Titles, and how do you choose?

Do you pick up a poetry book because of its title?

I’ve been casting about for alternative titles for my next collection. I have a hard enough time finding poem titles, but a book? This one has a title already, but I wondered whether I could find an even better one.

(Caveat: I always want the title to be a phrase or a title from a poem in the book. Is this a rule, or is it just my rule?)

I searched through the manuscript and came up with a list of potential contenders, narrowed the list.

Then I asked myself: How often do I buy a book of poems based on the title? My bookshelves told me: almost never. The possible exception is A Heron in Buenos Aires (and I love that title poem). Maybe If You Return Home with Food (Mary Crockett Hill), but I think I saw that poem, or another poem from that book, on one of the poem-a-day websites. And that’s how I usually choose poetry books. I see a poem I like online or in an anthology, or I hear poems at a reading and want to read the whole book. Or a friend recommends a book. Or I walk into Open Books looking for some style or subject, and John and Christine help me find a book.

Perhaps this worry over titles isn’t worth it–although I appreciate a title that reaches out and grabs me–a title that seems like a whole poem in itself. I looked for some others:

A Wild Patience has Taken Me This Far (Adrienne Rich)
And Her Soul out of Nothing (Olena Kalytiak Davis)
The Museum of Clear Ideas (Donald Hall)
The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception (Martha Silano)
How Late Desire Looks (Katrina Roberts)

Notice how long some of these are?

Do you prefer long titles, or short titles with plenty of space around them?

(I confess: Now that I’m looking at the shelves, I’m falling in love with all the titles. Maybe it isn’t about length, but a sense of mystery.)

How do you choose your titles? And how do you choose your books?

2 Replies to “Titles, and how do you choose?”

  1. T., I have a hard time coming up with titles for these blog posts!

    For poems, I’ve sometimes had good results with thinking of the title as the most important line in the poem. But for manuscripts?

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