The Doctor Is In

in Poetry

Dr. Wes



Let's talk about titles!

Titles are the most important part of an artistic or literary "work". In fact, a good title may completely eliminate the need for the work part of a work. For example, you can take a blank white canvas and title it "A Diaper Dreams of Better Times." That's art, and it's a whole lot easier than mucking around with brushes and paints that would probably have just gotten on your shirt or up your nose, anyway.

Here's another illustration from my extensive poetry files.

The World's Shortest Poem Ever
by Copyright Dr. Wes Browning

-- Finis.

See how easy that was? I didn't even break a sweat! Other great titles of mine are the ever popular "Nine Lines of Really Really Blank Verse," and the haunting "Sounds of Silence, a Spoken Word Piece of Indeterminate Duration." That last was inspired by a composition of John Cage and is meant to be accompanied by a plucked stringless guitar, forever, or until everyone leaves. People who have heard my other poems as well usually pick these out as their favorites. It can only be because of the titles.

Literature is full of books that have become famous almost entirely because of their titles. Moby Dick, for instance. A book named after a whale, of all things. Nobody wants to read the book, but everybody wants to repeat the title. Moby Dick, Moby Dick. Moby Dick.

A particularly clever title is James Joyce's Ulysses. What a case of bait and switch that one is! It puts me in the mind to write the second by second story about the tragic day back in '78 that my toilet backed up and flooded the house. I would call it the Iliad.

The mistake most people make is to think that titles merely inform about content. They suppose that the title ought to just tell you what the piece is about, and then get out of the way. OK, maybe that's the way it should be, but that isn't the way it is.

The crowning example of what I'm talking about is the topical, ongoing, TV news program title. You turn on the nightly news, and instead of the usual title, "The Nightly News", or whatever, you get "America Strikes Back" with fancy graphics and its own specially composed theme music faintly suggesting Holst's "Mars" or the Empire theme from Star Wars. You turn the channel, and instead of "The Other Nightly News," it's "War on Terrorism" brand news. Also competing on more channels are "War in Afghanistan" and "America Fights Back" news, and who knows what other kinds.

These titles aren't simple descriptions of content. They express a clear bias. They tell you more than what's in the news. They tell you how the makers of these programs want you to think they are reacting to the news. The titles say to the majority of viewers, "We're feeling exactly the way you are, and we promise not to challenge you with viewpoints that might risk disagreeing with yours."

To see how unobjective these titles are, imagine how it would be if they used different titles. What would it be like if Dan Rather worked under a title that read "America Finds Scapegoats"? How about "1984 Finally Starts," or "America Lashes Out Exactly the Way Osama Wanted Her To," or "America Murders Back"?

Imagine a news program title of "America Steps In It" with a graphic of a foot landing on a burning bag, to the sound of a muted trombone. It could be fun for a change.

Say, if the nightly news can have an uninformative ongoing title what's stopping the rest of us?

For the next couple of weeks title me "America Gets By."


© Dr. Wes Browning:
2129 Second Ave., Seattle, WA 98121 (206) 441-3247

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