In a recent interview, I was asked, “Do you have tips on choosing titles?”
I wrote this as my answer: “I used to hate coming up with titles, and then a few years ago, I realized what great opportunities they were, and I started to love titling things—stories, poems, essays. For stories, I like unearthing a phrase I used in the piece that seemed insignificant but really encapsulates the story, or seems to mean one thing initially but has a different (or double) meaning once you read the work. I love titling a poem with something that gives the poem a different/deeper meaning. (For example, if it’s a poem that on the surface is about learning how to run, but the title is, ‘One Year After My Son Died,’ you’d read it differently.)”
When a writer uses a title to add meaning and/or depth to the work, I think of it as allowing the title to do some of the heavy lifting of that piece of writing.
Hannah Cohen’s poem, “At Lunch, I Learn My Father May Have Alexithymia,” is a perfect example of a poem whose title does some of its heavy lifting. (And if you don’t know what alexithymia is—I didn’t— here is the definition from the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary: “inability to identify and express or describe one's feelings.”)
Here is Hannah’s poem:
At Lunch, I Learn My Father May Have Alexithymia
In the middle of a burger restaurant,
he looks at me, parts
his mouth and before he asks, I say
yes, I’m going to finish
my french fries. Yes. All
of them. Even the nubs.
I dip one into the tin
cup of ketchup, breathe in, bite
and bite until I’m at the end of myself.
Thank you, Hannah, for allowing me to share this poem as part of my National Poetry Month celebration.
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Every week this month—National Poetry Month—I am offering up a poem in hopes that those who already love poetry will discover a new poet, and in hopes that those who don’t normally read poetry find poems that are accessible and that speak to them, too. My friend, Robert McCready, is reciting each poem, so have a listen here to Hannah Cohen’s work.
Photo of fries by Mae Mu from Unsplash.com.