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Friday, December 29, 2017

Finding a title poem for your book title

For some poets and writers, titles come easily, often bringing us our first clue about the lines of a new poem or contents of a new book. For others, thinking of titles adds stress, but that can be a good thing if you’re stressing a main point or theme.

As you collect your poems for a book or chapbook, begin by selecting a central theme or focus.

That job will be easier if you type each poem on a separate page with a key word at the top. You can then do a word search in your computer file to assist you in gathering poems relevant to a particular theme.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, “10 Tips on Titles for a poem or poetry book,” my first experience with this began by searching for “Nature” poems in my Word file, gathering poems with that emphasis, and entitling the book Living in the Nature Poem.

I’m very happy with that title, but since that book’s publication by the environmentally-minded Hiraeth Press in 2012, I’ve looked for poems with interesting titles or lines that speak for the whole book.

The title of a key poem can provide the ideal book title.

This works especially well if your choice summarizes or symbolizes the contents of your book and/or gives your readers an entrance into your theme, purpose, and poetry.

For example, my next book of poems published by Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press, in 2014, came about as I searched my files for poems with some reference to the “Bible.” That collection included “Lot’s Wife Visits Genesis 19,” “Having a Word with Judah,” “Manager Scene,” “Message to Mary,” “Re: Deemed,” and others based on recognizable Bible stories. However, none of those poems spoke for the whole book. So I turned back to the beginning of time and wrote "Outside Eden,” which became the book's title poem, starting with these lines:

“Away from the flaming torches,
everything grows dark.

Does God
want me near?”

Those words could express the dilemma we all have, living, as we do, outside Eden. Since it seems to me the entire Bible brings us God’s Word that, yes, God wants us near, the poem said what the entire book aims to show and, perhaps, build faith and relationship in the process.

The poem “Faces in a Crowd” provided the title for my next book, which I decided to self-publish in 2016. For years I’ve been drawing faces, portraying people in fiction, and observing people in poems – not to call anyone out, but to give a glimpse of those unlike ourselves while showing how much alike we are, despite our differences. With so much to divide us, I believe that merely taking time to find out where someone else is coming from can be enough to spark empathy for one another. For instance:

Faces in a Crowd

Why trouble yourself with tea leaves
or try to discern the lines in a palm
when you can read faces?

See how the dark centers
of her eyes light up only
as she looks at a child?
And watch her cornered
mouth turn down
even as she laughs.

Hard times cannot be hidden
beneath the cut of hair
nor foundations concealed
with makeup meant to attract
a man, but then
consider him:

Can you see
that forlorn little boy, alone,
waiting to be remembered
inside the grown man,
caught now
in clouds of anger?

After gathering poems I’d labeled over the years as “People,” “Social Comment,” or “Relationships” for the book Faces in a Crowd, I felt urged to do something foreign to me: praise! So, for the next year, each day began with a phrase or sentence that led into a praise poem, which I subsequently published on my blog by that name.

When that flow of poems suddenly ceased, I realized I had a book that Cladach Publishing might like, so I sent the manuscript to them, and in March 2017, editor-publisher Catherine Lawton released PRAISE! Each poem in the book reflects that title, but this poem summarizes:

Praise God our Praise –

Without Whom
there is none:

no cause for joy,
no source of love,
no hope of peace.

Praise God Who dwells
in us and around us –
enthroned on our praises –
uplifting our days

Since I began writing as a child, my Word file now gives me many hundreds of poems from which to choose. Yet those poems seem to gravitate toward my favorite subjects – i.e., Bible, prayer, people, and nature. If you’ve also been drawn to writing about your favs, the number of poems you have on a single theme or topic can help you decide whether to do a chapbook of about 20 to 24 poems or a book of about 75 pages.

I felt certain I’d have enough “Faith” poems for another book, and I did, but then I couldn’t find The poem that spoke for the whole collection. I wanted readers to know these would not be “greeting card” poems or fluff but would deal honestly with struggles between faith and doubt. And so, for this latest poetry book, Lost in Faith, I wrote the title poem after the fact in an effort to summarize and to give readers an idea of what to expect:

Lost in Faith

by You, Lord?

by me….

I throw myself
on your mercy.

That’s the last of the poetry books planned for now, but recently a writer friend encouraged me to reissue an inspirational romance novel set in Florida in 1895, which Zondervan published over three decades ago. Hopefully, time, writing experience, and the computer ease of revising a manuscript helped me to tweak the book, while retaining the original characters, story line, and title.

Although this latest release is fiction, rather than a book of poetry, the title comes from the closing lines of a song (aka poem) that the main character “writes” throughout the book, Hand Me Down the Dawn.

Whether you’re writing a book of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, keep searching for a poetic title or a title poem that encompasses your contents, sets a mood, and invites readers to see for themselves that this book is for them.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Hand Me Down the Dawn

Lost in Faith


Faces in a Crowd

Outside Eden


  1. Absolutely loved reading your poems, Mary, and the advice you give on how to find a fitting title for a book. Right now, I have only one collection of your poems, Faces in a Crowd, but will definitely have to order more.
    Blessings to you!

  2. Praise the Lord! Thanks so much, Martha. May each poem bring a blessing.

  3. For the writer, inspiration means persperation. Keep going. (MT.13:52)

  4. So true, Tom! Playing with words, images, and ideas can be fun too. :)