Monday, October 22, 2007

In Defence of Madeleine and The One Dollar Dickens

Sometimes the naming of things is the stuff of myths. It is the act of creation, the bringing into being by forming sound, shaping destinies with a few well-chosen syllables.

This is why mothers spend months agonising over lists of names, why people go into five star hotels for entire weekends and subsist on coffee and liqeur chocolates so that the right name can be found for a product.

But sometimes, if you cannot find exactly the right name for something, it is better to leave it unnamed.

Or so I think.

When I asked Anindita how she thought of names for her poems, I had this in mind. She turned the question back to me, and I said that mostly I don't title my poems; I just pull out the first line and stick it in the title. But really, there are so many ways to name a poem.

Sometimes the title comes first

At Koshy's, Anjum was telling us about this restaurant where she's had lunch. It was called Madeleine. She'd told me about this place earlier that afternoon, and I had said, Madeleine, as in Proust? Again, at Koshy's, Jeet drew a line between the restaurant and the author. See what I mean? there's something to be said for the names you choose.

Earlier, Anjum had expressed her dissatisfaction with the food; now that Zac was drawing broader brushstrokes and comparing the crepes unfavourably with the dosas at the nearest local place, she was compelled to find nice things to say about it.

Which was when I said the first part of the title of this post.

'Hey! There's a poem in there!' Anjum said.

A couple of days later, on email, a friend told me about a couple of Dickens found on the pavement for a dollar each. One Dollar Dickens has a ring to it, doesn't it? Another poem there.

Sometimes you spend more time on finding the title

The poem writes itself easily enough. But somehow, making the first line do all the work is not an option. You feel that if only you had the exact, right title, it would do something more for the poem.

So, like Pirandello's characters, you set out in search of a title - each word in your first line with a bundle tied at the end of a stick, all its worldly belongings in there, with a song on its lips and sturdy footwear on its feet for the long dusty road ahead.

Sometimes the title is the first line

There's a Roger McGough poem about this. I just can't find it. The title is the first line and the first line of the poem is really the second and so on.

Ideally, the first line ought to be in bold, or typographically, but not physically, separate from the rest of the poem.


there are times when you're not sure which came first because it doesn't matter - everything is organic and whole, and yet clever (not a dirty word here) and perfect.

Yes, no?


Falstaff said...

"One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it oranges."

- Frank O'Hara

The whole thing here:

Falstaff said...

P.S. Oh, and then, of course, there's Natasha Saje's series of poems where the title (and 'inspiration') of the poem is a single letter. See

??! said...

falsie! Use the "a href" tag. Blogger just doesn't know how to wraparound links - they keep getting cut off.

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: I did think of the O'Hara poem while writing this post. And thanks for the Saje. Lovely!

??!: Don't you think managing bolds and itals is enough?! One's got to remember tags a week long?

??! said...

but it gets cut!

Falstaff said...

??!: You know, I've always wondered how people do that - put links in comments.

So would it be like


Falstaff said...

Yaay! I learn something new everyday.

Here are the other links (I'm on a roll here):




??! said...

falsie is ginyus!

yep, that's the good ol' "a href" tag. thanks for the links.

Cheshire Cat said...

Sometimes the title is enough, there's really no need for the poem. A lot of Wallace Stevens' poems don't do his titles justice.

Best title ever? Beckett's "Imagination Dead Imagine"

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: Yay! I should do this myself.

Cheshire Cat; Surely you mean, his titles don't his poems justice?

Falstaff said...

space bar (/cat): No, I suspect he means exactly what he says. And I agree. I still remember the shock of disappointment from reading 'Phosphor reading by his own light' or 'The Revolutionists stop for Orangeade'. I expected so much more.

Cheshire Cat said...

space bar: what falstaff said