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December 5, 2011 / playforth

Insert title here

I’ve been musing on titles recently, mostly because I’ve just had to submit a collection of poems to a competition and deciding on a title caused me some considerable angst (I also had to come up with a pen-name but that’s another story…)

When it comes to individual poems I seem to be wedded to short, barely evocative titles as opposed to long explanatory ones, although when reading other people’s work I love a sprawling, unusual title (such as Don Paterson’s On Going to Meet a Zen Master in the Kyushu Mountains and Not Finding Him where the title is the entire poem (or should that be where the title has no poem…?))

So when it comes to titling a whole (albeit short) collection, finding the telling phrase or image that sums up the whole thing while still appealing to my taste for brevity is… a challenge.

Some titling tricks:

1. Use the title of one of the poems, ideally the most striking and/or thematically significant, or if desperate the most vague and hence adaptable

2. Steal one from somewhere else (a painting, a film, a line from another poem, a song, an advert…)

3. Be sparsely descriptive/lazy (eg. ’22 poems’)

4. Stick a pin in a book/newspaper/magazine and impress all with your novel combining of seemingly unrelated imagery

5. Title nirvana: find a phrase that as well as being beautiful in itself, magically unifies all the themes in the collection, even the ones you didn’t know were there

Needless to say, I didn’t reach title nirvana on this occasion (I blame the rapidly approaching deadline). Oh well.

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One Comment

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  1. Sarah Louise / Dec 6 2011 1:26 pm

    how fun! I guess I never thought about naming poems, although I do have an aversion for “untitled.” I do prefer your “insert title here.” It at least shows that you wanted a title, whereas I feel like “untitled” means, “eh, here’s my whatever. Hope you like it.” Critics, right? How very exciting about your poems. You will let us know if you win?

    xo and cupcakes,
    SL

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