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Welcome to another installment of Write After Reading: Writing the Life Poetic, a  weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Laura's blog. Last week, over at Laura's blog, we talked about chapter 43 and played with another Mad Lib sort of exercise. Today I picked chapter 48, Writing Poems From Titles.

There's not a lot to read here because the fun is all in the writing. :) The chapter talks about how titles for poems can come before the poem is written, after it is written, or changed somewhere in-between. But for this exercise she gives what she calls a book of matches with a list of titles of poems by mostly contemporary poets. The idea is to write a poem based just on the title (hopefully a poem you don't know) and then go find the original and see how it compares. She gives a list of 33 poems. For those of you who don't have a copy of the book, I'll post a few of the titles for you.

But before that, I'd like to talk a bit more about titles for poems and how you perhaps come up with your titles. I almost always title my poems after they are written when I am pretty sure I have reached the point I was trying to make with the poem. Though there have been a few where I got the title and it just spoke to me and I had to write a poem to live up to the title. I'm not sure how I feel about poems where the title is actually the first line in the poem. Quite often it confuses me. I read the title and I set it apart in my mind. Then I read the first line and I'm confused and my brain has to process that method the poet is using and I have to go back and start over. It all happens very fast but sometimes it can be distracting to me. The exception (for me) is usually when it is a verse novel and the author is using the same pattern throughout the book. My brain gets used to it and it seems less distracting.

So what about you?  When do you title your poems? Do you use a line from the poem? How do you know when you have the right title for a poem? (For me it's all about going with my gut.)

I'll post some of titles for folks now and will be back later to add my poem in the comments.

The Zero at the Bone (Karen Holmberg)
The Partial Explanation (Charles Simic)
Good People (WS Merwin)
What the Angels Left (Marie Howe)
Give the Drummer Some (Christopher Luna)
Key to the Highway (Mark Halliday)
Ladies and Gentlement in Outer Space (Ron Padgett)
The Blue Bowl (Jane Kenyon)

Added my poem to the comments. I have to say that this one surprised me in a way that a poem hadn't surprised me in a long time.
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 52 comments — Leave comment )
(Deleted comment)
June 1st, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
I love coming up with the perfect title but it isn't easy and sometimes they never quite come. This goes for novels too. And I feel disconnected from the project until I have what I feel is the perfect title.

I am guilty of the boring titles too.

I often think of titles as capturing the essence of the poetic moment and that's not any easier than writing the poem in the first place.

Thanks for the link to your article. I'll go give it a read.
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(no subject) - susanwrites - June 1st, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorireads - June 4th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
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June 1st, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Laura's Poem -- The Zero at the Bone
This is terrific, Laura. The shape of it feels like a rain cloud or a tornado or even raindrops.

I love these stanzas best:

Lies have been
Scalpeled, scapulaed, shaved
Away, buried until
Cloud-white bone
Fills the sky of your eyes

Only truth
Shaking like thunderclouds
Falling like raintears

It was a really fun exercise. I might have to try another one.
Re: Laura's Poem -- The Zero at the Bone - dorireads - June 4th, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
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June 1st, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh my!
Hahaha...I haven't been able to find hers. You'll have to send me the link.
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Re: Oh my! - susanwrites - June 1st, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Oh my! - mariannenielsen - June 2nd, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Oh my! - dorireads - June 4th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
June 1st, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
RE: Titles
I don't write poetry so I can't directly respond, but I do have similar issues with titles for my stories. Sometimes I get a title first and love it and then create a story from me, and other times the title comes very last (or from a good friend/writing partner).

btw - when we lunched last, you mentioned a poetry exercise that I found intriguing but now i can't recall it. Can you help me? ;)
June 1st, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Hey Debbi, I think this is the one I was talking about, it was at Laura's blog last week:
http://laurasalas.livejournal.com/276727.html If that wasn't it I'll have to ponder it some more.

For novels I REALLY prefer to have the title first. I hate waiting for it because I feel no connection to the story without the title.
June 1st, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
Okay, here's my poem. I picked the title last night and was really expecting to write a softish poem perhaps based in nature. What came out is something completely different.

How to Listen

Put down that stinky cigarette,
the one you promised to stop smoking.
Quit fiddling with the piano
and no, you don't need another drink.
You never need another drink.

Pretend if you have to
you're at work,
inspection time,
uniform neatly pressed,
just like all those lies you told me.

Eyes straight ahead.
Must. Not. Move.

Look at me, no, really look at me
in the eyes, those windows to my soul
you tried to crush.
I know I'm angry.
I want you to know it too.
I want you to hear what I'm saying
with my entire body.

I may not get this brave again.

Don't look down
or away with that
"you just kicked a puppy" expression on your face.
It doesn't work any more.

Focus on me,
the way you used to focus on me,
before vodka became your lover.

That pause between words
isn't an invitation for you to interrupt and tell me
how the world is against you.
I don't care.
Not anymore.

You don't have to listen long.
Just long enough
for me to say goodbye.

© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

The original poem is How to Listen by Major Jackson and you can read it here:
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(no subject) - susanwrites - June 1st, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorireads - June 4th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - susanwrites - June 5th, 2011 12:13 am (UTC) - Expand
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June 1st, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
I believe a good title can add meaning to a poem or story by summarizing or adding additional insight. Also, titles can invite readers by way of explanation. For example: Death, Young Death, Death of a Rose, etc. Expectations of what the poem might be about vary with these titles.

