CONVERSATION #2: WHAT TO TITLE THE POEM

What follows below is a discussion on how four poets decided on a title for the chained hay(na)ku, the writing of which took place during May 2007.

JOHN: Mes amis–

I’m willing and happy to go with Ivy’s “Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?” as the title. But that’s just me …

IVY: [re: title suggestion] I think ‘Can we, can we?’

ERNESTO: Re: the title, I would say “Can We All”…

IVY: By the way, after we have all the title suggestions, if y’all agree it’s fair, I suggest we vote 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

1st is worth 4 points, 2nd three points and so on, then we’ll tally it up.

Okay, g’night for reals. It’s 12:07am/pm!

JOHN: As for Ivy’s suggestion that we weight votes, I’m in agreement.

EILEEN: First, re Ivy’s suggestion — I agree … At the moment, we have, in order of appearance:

  • “Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?”
  • “Can we, can we?”
  • “Can We All”

IVY: No votes yet until I have the fourth title suggestion. Once I do, y’all can send the votes to me and I’ll do the tallying, if you wish, and make the announcement in a following email and then we’ll have the title forever and ever more amen and please pass the fish.

EILEEN: Great! I like your suggested process…

Well, my thoughts on the title are still half-formed. But I’m wondering about a direction of, rather than alluding to the process which the other titles do (and there’s nothing wrong with that), of using the title to layer something onto the poem that perhaps surfaced as a possibility from the poem itself rather than any intention we had while doing the poem.

For example, and this is just an example, what if you tittled the poem something like “Lucifer.” Why? I had this in mind–

Why Lucifer? In Roman astronomy, Lucifer was the name given to the morning star (the star we now know by another Roman name, Venus). The morning star appears in the heavens just before dawn, heralding the rising sun. The name derives from the Latin term lucem ferre, bringer, or bearer, of light.” In the Hebrew text the expression used to describe the Babylonian king before his death is Helal, son of Shahar, which can best be translated as “Day star, son of the Dawn.”…

The scholars authorized by … King James I to translate the Bible into current English did not use the original Hebrew texts, but used versions translated … largely by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Jerome had mistranslated the Hebraic metaphor, “Day star, son of the Dawn,” as “Lucifer,” and over the centuries a metamorphosis took place. Lucifer the morning star became a disobedient angel, cast out of heaven to rule eternally in hell. Theologians, writers, and poets interwove the myth with the doctrine of the Fall, and in Christian tradition Lucifer is now the same as Satan, the Devil, and-ironically-the Prince of Darkness.

–from A Pilgrim’s Path by John J. Robinson

I won’t connect the dots between the poem and “Lucifer” as suggested by the above. For me, there’s a synchronistic link. But it doesn’t have to be “Lucifer” — although feel free to consider that my specific suggestion, for now — I’m suggesting a more unexpected approach to titling, without really having a specific idea yet besides Lucifer (which I had in mind only because while doing some mailing of my books, I stumbled across the above 2 paragraphs which happened to be in my book I Take Thee, English

IVY: If nobody objects, let’s begin. Start your engines.

Titles in order of appearance:

  • “Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?”
  • “Can we, can we?”
  • “Can We All”
  • “Lucifer”

[Note the elegant diminution!]

Vote 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th for the titles. 1st is worth 4 points, 2nd three points and so on, then we’ll tally it up.

Okay, have at it! Good luck!

ERNESTO: Hello, I’m not sure I understand how this works, but let’s see…

“Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?” – 4th
“Can we, can we?” – 3rd
“Can We All” – 1st
“Lucifer” – 2nd

That means I prefer Can We All, then Lucifer (even though I don’t really grasp why), then Can we, can we?, then the long one.

I must say I don’t really like the long one. (At all.) (Sorry, John!)

Is this how it’s supposed to be done?

IVY: Thanks, Ernesto. Here’s my vote.

“Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?” – 4th
“Can we, can we?” – 3rd
“Can We All” – 2nd
“Lucifer” – 1st

At the moment, Lucifer and Can We All are neck and neck at seven points each, according to my tally [well, my Excel sheet, really].

