What’s in a Name

This is the online version of my poetry newsletter, Etch To Their Own, sign up here to get poetry in your inbox every Friday!

I completely forgot to give you a subject line last week, and this can obviously not be forgiven.

But on the other hand, it does give me a chance to look at the idea of why we title poetry.

There’s really three versions of the poetic tile:

  1. The encompassing concept title
  2. The first line title
  3. The ordering title
  4. Something else I’ve forgotten? Let me know.

The first is say, something like The Waste Land, which sets out the stall for the entire scope of the poem.

The second is the lazy version — and the cheating version where you use the first line of the poem. This is mostly the untitled poem — or the poem which is named something like Sonnet 18, but isn’t in a sequence.

The third is the ordering title, a little like calling something Canto IV. To say that the poem is part of a larger work.

Each gives the reader something different to take into the poem. With something with a concept title we know the intention of the author — we have the theme, it’s the metadata of the poem — an instruction for how to read the poem.

The Waste Land tells us that we’re discussing a place, not a country, something that has been renamed by the author, it evokes the wounding of a place by war and the inability of those inhabiting it to function with love and humanity. This means when we approach the poem we have to see it’s contents as something descriptive, taxonomically enlightening, to the title. In the case of the concept title, everything else must flow from it to support it.

With the untitled poem, which we usually take the first line from, we are often helping ourselves understand the poem for its content. It is also often used for poems where their first line is the most powerful line, or does the scene-setting work of the title in the concept titled poem. The difference is the second type doesn’t ask you to hold it all together under the concept presented in the first line. You know there is more of a linear progression from the start to the end in one way or another. You’re not necessarily being asked to hold on to the entirety of the poem all at once and it’s context and comparison with other elements has to be given with other formal elements.

The poem in sequence asks you to consider it in not only it’s entirety, as a functional unit, but as a step with those that surround it. It has to be compared to the previous and past poem.


Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen shared this with us via Rust + Moth, enjoy Photographs Of God:

How’s that for a title?


Today’s song:

Kiedo — Thas NY Baby!


Thanks for reading this week’s Etch To Their Own, I hope the title was more satisfying this time! Etch To Their Own was written by @CJEggett and proofread by no one. This weekend I am wandering around Centre Parcs. Get in touch to let me know if you’re wandering, at all.

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