October 20th, 2010


I guess Wednesday is just my day to post things.

I do not have much difficulty naming my poems.
I have tremendous problems, however, with titling them.

There is a difference, yes. For one thing, a name doesn’t necessarily reflect some important facet of a person. Sure, it can give you hints—maybe it hints at gender or ethnicity (though not always), maybe it tells you something about an individual’s parents (for example, if you encounter someone named Moonflower, odds of the parents being hippies are significantly greater than if their name is Steve). But when you meet someone and are told their name, it’s not something you necessarily keep in mind to help you analyze as you get to know them. If I am introduced to Steve (because when you are named Moonflower sometimes you go by your middle name instead) and begin a conversation, I don’t compare Steve’s opinions, history, and word choice to those of every other Steve or to what I believe the name Steve stands for. Steve is just the handy way of summing up all of the traits that make up a particular individual so that I can both remember him and allow for a mutual understanding with others that this person is Steve, rather than spelling out “The person who was born in Michigan but moved to Houston in 1998, went to college for two years and dropped out to open a bookstore which tanked etc. etc. etc.” Names function as cultural shorthand.
Titles, however, are much more formal. There is a structure to them. They also function as shorthand, but they are far more limiting—when someone is a Doctor, we know that they have completed a particular level of education and can be expected to have a certain amount of knowledge in their field*.
In poetry, titles are also intrinsically a part of the poem. They are included in any analysis of the poem, and function as a sort of first line—if there is no official title given, the first line is used. I annoy my creative writing professor to no end with my constant refusal to title anything** despite the fact that I hate the idea of the first line of any of my poems being pulled up and separated to form a title.
I have a poem, for example, titled “This Concept of ‘Wuv’ Confuses and Infuriates Us.” That is the poem’s name. But it is not the title, and not the first thing I want people to read when they stumble across that poem, nor necessarily the thing I want readers to reconsider after they have read the piece.
But it is the poem’s name.
DLo pointed out that giving a poem a title also lends it a sense of finality. That doesn't bother me as much, though. I don't do a lot of revising or rewriting; generally once I've written something down it stays put unless it is directly contradicted or repeated elsewhere in the piece, or was written while on a lot of cold medication and thus makes no kind of sense.

Does anyone else have this issue with titles? How did you get around/over it? I know I will be expected to title my pieces no matter what, unless I publish them all myself or something in a format that allows me to name them (say, in the table of contents) without having to put the name on the piece itself. So this is probably something I should deal with.

*Or they are a time-traveler. There are always exceptions.
**The rare exception is when the title is extremely silly, or when I came up with a title first. Then, she generally just tolerates it. Mostly.

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