JOHN: Here are my clowns, er, my votes.

“Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?” – 4th
“Can we, can we?” – 2nd
“Can We All” – 1st
“Lucifer” – 3rd

EILEEN: This is ironic. This means that I cast the deciding vote? And the title I put in was supposed to be an example of a POV I was suggesting rather than a specific title?

Well, if the vote is mine, then I guess I would stick with “Lucifer” precisely because it’s a bit mysterious how the link to title and text of poem really relate…. and I like how that opens up another dimension in the work.

Actually, I thought John’s stringing together of the four individual titles was brilliant. And I’d be happy with that too.

But I suppose a one-word title is also always punchy.

So I vote Lucifer.

P.S. Did you still need me to vote or am I just casting a tie-breaker? Unless I missed something (and I’m reading all emails — all gazillions of them — rushedly today…. all voted before it got to me?)

IVY: Okay, points as they stand:

“Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?” – 3 pts
“Can we, can we?” – 7 pts
“Can We All” – 11 pts
“Lucifer” – 9 pts

Stay tuned.

Struth, this is like watching a presidential race or summink.

Eileen, I still need the rest of your preferential votes, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, please.

EILEEN:

“Can We All” – 2nd
“Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can
we?” – 3rd
“Can we, can we?” – 4th

IVY: ‘Can We All’ is our new title!

Thanks, everybody — I’ve attached a small picture of the voting tally. Please check if I’m right, but I think it was a close call.

title

Okay, time to turn into a pumpkin.

EILEEN: I don’t dispute the result of the survey. But if I may note — I don’t think it to be a particularly great title. But though I’m truly lukewarm with it, I’m happy with using it, with the caveat that if someone has another suggestion before we go public with the project (I probably will), we can still change the title if all agree.

JOHN: I take Eileen’s lack of enthusiasm re: the title seriously, and find myself in agreement, tho’ Lucifer does lay traps for troubadours or whatever, and suggest we don’t just settle. If we owe the poem, rather than own it, I think we should pay our debt to it with a title it deserves. So I suggest Round 2 to come up with a title that all DO think is “particularly great.”

ERNESTO: I must say I’m not particularly happy with the “Can We All” title, even though I suggested it. I thought of that because of John’s initial suggestion and because I thought it could have a relation to our attempt at becoming one voice through poetry, never sure if we could truly achieve that (or if it is achievable at all).

I’ve always been in love with the figure of Lucifer, the character in the Sandman comic book series is the manager of a jazz bar in Los Angeles and always wears trendy white suits… and, of course, is Morpheus’s most dangerous enemy, having shifted places with him once… and, sure, William Blake. Still, the reference to light and Eileen’s explanation notwithstanding, I think that the word Lucifer’s Christian implications would be at odds a bit with the overall unorthodoxy of the poem. Unlike Eileen, I think that two-word titles are catchier, because a single word seems too authoritative for me. As if the poem were about “Lucifer”, just like Derek Walcott’s Homeros is about the Odyssey.

If the decision has been taken, ok, but I think in general that we rushed the decision of the title — starting with the title suggestions — and that maybe it would be better if the poem’s title had something to do, thematically and formally, with what we may agree composes some of the main thematic threads of the poem. (A pun intended: not to be the devil’s advocate here, but maybe it would be better to reconsider titles, even if it means so much work).

IVY: I’m glad we’re deciding to reconsider the title. I’ll have another read of the poem and if I think of one, I’ll put it forward. And I’d be happy to do it again or maybe we can brainstorm a title together.

JOHN: I suggested last nite that we work more on the title, per Eileen’s (and my) dissatisfaction and now I (we?) can add Ernesto’s. So, if Ivy agrees, I suggest we go round 2 with the title.

