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You Called it What?!?

The old saying is: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” And it’s true. It’s also true that you shouldn’t judge a poem by its title. But we do anyway. At least I do. And I don’t think I’m that different from most people on this point. Why else would the old admonishment exist?

So, here’s the problem I encounter as I scroll through pages of poem titles on poetry critiquing forums or in the tables of contents of poetry books: the titles are boring. Let me give some examples of titles like the ones I’ve seen:

  • Rain
  • Love is in the Heart
  • John
  • I Apologize
  • A 70,000 WORD RUN-ON SENTENCE! *
  • Reason for Love
  • Sonnet
  • Tanka #362

* This one is real.

Now, are any of these really enticing titles? The 70,000 Word, etc. is interesting, at least, but enticing? People put their hearts and souls into writing a poem, and then give it a title that is so plain vanilla that most people would skip over it. Why should I take the time to read a poem called “Rain?” Here’s what I expect:

It’s wet.
Thank you.

And as for naming the poem after the form, most people won’t know the difference or care. Give it an interesting title of its own.

So, in choosing a title, put at least as much effort into it as you did coming up with the poem idea. Give something interesting for the reader, something to catch the eye. Make the reader think, “That’s interesting. I wonder what that poem’s about?” Or even better, “I’ve gotta read that poem!” Let’s look at some more interesting examples of real poem names:

  • Cellblock Evolution
  • The Problem with Poetry
  • Allium Sativum
  • The Hanged Man
  • Run from a Dying Man
  • Make it Tea Today
  • Tainted
  • Dirty Windows
  • Watching the Trains Collide.

Perhaps they aren’t all interesting to everyone, but they are more likely to earn a click or a page turn than the earlier examples. “Tainted” is a one-word title with interesting connotations. Is it a poem about bad food? Is it about love gone wrong? Is it about Typhoid Mary? All sorts of ideas come to mind. So, to find out more, I’ll click or turn the page.

My readers might be tempted to look back at the titles of the instances of this feature to see if I practice what I preach. A few of them are plain vanilla titles. But most of them are intended to get you thinking, “What is he talking about today?”

So, do the same with your poetry and writing. Make your titles earn a click or page turn.

Happy writing!

The Gnostic Poet

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