Monday, June 26, 2006

Interesting to be working on poems without titles. I really like titles and the various spins they can put on a piece, so much so that I feel it's a good idea to jettison them for a while and see how poems move and shake without them.

Tracy Hamon once blogged nicely about titles.

16 Comments:

Blogger Alixandra Bamford said...

I'd be interested to read that blog entry re:titles.
Titles are often on my mind.
I rarely title a poem until after I've finished, and I always feel doubtful when it becomes important to the poem.
I also end up with one word titles far too often.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Alixandra Bamford said...

not that I mind giving a poem a title when I finish as opposed to earlier. I was a little unclear there.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I, personally, have no problem when a title becomes important to a poem. In fact, I wonder if it makes sense to talk about a poem as somehow complete in itself apart from the title, as if the title is somehow outside "the Work." Sure, a title has a different status from the rest, but I think it's at least potentially an integral part of the poem.

In the past, I've really enjoyed exploring the different relationships a title can have with the rest of a poem. I've found that a title can anchor the rest of the poem as if to circumscribe it and pin it down. It can point directly to a particular part of the rest of the poem and enact a kind of spin. It can add the shadow of an alternative reading by pointing to a different figurative register through with the poem can be read. It can begin the poem (i.e., also act as the poem's first word), which can ephasize both the word and the fact that it's at the beginning of a string of other words. In fact, assuming the poet or reader is alive to the multiplicity of forces in language, the possibilities are likely endless.

Having said that though, because I'm so attracted to titles, I'm finding it interesting to work without them. I figure, you know, it can be bad when an interest becomes an attachment, and that sometimes it's useful to go in directions opposite one's impulses.

Yeah, I often title poems last. Jay MillAr has just published a limited-edition chapbook of poems he wrote under titles someone else had given him (he read one of the poems at the last Lex).

I'll try to find that Tracy Hamon post and link to it in this comments field.

By the way, Alixandra, I'm really enjoying your blog. It's one of my favourites lately. I find it refreshing in its honesty with respect to poetry and writing.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Brenda Schmidt said...

Titles fascinate me. For Bone Conduction, a current project, instead of conventional titles I use specific times partly as points of entry and also as a record of an oscillation, the work itself less a poem and more a kind of transmission medium. These time-titles, consisting of a specific date and time, served the work as it developed and are important to the overall resonance and structure of the manuscript. However, its structure has been called into question. As a result I've been rethinking the way I've titled the entries. I'm trying to see another way.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Alixandra: Tracy's post is here.

Brenda: Are you changing the structure through the titles, or is it that a change in structure (sequence, etc.) is requiring subsequent changes to the titles? Both?

3:20 PM  
Blogger Alixandra Bamford said...

Mark: thanks.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Brenda Schmidt said...

Both I think, though I haven't tackled it yet. I'm still at the thinking stage, trying to see where and why the structure has failed. I suspect the time-titles set up certain expectations that work against the work, if that makes any sense. Perhaps the titles, as they stand, are too inflexible, or create an inflexibility, and become a barrier that the sound, rather than moving through, instead crashes into, depleting the work of energy. By "the work" I mean the manuscript as a whole. If the time-titles simply come off as journal-like headings and do not, say, raise questions about the perceived passage of time and matters of resonance, which are integral to the thinking around the work, then these titles are indeed barriers. The movement of the sequence is directly related to sound. Changing the titles will change the movement. Going without titles has its challenges too.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Brenda Schmidt said...

Oh my, "depleting the work of energy" implies there was energy in the first place, which is not what I meant to say. The work is a body, its structure symptomatic. I'm currently assessing it, but I have not come up with a diagnosis, much less a treatment.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Razovsky said...

I think the title is part of the poem, too, or at least it can be. Whether it acts as the first line or as a sort of preamble.

It bugs me, though, when a poem's last line and title are the same. (Except Ron Padgett's sonnet "Nothing in That Drawer," in which every line is identical to the title.

Stu

9:32 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Brenda: Do you remember this post of Angela's? What you're describing reminds me of it a bit. It sounds as though you're in a tough spot that's actually pretty exciting in its possibilities (though I admit I thoroughly enjoy revising, which might be a bit strange). I'm enjoying thinking about the ways in which titles, in their reference (and other relationships) to one another can change the shape of a book. Are you working by feel at this point? I always find it helpful to visualize the form, sculpt it, and then reflect on what it means after (possibly making adjustments). Do you feel a particular shape through with you (or the sound) can move? (I guess it's possibile to be very much on the outside too.) I realized through talking to Angela about her book that my own preference is to work intuitively and in response to the material itself rather than according to a predetermined structure (working against a structure also appeals to me, and I find different numbers of divisions meaningful: three might encourage thought about synthesis whereas two tends to emphasize opposition, I think). Do you have a different approach?

Stu: Idiot I am, I've never thought much about using an end-line as a title. Interesting. I guess you end up with something that feels circular or resolved, or in any case enclosed. Now I remember where I've seen this: in writing by students. Is this approach taught? (Often the final lines of these poems sound like "there, I proved it.") Maria introduced her recent Lex reading by talking about different ways to avoid "major chord" endings. I guess you could conceivably do this through such a title-end-line relationship as long as the two are light on content and focused instead on function and vector (through conjunctions or prepositions maybe), so you get a reference back without a heavy label.

I love that Padgett poem.

1:00 PM  
Blogger a.raw said...

intriguing thread!

the end-line title reminds me of poetry play/thought i practiced awhile ago. what happens to a title if it's not at the START of a poem? could that bolded kernel of assertion be located mid-poem, or at its end? how might shuffling the title's location affect its impact/authority? etc. etc. etc.

lately, i've been concocting a lot of titles without poems. not sure what to do with them yet. they may be one-line poems (title and poem, all-in-one!); they may affix to other poems at later dates; they may gravitate to being a line in a poem. some of them include "The Nature of Canada, The Order of Suzuki, The David of Things"... "Adam and Ewe"... "So constantly breathing"...

one of my favourite titles I ever dreamt is "Diary beyond the horrible wind." i have this intense meteorological/medical connection to it. unfortunately, the horrible wind part always reminds me of really nasty vegetarian flatulence, so every time i revisit the title i have a moment of "awesome!" and then a fit of giggles and finally a lot of head-shaking. poor title, so abandoned.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Angela: I declare your final paragraph possibly the best ever to appear in a comment on my blog. Congrats!

There's at least one poem in Marjorie Welish's The Annotated "Here" and Selected Poems with a title partway through the piece.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Quit Bloglin' Me said...

When am I gonna learn not to drink coffee when I'm reading blogs? Nearly lost the keyboard over "nasty vegetarian flatulence", which isn't a bad title in and of itself, come to think of it.

I hate titles. I mean, I hate finding them. I've used first lines, last lines, bits in the middle, and I usually hate them all. But I think poems do well to have them, if only to serve as a point of reference.

Linda

2:43 PM  
Blogger Alixandra Bamford said...

Linda - I agree that a poem does well to have a title, even if it's not a very interesting one. Otherwise you have to go about calling it "the one I wrote about nasty vegetarian flatulence"

Re: last line titles - there is something anticlimactic about them, I feel. Usually I like to save my final line for last.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Brenda Schmidt said...

Thanks, Mark. Lots to think about there. I've been responding to your questions over the last while, only quietly. You're right, it is pretty exciting.

12:57 AM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

great blog, mark.

i enjoy thinking of a title mid way or after a poem's been written, because then the title comes quickly and usually has a little ironic referential twist. this helps me feel less boring (guilty) about referring. but when a ttile jumps out first, it's easier to write the poem i've been thinking about.

4:24 PM  

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