Re: titles: I’ve found that some works have titles, some don’t. That’s why, if anyone looks at Zeitgeist Spam, they will see things called “No Sounds II No 3”, or “Autopoiesis IX”, or “658”, which is simply the file number applied by software to the image. I’m not suggesting this poem has no title. But it may not. And if it doesn’t, I think we should be careful not to force one upon it. That would be a disservice. Tho the poem will still need an identifier so it can be listed in the TOC of the next ed. of *World’s Greatest Poems*. Maybe the first (syntactical) line, Ernesto’s phrase, which I quote (in italics), will suffice…??? Many poems are known by their first lines … Just a thought. I’m not suggesting we give up on a title.

JOHN: I have come up with a candidate for title, if we’re into the 2nd round:

.rtf

I like that because it’s perfectly descriptive of the stage in which this poem is reaching its coming-to-rest, its as-is-ness, perfectly true, and because it neither determines nor overdetermines any possible reading.

Anyhow, Eileen, you were right, the conversation is at least as interesting as working on the poem proper. And when we’re done, perhaps the poem will appear as a mere footnote …

IVY: Hello again, I’ve come up with a few titles from this read-through:

  • a single nerve end flinch
  • the note that catches
  • is love love
  • illumine. Scars
  • flesh word what

JOHN: I like “flesh word what” best of these. Almost as much as .rtf! (Huge jokey grin! – tho’ I still do like .rtf) In fact I think I like

flesh word what.rtf

and happily put that forward as a candidate.

ERNESTO: I must say I like “flesh word what.rtf”.

EILEEN: Well, I like “flesh word what.rtf” better than “CAN WE ALL”. I also propose, though don’t know if I prefer it to “flesh word what.rtf” something like

Lucifer’s Third Courtship

again because I’m still tinkering with, not Lucifer per se but, the approach of layering another resonance that surprises to the poem. I loved Ernesto’s earlier point about one word versus two word titles — had never thought about one word titles that way before. And the reference to “Third” when we don’t know what first, second, fourth et al mean, to me, sets up another mystery that thus does not define the poem.

ERNESTO: “Lucifer’s Third Courtship” is a really interesting title. Very different from “flesh word what.rtf”, which explicitly invokes/evokes digital media and some sort of experimental-ness. “Lucifer’s Third Courtship” is intriguing, and even though I can feel Eileen’s poetic voice there more than “my own” (whatever that means but I hope you know what I mean), I think I like it because there is also the feeling of “descent” in the poem.

Now, the joy felt during the process notwithstanding, I must say all this process has been also torturous for me, at least a bit. It has demanded a lot of energy and it has been a trial, a test of sorts. If Lucifer was the Fallen Angel, the idea of descent, for me, is always there when I think of his name. And the way I have been reading these emails, getting the last one on top of my inbox and the previous ones -that I have never time to read sequentially and in the order they have come in- then the idea of hellish descent has indeed been there in my experience of discussing the poem.

Of course, for me this “hellish descent” has been most pleasurable.

JOHN: As for Lucifer’s Third Courtship, if that’s the consensus, I can live with it, but I don’t see anything that relates the title to the poem. Or doesn’t relate it. I get the descent thing, I get Eileen’s comments re: Lucifer. But … well, as I said, it doesn’t thrill me because it seems way too tangential, but I can live with it …

JOHN:

CAN WE ALL
“flesh word what.rtf”
Lucifer’s Third Courtship

This is my nomination for the actual title. It looks great to me, has a nice hay(na)ku tercet shape – offers multiple mutable mysteries and ambiguities – and was constructed by all of us. Not in this shape, exactly, but all our fingerprints are on it.

ERNESTO: Just playing around with possibilities:

“Can We Flesh Lucifer”

Or

“Can
we Flesh
Lucifer’s Third Courtship”

EILEEN: I think I’m preferring a one-line title, based on suggestions so far. I like Ernesto’s

“Can We Flesh Lucifer”

so far the best in terms of my preferences…

IVY: Nice title, Ernesto. The ‘Can We Flesh Lucifer’ one, I mean.

ERNESTO: I like “Can We Flesh Lucifer”! 😉 Other suggestions?

JOHN: I’m good with “Can We Flesh Lucifer”, too.

