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?