Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Titling a poem before it's a poem

I am subscribed to this poetry newsletter in which I receive one poem to read each day. (I actually subscribe to two of these types of newsletters, so that’s two poems to read each day.) With one of the newsletters, it includes a poet’s comments about the poem. There was one poem I read last week which I found particularly enjoyable.  When I read the poet’s comment on her poem, she said that she had titled this poem first and that titling her poem first was “unusual for me.”

That made me think, this is unusual for a poet? I have done this before. It’s possible other poets have titled their poems before writing the poem.

I have done the same thing with my own poems quite a few times. Sometimes, it’s just a phrase that grabs me and I want to turn it into a poem. Or, other times, a newspaper article inspires a poem, and something from the article becomes the title. The first case happened with a poem in my WIP, a collection of general poems. The phrase caught my eye, but I had no idea what the poem would be about. That would come later. With the second instance, I was so moved by an article I read in the online edition of a newspaper, that I created a poem based on the article. The title, “Among the Dead,” came from the article. (This poem is in my poetry book, Remember the Soldier.)

As mentioned, sometimes I won’t know what the poem will be about, only that there is a title. So I’ll write this title down in my writing notebook then figure out the poem later. Or sometimes the poem will eventually come to me after I write down that title.

Figuring out the poem that should go with the title can be tricky. So I’ll ask myself, what does that title make me think of? What does it represent? What kind of images and feelings do I get from that title? All of this can help me create the poem. But failing that, it’s also helpful to just give the poem time to grow. I’ll figure it out at some point.

Then again, writing down the title without the poem doesn’t always mean I don’t have a poem to go with it. I may be too busy to write the poem but want to get that title down before I forget it. I’ll end up walking around with that poem stuck in my head until I finally have a chance to write it down.

There’s nothing wrong with creating a poem’s title before that actual poem. I imagine quite a few other poets do this, too. There’s some kind of “mystery” when you have a title for a poem before the actual poem. It can be an interesting challenge in figuring out just the right poem to go with that title. The right poem for that title is there and can be found; it's just a matter of working with the title and what it brings to mind. The above tactics have worked for me. Perhaps other poets out there have figured out their poems in some way or another, too.

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