I had a VERY busy week – out of town last weekend and getting ready to step into a new job description at work – so this week, we will discuss an element of craft that can be troublesome: titles.
One of my biggest struggles is selecting titles for my poems. So today’s workshop in a box will focus on title-finding suggestions I have collected over the years from different teachers and workshops.
- The old stand-bys
Let’s get these out of the way first, and let’s call them reminders of things we have seen often in poems. But just because they are common options doesn’t mean they are not good options- give them a try.
* The title as label or mini-summary or scene-setter
* The title as “Untitled” or some form of untitled, like Simon Perchik’s asterisks. (Personal aside – the asterisks bother me. Or anything called untitled unless it has some connection to the narrative of the poem. I will get off the soapbox now. Sorry.)
* Using a phrase or line that appears elsewhere in the poem
* An allusion to other literature or pop culture
* A line of direct address (“For…” or “To…”)
- Count up five to seven lines from the bottom of your poem (depending on which workshop leader you listen to…) and find your title hiding there.
This advice counts on the fact that five to seven lines from the end of your poem is probably where you start to turn toward your concluding purpose. Many workshop leaders recommend looking at those lines for a phrase that may work as a title.
- Use the thesaurus.
After your poem is complete (or as complete as it will be for the moment), identify key words or concepts in the poem, and use a thesaurus to find synonyms that may resonate as titles.
- Use a map…or a time machine.
This advice came from a workshop with Katie Ford on writing a series (or a long poem in parts). Her suggestion for many of the participants was to make the title a very specific place or date that resonated with the truth of the poem.
For example, a piece about a relationship that started in your teen years could use the specific street/town name where that relationship started. For example, if the hypothetical poem above was my poem, it could be called “On Elgin Avenue” – the street where I grew up – or “Forest Park: 1976” – my hometown and the year I started high school. I think that the idea is to bring a real specificity of place and time to the piece.
So work on your titles this week and make them do some of the heavy lifting in your poem. My most recent draft started with the title of “Heaven” then changed to “Unfolded” then changed to “How I Will Outwit Grief.” Which one would you rather read? 🙂
If you have any foolproof title tricks, please share them in the comments section – we would all appreciate even more ideas to share.