A good title not only draws readers in, but it can also be the actual start of the piece you are writing or can allude to some crucial meaning hidden in the writing. A good title is as important as your opening line, paragraph, or page – it should catch the attention of the reader as well as providing some insight as to what is coming.

Titles of poem, in particular, serve an important role. In an article for the website “Through the 3rd Eye,” poet Sue Silverman, said, “Even as titles, of course, are important for all genres of writing (fiction, nonfiction), I feel they’re especially important for poems. Since poems are short, the title needs to capture the underlying essence of the poem. Additionally, a title is important in that it must act as a portal that invites the reader into the poem. In that sense, then, it must convey a sense of mystery or intrigue, make the reader want to discover what the title (and, thus, the poem) means.”

I’m a sucker for funny titles. Early in my career, I wrote copy for a local community hospital’s consumer magazine. The guy who was in charge of putting the magazine together had a keen and wry sense of humor that matched my own, and the two of us came up with some rather witty titles for our stories – titles that were always struck down by the hospital’s editorial representative who had to okay everything. Our endeavors, however, paled compared to the story the hilarious Molly Ivins told about being a reporter for the New York Times. She was covering a story in New Mexico, where she encountered a small town that had an annual festival where the people came together to slaughter all of their chickens. Unfortunately, her editor at the Times did not seem to share Ivins enthusiasm for titling the article “Gang Pluck.” Still, the title was perfectly targeted to stir up interest and give some indication about what was to follow.

But back to more serious endeavors. Sage Cohen, in her book Writing the Life Poetic, offers the following questions to help you choose titles for poetry. I think they may also be helpful for choosing titles for any piece of creative work:

  1. Do you want the read to know exactly what the poem will be about after reading the title?

  2. How would a more abstract title – one that represents a key theme of the poem – work?

  3. Is there exposition in the poem that could be cut and replaced with a title?

  4. Would the first line work well as a title?

  5. Would the last line work well as a title?

  6. Is there a phrase within the poem that captures the essence of what the poem is about?

  7. How can I use the title to shed light on or add depth to the poem?

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