Next Line, Please

Two-Word Titles

By David Lehman | March 12, 2019
Mark Grapengater/Flickr
Mark Grapengater/Flickr

John Ashbery once told me that he liked to begin with a title, rather than end with one, when he sat down to write a poem.

To some extent I have adopted the practice, which encourages the writer to make lists of possible titles.

I am partial to two-word titles that can yield multiple meanings. For example, “Spring Break” might refer not only to college kids painting the town red in Fort Lauderdale but also to the damage that a winter storm may cause to a pristine spring of water.

Here are some potential two-word titles:

Working Stiff
House Arrest (or House Organ)
Twin Killing
Strip Steak
Food Court
Hot Corner
Blue Moon
Red Eye
Hung Jury
Grass Widow
Spring Break

Each of these phrases has a primary meaning, and in some cases a slang meaning—for example, “twin killing” is baseball shorthand for a double play. Your job is to choose a title from this list—or come up with a two-word title of your own—and write a poem that features two meanings of the chosen phrase. Extra credit if you start with one meaning and end with the other. Fourteen lines or less.

It’s not the same thing, but many years ago I wrote a poem that secretly capitalized on two possible meanings of “ERA” (“earned run average” in baseball and the proposed constitutional amendment). You can do the same with other acronyms, and maybe we’ll do that one fine week.

Deadline: Saturday, March 16, midnight any time zone.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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