JOHN: Tho’ I’m good with “Can We Flesh Lucifer”, I’m not great w/it after rereading the poem. I think Lucifer overdetermines the reading. And not particularly in any direction my reading seems to “naturally” or “unnaturally” go. I’m better with “Can We Flesh” – that doesn’t overdetermine quite so much. And seems to have a great deal to do w/the poem as I read it. But this isn’t a no vote, it’s just a “When I read the poem I don’t find Lucifer anywhere” and I (just me, just me) don’t see how anyone could – unless one wants to get really Blakean and see the devils as revolutionaries. But we don’t prepare for that reading anywhere in the poem … But I’ll live happily w/a 3-1 vote …

ERNESTO I agree that the proper name “Lucifer” overdetermines the poem. It suggests a theme, (a grand one), and a reading… I’m not necessarily against that, but I just never thought of the Fallen Angel when reading/writing the poem…

“Can We Flesh” is something I like, I must say. I suggested “Can We Flesh Lucifer” because I am interested in a title that will make us all happy…

ERNESTO Which reminds me, I’d like to ask Eileen why/where she sees Lucifer in the poem… I am sure I am missing something here, perchance because of my own ignorance. I know, Eileen, you had already emailed us an explanation, when you first suggested the name, but I’d like to understand better in relation to the poem, if you don’t mind! Thanks! 😉

EILEEN: I didn’t have much more in mind re Lucifer than the two quoted paragraphs shared above — I did see the fits-and-stops in the unfolding of the Lucifer narrative, the misunderstandings, the mysteries to be all something I could find in the poem.

But perhaps Lucifer carries too much baggage to it and does overdetermine the poem. But remember, I’d really more suggested that as an example of an approach to titling, where titling would be less based on methodology (e.g. “Can we title…), but where the title might add an unexpected layer to the poem.

Of course, the tension seems to be between “unexpectedness” and “relevance.”

“Can We Flesh” is the best title, in my opinion, we’ve come up with so far. Not exotic enough for me, but certainly fitting. If we end up with that, that’s not bad….unless we come up with something else in the future, but it’s not a bad title…

JOHN:

Can We Circonflesh

Or, better, yet, to my ear/eye/mind at least

Circonfleshion

ERNESTO: What about “Skin Confessions”?

Also, we could also play with the idea of a title using the del tags, so the title appears sous rature or under erasure…

Wait! What about “Under Erasure”? Nah… (?)
ERNESTO:

Can We Flesh
Circonfleshion
Skin Confessions
Skinconfessions
Can We Flesh Lucifer
Can We Flesh Lucifer
Just Brainstorming Here… (not an actual title suggestion, he he)

ERNESTO: An aside: I just read in the June 2007 issue of Men’s Health (UK edition) that “doctors can now grow skin for burn victims using the foreskins of circumcised infants. One foreskin can produce 23,000 square meters, which is enough to cover the picth at Old Trafford three times with human flesh.”

What about this bloody poem popping up everywhere, uh?

EILEEN: Hmmm. That’s so interesting Ernesto. Brainstorming–what if we made this an epigraph to the poem:

“doctors can now grow skin for burn victims using the foreskins of circumcised infants. One foreskin can produce 23,000 square meters, which is enough to cover the pitch at Old Trafford three times with human flesh.”
– June 2007 issue of Men’s Health (UK edition)

I gotta read the poem again with the epigraph in mind to see if it works. But I note it now in case of interest (again, this fits in with my attempts to find layers within the poem that went beyond any of my/our conscious intentions as we wrote the poem).

EILEEN:

“Can We Flesh”

and

“Skin Confessions”

are in a tie for my favorite title suggestions so far

IVY: “Skinfessions”

JOHN: I like the epigraph idea — that quote is too good to let go by.

And “Skinfessions” is good. But to tie it a little closer to the epigraph:

4skinconfessions ???

That made *me* laugh …

ERNESTO: What about Four Skin Confessions?

We are four!

ERNESTO: (As you can see, I am not very keen on compound neologisms…)

JOHN: Your version doesn’t lose the pun … so it works for me … mine kinda looks like text messaging …

ERNESTO: So?

