Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poetry Prompt #82 - What's in a Title?

I think we’ll all agree that while we’re wary of judging books by their covers, we often “judge” poems, at least at first blush, by their titles. Sometimes, an amazing title is just what a poem needs to draw readers in.

This week, let’s “play” with an old prompt idea in which you think of a few well-known poems that you especially like. Reflect on the titles and see if there’s one that you can change to keep the “sense” of it similar but the meaning completely different. After you’ve made a change that works for you, write a poem that “goes with” the new title.

Here are some examples:

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
might become “Stopping by the Park on a Summer Morning”

Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard”
might become “Elegy Written on a City Street”

John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” 
might become “Ode to a Sparrow”

Carl Sandburg’s “Fog”
might become “Smog”

T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
might become “The Love Song of __________ " (you fill in the blank)

Now, here’s the important part: your finished poem needn’t bear any resemblance at all to the inspiration poem. In fact, the goal is to make your poem entirely different and entirely your own. You might even want to change the title after you’ve written the poem.

The goal this week is to have some creative fun with the prompt idea and, more specifically, to think about how important your poems’ titles can be. Remember that a good title gives your prospective readers a hint of what’s to come without giving too much away. It introduces readers to the heart or emotional center of a poem and invites readers to enter the poem and spend time with you.


  1. I think I'll make William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" into "The Red Corvette" or "The Red Shelby!"

    A fun idea that addresses the importance of titles!

  2. Titles! How difficult they are at times. Thanks, Adele - this is great!


  3. Thanks, Jamie! You're right, titles can be a challenge!

  4. How do you feel about untitled poems?

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  5. Interesting question, Maire. When I encounter an untitled poem I find myself wanting to title it. A poem without a title seems a little sad to me.