How To Title a Poem

How To Title a Poem

“Fog,” “Song of Myself,” “On the Pulse of Morning,” “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Poetry titles can be single words or evocative phrases, literal or fanciful, beautiful and intriguing — and a poem’s title can be just as powerful as the poem itself. And before you think about publishing a poetry book, you need to hone in on the titles of your poems.

Choosing the right name for your poem is crucial, and can help draw in readers, provide valuable information and context, and set the stage for all that comes next. But choosing the best name to enhance your poem’s impact can be a challenge. If you’re looking to pick the perfect title for your work, check out the tips and ideas below.

The role of a title in poetry

A great title can elevate your poem in multiple ways. The right title can:

  • Draw readers in with a strong first impression. The title is the very first thing that readers will see when they engage with your poem. If the name sparks curiosity, elicits a strong feeling, or creates some sort of question or intrigue that makes readers want to explore further, you’ve done your job.
  • Set the perfect tone. Whether your poem is humorous or horrifying, bittersweet or wistfully inspiring, the title can create a great mood or tone from which to launch your poem. By simply titling his poem “The Raven,” Edgar Allen Poe created a sense of ominous foreboding, and the title “Still I Rise” sets up Maya Angelou’s words to take the reader soaring. A well-chosen title or phrase can set the appropriate tone for your own great works.
  • Provide valuable context. Two poems by Emily Dickinson — “Hope is the thing with feathers” and “Because I could not stop for death” — show how much key information can be provided in the title alone. The first elicits a theme of hope and a sense of elevation and atmosphere, while the second communicates a narrator who is coping with loss and the continuation of life around it. In your own writing, think about what key information needs to be presented right up front, and see if you can artfully weave those messages into the poem’s title.

5 Tips for titling your poem

There’s no rules when it comes to the words or capitalization rules for your title. Here are some ideas to help you get started choosing the perfect title for your poem:

  • Draw inspiration from your poem itself. Read your poem several times through and pay attention to how you react. Do specific words, phrases, lines, images, or feelings stand out to you? Does your poem imply something that could be stated explicitly as its title? Are you left with some feeling or sensation? Any of the above can serve as inspiration for a great poem title.
  • Consider the theme or central idea. Does your poetry collection focus on themes like simple joys, death and loss, change and growth, or fractures and repairs? Regardless of what your poems explore or express, take a bird’s eye view of your work and keep what you see in mind as you pick your captivating titles.
  • Use intriguing or evocative language. Some of the best poem titles are the ones that hook readers and make them want to know more. Who exactly is J. Alfred Prufrock, and what does it mean for the morning to have a pulse? Similarly, strong poem titles can provoke images and feelings that draw readers in.
  • Keep it simple. If you make your poem’s title too complex, the whole thing can start to feel artificial and contrived. Remember that the title of the poem sets the scene, but should in no way upstage the poem itself.
  • Make your title reflect the poem’s vibe, form, and style. While it’s often a good creative practice to break rules and try unconventional things, unless you have a strong reason to do so, keep your title and the poem itself consistent when it comes to form and style. Titling a Shakespearean-themed sonnet with a phrase from contemporary social media slang, for example, could be more jarring, confusing, and off-putting than helpful.

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Exercises to write good poem titles

If your poem’s title comes to you in a flash, fully formed and perfect, wonderful. But if you’re unsure of the type of name your poem deserves, a brainstorming session can help. Here are some ways to get started on the creative process:

  1. Look for words or phrases from your poem’s text that might also work as a title.
  2. Read through your poem, take a breather, and then write down as many possible titles as you can think of. Don’t be afraid to write down titles that don’t seem right in the moment; ideas that may look bad initially can often sparkle when revisited.
  3. Visualize your poem published in a book or journal and pay attention to the title that you imagine on the page.
  4. Use online tools like poem title generators or AI chatbots to come up with different titles that might be a right fit. Remember that these utilities should be used as ways to spark your imagination, and not as a replacement for your own creativity.
  5. Ask other people to read your poem and share their reactions, then see if anything they say inspires you with possible title ideas.

Once you’ve gathered potential names and whittled the list down to one or several finalists, it can be helpful to get feedback and revise your title. When you show your poem and its title to trusted readers, do they find that the name pulls them in, and that it fits organically with the poem itself — or is the name boring, unclear, or closer to lackluster clickbait? Of course, you’re the ultimate judge of the best name for your poem, but outside feedback can certainly help you get your work where you need it to be.

Also, consider the possibility that perhaps your poem doesn’t need a title at all. James Baldwin, Alexander Pope, and countless others have written poems that don’t have official names. Do you feel that your work is complete unto itself, and that adding a title would subtract rather than add to the overall impact? If so, maybe an unnamed poem is the best way to go.

The final touch: BookBaby’s editing services

Your poem is written and your title has been crafted, tested, and refined. The final step? Using BookBaby’s expert book editing services to give your work the professional polish it needs to truly shine. BookBaby’s editors have years of experience helping DIY poets realize their literary dreams — and they can do the same for you.

Also, be sure to reach out to BookBaby for all of your poetry needs, including poetry book printing, book formatting, and book cover design.

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