As for haiku, I’ve read that if they need a title, then the haiku is not properly done. Full meaning should be achieved without a title.

My least favorite title is a line of the poem because I want something more from the words that introduce it. And yet, here’s my poem, and the title became the first line. Before you read on, I admit my poem is not very poetic. Actually not at all poetic as yours both beautifully were. I love speculative poetry, which we could call this by subject matter, but not really style. My favorite speculative poems speak to the Sci-Fi nut in me AND are poetic.

Rushing just now. Later I’ve got to go see what this poem was really about. What a fun exercise!

Ladies and Gentlemen of Space

Ladies and Gentlemen
of Space
Greetings from the people
of Earth –
third planet circling Sol.

Transmission of our invitation
to the Galactic Gala
has not yet been received.

With the event
only two light years away,
please confirm Earth’s invitation
at the earliest convenience
of the Intergalactic
Planning Committee.

Please disregard
if our messages
crossed in hyperspace.

The People of Earth

Transmission over.

June 1st, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
That's fun, Ellie! Very imaginative. I didn't know those kinds of poems were called "speculative poetry," but I guess I have been writing those myself!
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - June 2nd, 2011 12:04 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - dorireads - June 4th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - susanwrites - June 1st, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - susanwrites - June 3rd, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - susanwrites - June 6th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
June 1st, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
That's what I get for rushing. Got the title wrong (not the meaning, definitely the wording). My face is red in case you can't see it.

So now I have read the poem that goes with this title, an interesting poem, but I am left puzzling how the poet came up with the title.

Hmmm. On to other things.

Laura and Susan, to me, this exercise really let your talent shine, when you were free to create from title down without a form to follow.

Laura, from yours I love this verse and the use of “rolls” as if one is not in control, perhaps.

Only truth
Rolls out of our mouths
In these last moments

Also love “raintears” and how your ending slows, slows until your last four syllable sentence, so short and final.

And Susan, I love the anger, rage and foot stomping of LISTEN TO ME, a pet peeve of mine.

Your introduction floods us with bad habits, and wonder as to why “You never need another drink.”

Love this:
That pause between words
isn't an invitation for you to interrupt and tell me
how the world is against you.
I don't care.
Not anymore.

so much rides on “Not anymore.” Great ending.

I love how both of you flooded your poems with emotion: one anger, and one more sorrow or resignation. Wow!

June 1st, 2011 11:29 pm (UTC)
I just read the poem that goes with your title (http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/117.html) and I'm with you...I have no idea where the title came from. I don't "get" that poem at all.

Thanks for the kind words on my poem. This prompt really ignited for me.
June 2nd, 2011 01:57 am (UTC)
Okay, I like kid poetry- so mine is kid oriented. And this is what I came up with.

The Sun Never Says

Dark clouds hang there
up in the air.
Does that mean it will rain?

The sun's there, too,
in sky that's blue.
Will somebody explain

what kind of weather
brings both together?
But I just ask in vain.


I'm sure it isn't anything like the original!

June 2nd, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)
Well, I looked it up, and they are both short! I like the original- I understand it!

:) Cindyb
(no subject) - susanwrites - June 2nd, 2011 04:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - June 2nd, 2011 12:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mariannenielsen - June 3rd, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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June 2nd, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)
Hope I'm not too late to join in...when it comes to titles they usually just pop into my head and then I write something to match it, and usually the title is not in my poem. Then there are the times when I write something and I am in search of a title and that is often a real struggle for me because I want it to have meaning without using a line from the poem.

Unless it's a repeated line in a poem then I will sometimes use that line.

I have chosen the title What the Angels Left...haven't read the original yet.

What The Angels Left

feathers float
upon the clouds,

torrential tears
puddle the ground,

soothing souls
in wing-wrapped hugs

Angels appear
when in need.

tingling thoughts
sprinkle the day,

smiling steps
smooth the way,

grateful gifts
enter the heart

Angels leave
til next in need.

June 3rd, 2011 05:14 pm (UTC)
Ditto what Laura said about it not being too late. I love the way people come and go as it works for them.

I'm curious too, if you keep a list of titles. I've been pondering that idea.

I love your poem. It's very visual which always gets me excited about a poem when the words begin to paint pictures in my mind.

I love the circular journey it takes.

My favorite lines are the first two stanzas.

feathers float
upon the clouds,

torrential tears
puddle the ground,
(no subject) - mariannenielsen - June 3rd, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
ellie - (Anonymous) - June 4th, 2011 09:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: ellie - mariannenielsen - June 5th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC) - Expand
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June 6th, 2011 12:41 pm (UTC)
Finally getting to the poem. I'm not especially pleased with it, but I'm determined to come to the party. No matter how late. And I haven't looked this one up to see the original yet.

Give the Drummer Some

for the foot-tapping

Give him
a plexi-glass cage,
a towel wad to stuff in the bass
to damp the vibrating vertebrae

Give him cudos
for the corners of tissues
torn and rolled
into tight rounds
stuffed in each ear
to save the thin snare head
from wicked waves of sound.

(Deleted comment)
Re: Give Dori Some - susanwrites - June 6th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Give Dori Some - dorireads - June 6th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Give Dori Some - dorireads - June 6th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 52 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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