Some thoughts on titles.

I hope, at some stage,  to publish another book or pamphlet. Until such time as I have enough poems,  I’ll do what poets do.

Most days (or nights) I’ll look at a recent or an old draft and move words around. I’ll substitute words. I’ll alter line breaks or see how the poem looks as a block or in tercets.  I’ll take the solid little sonnet and break it into couplets. I’ll get rid of lines   and reinstate them. And sometimes I’ll admit the poem is going no-where and throw it away. Or maybe start something new. I’ll read the news or do some research while I wait for something to happen. Or I’ll watch geese flying over the house and try to write a poem about writing about geese flying over the house. The geese might become a metaphor and then change back to being geese. moon_geese-preview1

I’ll think I’m onto something and lose it, or not even know I’m onto something until it’s almost finished. Joyfully, a poem might start from nowhere and surprise me by coming to a satisfying finish.

And after thousands of variations of the above processes, I might have a group of poems that I would like to show to a potential publisher. Now I’m going to need a title. And this is why I try to think up potential titles and keep a little list. I like to head up my draft collection and live with the title for a while. Things that look great for a week sometimes lose their appeal.  I might try out titles on friends and family. Quite often they will tell me that my promising title is in fact, pretentious rubbish.  Or just rubbish. And of course, when you finally settle on a title, your publisher may have other ideas.

So the business of choosing a title can be difficult, but I have faith that the right one will arrive eventually. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is failure after failure, with no loss of enthusiasm.’

I know that most writers’ will Google their potential titles. There are only so many single word titles, or sort combinations of words, so quite often someone will have already published a book with the title you have chosen.  It can be very disheartening to discover someone has got there before you. At_the_South_Pole,_December_1911

The only way to guarantee that a title has never been used before is to make up your own word. I did that with ‘Gopagilla’ –actually my infant son’s word.  But I didn’t do it for any other reason than that title seemed to fit the collection, which contained quite a few poems in which the boy appeared.

If your title has indeed already ‘been taken,’ as is the case with my current favourite, I think there are a few factors to consider when deciding what you do next. If your book is a book or pamphlet of poems and you are fortunate enough to find a publisher, it is likely that it will be being published by a small press. Even if your manuscript has been taken by Cape or Faber, this is poetry, so you can safely assume your work will not make the best seller list.

You can, however, assume that most of the copies you sell will be at readings or via your own or your publisher’s website. You will be selling to people who read and write poetry; often people you know. Your book is unlikely to be on the shelves of major book sellers. This means you are not in competition with the novel, self-help book, or memoir by a celebrity car-destroyer with the same title.

You are not even in competition with the out of print poetry collection published in 1987 by the now defunct Small Phantom press. There is unlikely to be any confusion.  There are no copyright issues that I am aware of (unless you go for Harry Potter And The Pink Commode or some other variation on a popular film/book franchise,) and your slim volume is likely to be the only book with both your name and your title on it.

At the moment I’m considering sticking to my latest choice despite it’s having been used before.  I think it is worth hanging  on to your pre-loved title, unless of course, John Burnside or some other notable contemporary poet has nabbed it already. In which case you might want to go back to your list.


  1. I think this is maybe the best poetry cobweb post I’ve read in a while (including Anthony Wilson). I write this with ironically gritted teeth since you pre-empted one of my planned posts for ‘the the great fogginzo’. At the same time, can I say that the titles thing is also fun… toying with the name of your own, your very own, rock group.I must say I like a title that doesn’t sound like a poetry thing. Something puzzling. Wendy Pratt has a collection coming out called ‘Lapstrake’. My upcoming chapbook is called ‘Larach’ each has a precise history/backstory. Are those the best? Are you thinking of a follow up post about the title and a title poem, and where the latter goes in the collection and why? Anyway…thanks for this post and long may your lum reek. ‘Lum’ There’s a title. Bags me.


  2. Thank you very much John. I imagine that your post on titles would reveal a different and unique Fogginzo take on the subject. I have to admit I don’t plan my posts very often- they are irregular and come about when I get the urge. I usually write and post in one evening or morning off work. ‘Lum’- I like it.


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