ERNESTO: Any other ideas?

EILEEN: Four Skin Confessions works very well for me!

I haven’t had a chance to revisit the poem yet with my earlier suggestion of epigraph…but it occurs to me that the combination of this new title with the epigraph may be too overdetermining. I’m not suggesting it is (haven’t had a chance to check the combo yet), but it’s something to check since you got that title word play and then the epigraph is regarding foreskins…

EILEEN: Hmmm. actually, on 2nd thought, the title and epigraph might work after all. but what do others think of the combo, if we go with this title? I think we got confirms from me, Ernesto and John. Ivy, do you like

Four Skin Confessions?

And, all, with or without epigraph?

IVY: Hi all,

I like the epigraph, though I think it takes the poem in a rather different direction.

Is the point of the epigraph to elucidate the poem, to add another dimension, or as an added point of interest? I hope someone can explain. 🙂

If we keep the epigraph, I would prefer that the title be changed to something like

‘Four Skinned Confessions’

because otherwise it just goes over the top for me.

ERNESTO: If I may say something about the proposed epigraph, I think I really see Ivy’s point (and what Eileen originally thought as well) that it would overdetermine the poem. I think the quote could be included as part of the conversation, but I’d personally feel that as an epigraph it does indeed guide the poem in a direction I personally never thought about…

JOHN: Agreed re: the quote overdetermining the poem. So, let’s not “epigraph” it. Since it’s been part of the conversation, it’s already in, I would think.

But unless someone claims it for more visible use, or tells me to piss off, I just may collage it into something. It’s way too good … especially if anyone follows Man U …

EILEEN: Okay with dropping epigraph– So, where are we with titles? Is it

Four Skin Confessions

?

IVY: Yep, that’s fine with me. 🙂 Teehee!

ERNESTO: He he. Unconscious thought: I’m a Chelsea fan!

JOHN: My vote: I go with Four Skin Confessions, too.

And, Ernesto, I probably like Barca as much as Man U (tho’ Chelsea is an amazing team these days …). We started following Man U when Sam was a little boy and the big gun was Eric Cantona – Sam loved that turned-up collar thing … tho’ his real heroes were Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkard …

All the good teams show what corruption can do. Who says capitalism and globalism are evils/ The bring us Man U and Chelsea and especially AC Milan …

ERNESTO: Yeah, I know. I’ve discussed this issue about capitalism, globalization and football elsewhere; I truly find it urgent to discuss it. As a teenager in Mexico I was fond of Liverpool as well, and Manchester City of all teams. I have a political/national empathy with Barcelona, and to a lesser extent (because of some Spanish pop music references) the Atletico. Now Liverpool is owned by USAmericans (and, as you know, Chelsea by a Russian). I think all this sparks interesting discussions about nationality, identity, representation, race, et cetera.

JOHN: a good friend of mine reminds me that The 4 Skins were an 80’s skinhead band and (as I read somewhere on the web) “As is almost inevitable for a skinhead band, the 4 Skins were ultimately branded as racist, sexist (which many people still were in the early 80s) and violent.”Just thought we ought to consider the association, which he made in an instant, and which others will make, too, before we go public with this thing.

IVY: People will make their own interpretations when the time comes. We can’t direct it.

ERNESTO: I never thought of the possible connections. I guess it would have to be kind of twisted to think that a poem written by four people with our particular last names would call themselves “skins”, and luckily it’s not “four skins’ confessions” but “Four Skin Confessions”. We’d be damned if we let the skinheads have the copyright of the word “skin” (or foreskin for that matter!).

ERNESTO: …on the other hand I always get my hair cut “one all over”… (and I like Dr Martens shoes!)
LOL

JOHN: OK. The association w/the “band of evil”’s been considered and so what? is the consensus. Fine w/me. Just thought it worth mentioning.

ERNESTO: It is indeed worth mentioning, John. I personally thank you for having brought up that!

2 Responses

  1. what an enjoyable read this discussion has been!

  2. Informative and Enjoyable to read! I have added your web site to my favorited sites. Be sure to keep me updated!

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