poetry / Uncategorized

The Title as a Tuner

SMU’s annual LitFest happened last week, and luckily, I was in town for work. I’ve been able to attend at least one reading from this event for the past couple of years, and I’ve never been disappointed. This year, I had the pleasure of hearing Jamaal May and Rob Yardumian. Yardumian began the reading and quickly captured the audience with his easy style (which, as a writer, you know doesn’t come easy) and his relatable and witty dialogue. May then took the podium and delivered a powerful and moving series of poems from his collection Hum.

If you’re familiar with May’s work or his book, you know his titles make statements: “A Detroit Hum Ending with Bones,” “The Man Who Paints Mountains and Helicopters,” “The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks,” “Pomegranate Means Grenade”… May doesn’t use his titles as placeholders and they do more than just announce the subjects of the poems–they amplify them. About halfway through his reading, May discussed his thoughts on titling poems with the audience. He said that Brian Despain, the artist who created the cover art for Hum, told May that the titles to his works, “A Vexing Quiet” for Hum, had to be the “tuner” for them. May said this idea of the title as a tuner resonated with him, and the more he thought about it, the title to the poem is what a metaphor is to what it is describing. I love unexpected mini-lectures such as these.

If you’re not familiar with Jamaal May’s work, here’s sneak peek at what’s in store:

Many thanks to David Haynes and everyone at Southern Methodist University who bring this event to life each year. I look forward to the next one!



7 thoughts on “The Title as a Tuner

  1. Hi Andrea, long time no see. 😉
    I’ve been thinking a lot about story titles lately and I love this idea of a title as a tuner. But I’m not positive I understand fully, can you expound? Got any other good examples?
    I hope all is well with you!
    -Chris at flashmemoirs.com

    • Happy to see you here, Chris. Thanks for reading! In terms of the title as a tuner, the writer or artist can use the title to adjust the “frequency” or specificity of the title in terms of the work of art. May believes the title to be an integral part of the work, and being that it’s the first thing an audience sees or hears, it carries much power and can do a lot of work in terms of establishing setting and/or tone, providing context, etc. A poem I wrote many years ago was originally titled “Shoe Shining,” but I’ve since revised it to “Friday Ritual After the Alzheimer’s Diagnosis” because this title provides a history for the reader from the onset of the poem. Hope this helps!

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