Mouthy Poets Workshop – Ms PoPOW’s weekly blog entry

7 Apr

Things a title can do

A title is, in essence, a first impression. Like a lack of eye contact or a floppy handshake, if the title of a book doesn’t instantly grab your attention, you’re probably not going to want to find out more – unless of course there’s something about a verbal floppy handshake that appeals to your individual reading taste. Although poetry/novel writing shouldn’t be all about the commercial side of things, publishers will be thinking about the ways to make your book stand out on the shelf. It’s also an excellent opportunity to use all of your writing skills to create a title that says something pretty cool.

We had a think about the function of a title:

  • summary
  • retrospective
  • intriguing
  • misleading/irrelevant
  • can be pretentious
  • shines a light
  • looks nice (font)
  • memorable
  • hidden meaning
  • punchy
  • incite questions
  • layers

We looked over a list of the titles of Poetry Collections and each picked out our favourite and least favourite. Then collectively we picked out these four titles:

  • After the Dancing Dogs
  • The Second Child
  • Sunday at the Skin Launderette
  • Yoik

We split up into four different groups – taking one title each – and had a chat about why it did or didn’t work well as a title. Then we did a five minute free-write to brainstorm some ideas.

Writing Villanelles

The Villanelle is an interesting form because it repeats two lines several times throughout the stanzas so once you’ve got those two, a lot of the poem is already written. The skill here, however, is creating something that works as a cohesive, creative poem within the strict rhyme scheme.

“The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.”

(See more at:

We looked at Seamus Heaney’s ‘Villanelle for an Anniversary’, Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ and Dylan Thomas ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and discussed what it was we liked and didn’t like about them. We thought that there is even more need for the two repeated lines to be strong because there will be more attention drawn to them.

Then, returning to our original groups, we each wrote a Villanelle under our chosen titles and collaborated to orchestrate a performance of our work to the rest of the group.


We played a game of Consequences in order to brainstorm potential title ideas. For those of you who don’t know what this is, we basically had to write a definite article, fold it down and pass it on, then an adjective, fold it down and pass it on (and repeat this subsequently), then a noun, a verb, an adjective and a noun.

This was what mine said:

“The bohemian pleb runs grimly… cats.”

– So this might be a bit of a long shot but the general consensus was that ‘bohemian pleb’ sounded pretty nice.

Here were some of the other phrases that we liked the sound of:

“The petulant leotard.”

“The fragile apple.”

“Snobby nerves”

– Apart from enjoying the strange combination of words that erupted out of this exercise, it showed us how important it is to get the balance right between the familiar and the surprising when creating a title.


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