Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lycra-like Trampoline

Some people insist every poem needs its own title, as if you were naming a baby. Personally I don’t mind if a poem goes around as “Untitled,” although, of course, a title lets the poet determine how the poem is identified. Don’t title it and you run the risk of readers coming up with something like “the poem with sleet in it,” or “the dead baby poem.” Who wants that? Luckily, default will usually kick in and the poem will be identified by its first line, à la e.e. cummings.

On the other side are poets who use the same title over and over, like Louise Glück in Wild Iris. This makes identifying the poem even harder than leaving it untitled. There’s “Matins page 2,” “Matins page 3,” page 12, 13, 25, etc. Hey, they were all good, but which one are we talking about?

In my book, anything would be preferable to calling a poem “Poem.” As if there were only one!

There’s a poet I know who hates long titles. I admit this can come off as gimmicky, but usually I find it a draw. A poem called “Poem in Which the Clairvoyant Gives In and Sells Her Internal Organs to Buy the Lycra-like Trampoline” would pique my interest more than “Snow.” (At least initially.) The danger here is the reader enters with big expectations. If the poem is a let-down, an extraordinary title won’t save it. It will only make the let-down worse.

I thought such long titles were rare but a recent cull of Verse Daily turns up a bunch of them. If any of these intrigue you, go forth and prosper.

"Brought to You by the Letter Ox , Or: Why I Want my Son to Remain Illiterate" by Mitchell Metz

"The Blackmailer's Wife Reads History and Considers the Nature of Guilt" by Judy Brown

"The Poem You Hang on Your Wall Like a Painting Because It Does Something Different Each Time the Light" by Timothy Kelly

"Speedy Inexpensive Chaos Theory Poem About Short Term Memory Loss" by Peggy Munson

"I Am Talking Dirty to You Like You are the Only One in the Room" by Danielle Pafunda

"On a Woodpecker Drinking from a Knothole Still Full of the Last Rain" by Maurice Manning

(this post is up over at linebreak's blog, too)


Ron. said...

Not much of a long-titler, I give in occasionally. My Longest (to date):
Beth You Do Not Frighten Me As Almost All The Others Almost Always Frighten Me

SarahJane said...

You should throw in some commas, right or wrong!

Toni Clark said...

Good one, Ron.

My longest is "Why I Have Kept My Mother's Red High Heels Which Are Too Small for Me and Did Not Fit Her Either."

SarahJane said...

I think my longest is "On Stopping to Smell Perfume on the Way Home from Work."

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