdom…

    • That sounds interesting, I shall take a look at that – thank you!

  6. Some times a poem deserves not to be burdened with a title. In the T’ang dynasty in China a thousand years ago, a popular form of poetry was to write verse to the tune of certain well-known songs. Whenever I get a little poem out in the world that has no title and that is not asking one, I put it under the working title “To the Tune of a Song Not Yet Written” and leave it at that. Sometimes I come back to it and find it has a title waiting. But other times I find that original non-title seems to fit it just fine.

    • How interesting! Thanks for sharing that, Jeff ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I’m with you here, Robin. I generally have very similar problems with titles and end up with very short ones. On occasion I have adopted the Wallace Stevens or John Ashbery approach where the poem doesn’t often seem to have any relation to the title at all. I suppose that’s risky but I think we should take risks with our poems from time to time .

    • Another great idea – the random title! I like the thought of people puzzling over a title in a workshop and discussing its significance to the poem, how wicked ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks, Pam

  8. Seems you are not alone in this! I have used the first line of a poem a few times when I’m stuck. When I re-title a poem I change it on the computer but I still have other versions on paper and even I lose some for a while. But I do misfile my work from time to time anyway and even the search facility struggles! Hey ho!

    • Well I suppose I’m glad I’m not the only one who mis-files from time to time! When you say ‘first line as title’ do you mean instead of a title -? Which is something I’ve done a few times. I’ve never had a title followed by a first line that’s the same as the title, although I know that’s not uncommon. Thanks for commenting Heather.

      • Yes Robin I do mean the first line instead of the title and then it just launches into it! This was suggested for a poem of mine at a workshop so that’s what I did (it came second in a competition). I find I do this now sometimes whereas before I would never have considered it. It does depend on the poem though, I think. By the way, enjoy your retreat. Sounds lovely and the house is one I’d love to visit as I’m a bit of a pre-Raphaelite fan (my hero is William Morris).

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Robin Houghton 2021
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