Friday, August 9, 2019

insert title here [edited to: the faucet is on]

Today I'm composing my post late and in grief for the loss of Lee Bennett Hopkins, whose death I only just learned of today.  There has been a loss in my own household, too, of first young love, so goodbyes are heavy on my mind. I think our host today, Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone, chose a beautiful farewell poem in Lee's own words which I would like to repeat here.  His entire life was "World, Make Way."

from BEEN TO YESTERDAYS, Lee Bennett Hopkins 1999

“Please give me strength to laugh
the strength to try
the strength to laugh
the strength to cry
the strength to hope
the strength to cope
the strength to one day say good-bye
to fly into a bright sky.”

I think all who knew Lee notice first of all that repetition of  "strength to laugh."  We don't get through this life in one piece without being able to laugh (and sometimes not even then), and that was indeed one of Lee's great strengths.  Here's my post about the first time I met him.

And now, on to the conundrum of titles.  I sympathize with Molly about the challenge of choosing titles, because I think titles are VERY VERY IMPORTANT.  There is nothing that steams me more than when an artist, visual, literary or otherwise, calls a work "Untitled."  WHAT?  What a wasted opportunity!  (The only person I am cool with using no titles is Emily Dickinson and I will have to go and interrogate my reasons for that pass I am so willing to give...)

A title can do so many things.  It can serve as an announcement of something about to take place; it can work as a thesis statement, it can honor a person or event, it can point out something about the poem that you wouldn't have noticed otherwise, it can deliberately send you in a whole 'nother direction so that the poem wallops you with contrast or surprise, it can simply repeat a phrase from the poem to tell you what flavor you're about to enjoy, and some good titles can do several of those things simultaneously.

Now, I do enjoy (and think perhaps I have a flair for) naming things.  I often fantasize about being the person who gets to name the paint or lipstick colors, and I have always enjoyed getting to be the person, as teacher, who gets to name the class anthology by picking just the right line from one kid's poem.  Many of my poems grow directly out of a phrase that sounds like a good title, and when I have to pick a title out of nowhere, I can usually do it without second-guessing my first instinct.

But I am currently facing a titling challenge, for a longer collection of poems that I think will have four sections, so the overall title and the title for each section are extra-important to get right.  I need them to help make the theme or arc of the book (I type that so hopefully that it will become a book!) will be clear.

And yet I am so often about NOT being particularly clear in my titling.  Despite my aversion in regular walking life to ambiguity, in my poetry I always want to be as ambiguous as possible, in order to allow as many readers in to the ownership of the poem as possible.

So I'm experiencing--with some frustration and some pleasure--this titling challenge.  You who have more experience in consciously employing Global Titling Strategies (that should be the name of a helpful paid service) are invited to let me know what has worked best for you.

In other news, I downloaded the entirety of this blog into a searchable, editable book using this app (another helpful service, and it was worth it).  Having deleted everything but my original poems, I find that I am left with a 225-page book of my work over the last 10 years, approximately 400 poems.  And that doesn't even count the poems that are on my computer and in my notebooks but not on the blog.  I think I can now let go of the feeling that I don't write enough.  To be sure, it's not as though I've written a poem a day for 10 years (that would be 3650 poems), but still, I'm feeling accomplished--which is not a bad feeling to have as I start gearing up for another school year.  In fact I feel like I might deserve my own title: maybe
                                                                Heidi the Sufficient?


  1. Your "Heidi the Sufficient" reminds me of a shirt of Dash's that says "Good Enough" (
    400 poems is fantastic, though! Definitely accomplished and deserving of a more enthusiastic title than sufficient.
    I would give Emily D a pass too, perhaps especially because she seemed to be primarily writing for herself.

  2. Quite interesting that Molly uses the idea of 'stealing' a title & writing her own poem for it. Perhaps those titles already employed do deserve another look. Thanks for the links that I will check out & congratulations for the words/poems captured. I might say it's not only 'sufficient', but 'affirmed'! Best wishes for a grand start to your year.

  3. Hahahahaha! The Sufficient. That makes me are quite MORE than sufficient I think. The thing about titles are that they are the way I feel about shoes and purses. I want a pair of shoes or a purse to serve all occasions. And, they cannot. There are some that serve fancy situations and some that serve work and some that serve mucking around outside. The right title...the perfect title is super tough to find. But, I do like The Sufficient.

  4. Heidi, titles are extremely important to me. I think the title of a workshop makes or breaks the event. Many people gravitate to posts, workshops, poems based on a title so there is a great deal of thought in this undertaking for me. You are quite a prolific and wonderful writer as noted by the number of poems written on your blog. BTW, this week I posted two definitos at my blog and tweeted them with credit to you for pushing me beyond my comfort zone (my poems went through many revisions so I am ready to showcase them and look for comments.)

  5. Oh Heidi, First...I am so sorry for your loss. It’s been difficult and I didn’t meet Lee. And thank you for sharing the app. I want to do that with my blog. I like the pondering of titles. 400 poems seems prolific not suffice to.

  6. Another thanks for that app! Glad to see that your titling conundrum is simultaneously struggle and pleasure. As all writing should be. I think YOUR title should be more like Heidi the Bold or Heidi the Explorer. Just sayin'. Way more than sufficient, imho.

  7. I thought of you when I heard about LBH's death. Such a terrible loss to this community. I am wishing that I had met him. Your post about titling is funny because I get it. Titles are not usually a problem for me, either, but I am also not sure which direction you should go with your WIP. But you are definitely Sufficient, a great title.

  8. We can never read that poem of Lee's enough. It's so full of wisdom. Your post is a comfort as have been the others I've read over the last few days.
    Congrats on all of the writing you've accomplished! Be proud!
    As far as titles, I try to find one poem in the collection that I feel most notably brings the theme to life and/or pulls the collection together, and then I take one line from that poem to title the collection. If you end up deciding that you would like specific suggestions, I would be happy to take a look at a few poems and try to come up with some ideas. Just let me know.

  9. Heidi the Sufficient, indeed! What an accomplishment on your collection of poems and your book to be. Good luck with the titles. I find that I either find the perfect inspiration or fall flat completely!

  10. Thanks for sharing another of Lee's poems, along with your link to how you met him. I had poetry books of his before I knew who he was.

    You're much more than sufficient Heidi–titles definitely deserve some time, especially for a book. I like some that have been offered up here. Interesting jaunt into this topic. When I was in undergraduate school I had a ceramics instructor that taught us the crash or soar method of critique, fortunately I learned quickly to soar–good luck!

  11. I always love reading your posts, Heidi. You have such a wonderful way of expressing yourself and inviting readers into a relationship with your words. While your title struggle may be ongoing, I have no doubt that you'll emerge with a doozy!


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!