Friends, a title is a funny animal. On one hand, it defines the piece, gives it an identity. On the other hand, it steers the meaning of the piece perhaps as much as the piece itself does. And that can be problematic. If the the two or four or eight words that comprise the title end up being as meaningful as the several hundred or thousand that follow, then perhaps the title is not just representing the story—perhaps it is eating the story. And we must be wary of having our stories eaten by themselves.
We can escape this by giving titles randomly. A random title may still draw attention in the same way. It is, after all, the first thing we see, and therefore is not initially capable of producing dissonance. It may still give an identity to the piece. But it may avoid outlining simplistic elements of the story: themes, morals, theses. (By way of example, I will mention “Life as a House,” a Kevin Kline film in which the building of a house is used to represent the rebuilding of a family. In other words, the film’s title is also its central metaphor.)
Allow me to offer you some sources of random titles.
1) Begin typing phrases into a google search bar. The suggested completions often make great titles.
2) This website, which in only seconds of effort provided me with the excellent phrase “Dirt Hospital,” which will almost certainly be a poem by the end of the week. Also, “Nothing Today,” “Tooth Sic,” and “Terminology Mornings.” Notice that in the sidebar there are random word, sentence, and even paragraph generators. Chances are those tools make better poems than I do. (My first try yielded this gem: “Within the war pro, consents an unexplained laughter.” Then this: “The crude girlfriend stalls under the microcomputer.” Sigh.)
3) Ed Ruscha prints. Particularly from a book called “They Called Her Styrene,” which is available online and ought to be owned by everyone.
4) Phrases that you like from everyday life.
5) Things that you read on signs.
I’d like to write a whole book of poems with titles from a restaurant menu. Each poem would be given the title of one dish: “Croque Madame,” “Eggs Benedict,” “String Beans,” etc. The title of the book would be the name of the restaurant.