Masterclass: Mark Antony Rossi on Poetry

Mark Antony Rossi is the author of the writing reference book "Waking the Lion: Inside Writing 1984 to 2017" and he is currently the Editor in Chief of Ariel Chart, an online international literary journal. His poetry, criticism, fiction, creative nonfiction and photography have appeared in The Antigonish Review, Anak Sastra, Bareback Magazine, Black Heart Review, Brain of Forgetting, Deep Water Literary Journal, Dirty Chai, Enclave, Expound, Farther Stars Than, Flash Fiction, Gravel, Indian Periodical,  Japanophile, Journal of Microliterature,  Kulchur Creative Journal, Mad Swirl, On The Rusk, Purple Patch, Scrivener Creative Review, Sentiment Literary Journal, Snapdragon, Syzygy Poetry Journal, The Sacrificial, Toad Suck Review, Transnational, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Wild Quarterly and Yellow Chair Review. 
Mark Antony Rossi

The Importance of a Poetic Title

There isn’t a day passing that I don’t have to instruct a writer on the importance of crafting an
interesting, original, poetic title for their poem.
Poem titles such as
  • Nature
  • Death
  • Heart Broke
  • This Night.
  • Fury
  • Spring

are legion in my submission folder. None are important. None are original. None are poetic;
thus, none are acceptable.

I honestly expected common sense would take over the writer and it would hit them “I just wrote
an interesting take on insomnia. Best I not title it Sleepless.”

But this seldom happens and I am overrun with very good writing and horrible titles not befitting
the work presented.

I’ll explain briefly why this overlooked element of poetic structure may very well be the
lynchpin to poetic publication.

The very first words a reader ( and editor) reads is the title. You might want to get defensive and
waste my time with retorts on a variation of don’t judge a book by its cover. But I live in the real
world and you need to as well. What else should you be judged by? If you chose to give the
reader a bad sign you haven’t thought things through with an unoriginal title you deserve what
happens next:

A. A form of prejudice that whispers to the reader that rest of the poem will be equally dreadful.
B. An artistic confusion on why this was allowed in the first place. This type of questioning is fit
for the editor as well as the poet. In case you are missing something here: your job is for the
reader to ponder the meaning of the work; not to question its very structure.
C. An inconsistent presentation occurs when the poet pours their heart and soul in the body of the
work only to surrender with a title guaranteed to cure insomnia.

Your job is to present something new. It should be sharp and interesting from beginning to end.
If you decide to write about something written hundreds of times before such as the Spring or the
darkness of the Night you have the extra responsibility of making the old — new, creative,
refreshing— anything beyond the Night is dark or Spring is fun.

When I see a poem with a unoriginal title I see a driver with their windows open in the rain. You
are destined to ruin something fragile inside through careless neglect. The title is your marketing
tool that sends a firm message to the reader that you have arrived in the world with a short burst
of Art. Art not read before. Art that informs or observes in a unique manner. Art that delivers a
convincing argument that we are in the presence of an Artist.

You have choices as a poet. You can choose to listen to know-nothings on social media who rant
about grammar police and the fantasy that poetry has lost its form and power, or you can listen to
a poet of 34 years, editor and author on a book about writing. (Full disclosure: that person is me.)
Like anything worth real time and effort, Poetry takes practice and a respect for wanting to give
the world another voice or vision apart from what the audience has experienced before. Start
your journey with a great title. You will be amazed how it leads you to unexpected places. The
best poems are written with a path; not a plan. Because that’s how you ultimately find the
unexpected and yourself in the process.

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