Although Charles Simic was recently appointed Poet Laureate of the United States, that is not the kind of title I want to write about right now. In fact, there is so much to admire in his Selected Poems 1963-2003, that examining his choice of poem titles almost seems myopic. It has often been my experience, however, that honing in on a very specific element of craft can provide the necessary level of detail to illustrate more universal points.
The entire book, once I began reading it that way, became a lesson to me in how to write a good title. Titles are a kind of meta-line — a line that hovers from the very beginning over every other line of the poem, coloring it. It can be a key to understanding what’s going on in the poem, a one-stroke scene setup, or even perform double-duty as the first line of the poem. Simic rarely uses it in any of these ways.
Instead, his work explores the tension created by pitting a compelling title against a compelling poem. He seems well aware that this discrepancy can create a kind of titular anxiety, as the reader keeps referencing back to the title mentally through out the course of the poem, searching for a connection. What Simic gives us, however, is rarely a key or answer in the title, but more often something like a question that is actually more interesting than any neatly-tied-up statement.