Can the Wrong Title Kill Your Project?

Recently I wrote about finding my inner poet and I’ve been surprised at the results of my endeavors. I was fortunate to have an award winning poet look at some of my work. Her feedback removed the blinders I’d been wearing for several years. I’m preparing to submit three poems to a contest and hope to have final revisions of a fourth to send to another contest. In all, I’ll be submitting to three contests this month.

In the past I’ve mentioned that I’m not good at writing transitional scenes. Well, I’m rubbish at titles as well, especially poem titles. One of the poems I plan to submit has given me fits. Every title I pin to it just does not work. I’ve asked Tonya what she thinks of each of them and she only says, “It’s just not doing it for me.” Exasperating!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

But, it got me to thinking, how important is the title? I mean, if you submit something to a publication or agent will they make a snap judgment on the title alone? Some of my favorite poems have weird titles. For instance, my all time favorite poem is by Edna St. Vincent Millay and it’s called Theme and Variations, 2. Huh? The poem is a conversation between a woman and her heart and yet she’s lumped it into a group of eight poems with the title of Theme and Variations with only a number to distinguish them from the rest. Yes, they are all variations on the same theme, but still.

On the other hand you have a title like Edgar Allen Poe’s A Dream Within a Dream. It’s taken from the poem itself: “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.” As titles go, that’s a great one. Could it be considered a shortcut or even cheating? I’m not throwing stones, I’ve done the same thing myself.

Another way to create a title is to make it enhance the work itself. One poem comes to mind that demonstrates this brilliantly: In A Dream by Eleni Fourtouni. The poet uses the pronoun ‘You’ and tells of something that happens to this ‘You.’ Without the title it could stand alone and be a kind of creepy poem; with the title explaining that she had a vision In A Dream enhances the vibe and in my opinion makes it even creepier.

So, I ask you, can the wrong title kill your project?

On a side note, a title for that exasperating poem came to me while driving yesterday. Haven’t ran it by Tonya yet, but if she disagrees that’s too bad. I know it fits perfectly.

  • I’m glad you finally thought of a title! I don’t think a weak title will necessarily kill an otherwise good poem, but I do think a great title will always enhance one. I’ve never read “In A Dream” by Eleni Fourtouni; adding it to my list!

    • It’s hard to find information on Fourtouni. I’ve tried. LOL The “In A Dream” poem is in a book called Love Poems by Women. My friend owns the book and I photocopied the page because it triggered my imagination. You may not find it as creepy as I do, but it’s a great example of poetry to be sure.

  • I’m glad you finally thought of a title! I don’t think a weak title will necessarily kill an otherwise good poem, but I do think a great title will always enhance one. I’ve never read “In A Dream” by Eleni Fourtouni; adding it to my list!

    • It’s hard to find information on Fourtouni. I’ve tried. LOL The “In A Dream” poem is in a book called Love Poems by Women. My friend owns the book and I photocopied the page because it triggered my imagination. You may not find it as creepy as I do, but it’s a great example of poetry to be sure.