Tag Archives: poetry

Naming Your Poem

What if your parents decided not to give you a name and you went through life as “that kid” or “hey, you?” Names are important. Chances are your parents puzzled over a name for you for months, changing their minds multiple times until you arrived. I was told my parents exhausted the alphabet before I was born; even so, my original birth certificate reads, “Baby Levinson.” I never liked the name they finally gave me. I always wanted to be Elizabeth or Susannah.

Some poets will omit a title or name a poem “untitled” for various reasons, all of which l believe leave the poem without an anchor. When I start to write a poem, I use what is commonly called a “placeholder” name as a springboard to get me started, but it rarely becomes the final title for the poem. I may have a general idea of what the poem will be about, but, very often, I find that somewhere down the page, the poem begins to take on a life of its own and I merely become the transcriber of what it is trying to say.

Because there are various types of titles, it is not always a simple task to decide which title will do the best job. Sometimes a short poem wants a long title and vice-versa. There are no hard and fast rules, except to alert the reader to “here’s a great poem I have for you.”

I wrote a book of retold fairy tales, The Owl Prince, and all the titles have two parts, as in “Ella at Fourteen or Why a Good Man is Hard to Find.” Someone remarked that the titles themselves were almost a poem. I often use one word, “Nightmares,” or two words, “Eating Chocolate,” because that’s the main focus of the poems. Some titles can also take a significant line from the poem that sets the stage for what follows, as in “Stay on the Path, Mimi,” where, on a trail in the woods, my four-year-old granddaughter warns me that there are snakes in the underbrush.

Sometimes information, perhaps a necessary location or a proper name that would take up too much space to explain inside the poem, will fit nicely in the title, as in “Riding the Funicular with a Rugby Player from New Zealand.” Or a title can set a tone, as in “Playing Chess with the Muskrat” or “Cousin Leon and the Playboy Bunny” I also like to open some poems with titles such “How” or “Why” as in “Why I Never Want to Fly across Montana Again.”

Most of these examples were not the first, or even the second or third titles I tried out on the poems. Every time I draft a poem, I do several revisions, and each time I will revisit the title and often change it. Titles are not necessarily cast in stone either. I’ve had poems published with one title, and then for my book, A Siege of Raptors, I gave every poem a new title to fit the special format for the book.

Remember that your title is your best free advertising. We write and publish our work with the hope that someone will read it. When I pick up a new book of poetry, I scan the pages. There are two things that will make me stop and read a particular poem. First, the title, and second, how the poem is arranged on the page, but that is another issue. Make your titles do some work. Don’t let them get lazy and just take up space, or fail to show up. Yes, you can fall in love with a particular title, but make sure it headlines the right poem.


Nancy Scott (nscott29@aol.com) has been managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in Central Jersey, for more than a decade. (We do not publish poems without titles!) She is also the author of nine collections of poetry. Her most recent, Ah, Men (Aldrich Press, 2016) is a retrospective of the men who influenced her life. Scott worked for the State of New Jersey for twenty years, first on         behalf of abused and neglected children, and then to assist homeless families find permanent housing in the community. Running Down Broken Cement (Main Street Rag, 2014) was inspired by these experiences. Find a sample of her poems and other information at www.nancyscott.net. Her books are also available at Classics Used Bookstore.


Capital City Book Fair

Join us May 1 and 2nd for the Capital City Book Fair!

Features include

Book Market with 50+ authors, publishers and bookstores running along the street from Classics Books to Mill Hill Park. Chris Hedges on The Wages of Rebellion. Jenna Pizzi on her Pork Roll Cookbook. A screening of Standing on my Sister’s Shoulders about the Mississippi civil rights movement. Guerrilla haiku. Kimmie Carlos. Clifford Zink on the Roebling Legacy. Poetry slam. Scrabble. A film festival under the stars. Books and Barbeque. Writing workshop. Papermaking. Open Mic. Book repurposing. Step teams. A literary bike tour.

For times and specifics, visit the Book Fair web page at  https://www.facebook.com/events/805364449517346/?feed_story_type=17&pnref=story

Bookstore People: Whispers and Words

Whisper is the author of the book of poetry “I Have Arrived.” When you see her at Classics, it will be the first Saturday of the month and she will be reading her poetry in the back of the store at the Capital City Open Mic.

Whisper once said, “Poetry saved my life!! It rescued me from off of that ledge! One more ounce of negative energy and I would have jumped.”

Photo: U betta werk!

Barbara is a Scrabble players’ Scrabble player. She plays on Friday nights and some Saturdays in Trenton at Classics Books, Tuesdays in Princeton and through FaceBook. A two-time Classics Tournament champion, Barbara is tough to play—but fun. She never gloats (well, almost never) and is pleasant to play if you are good or a beginner.

She is also an accomplished artist, turning parts of the bookstore into a gallery of her photos and paintings.

When you see her at Classics, she could be anywhere–at a Scrabble board, hanging her artwork or ringing up customers during the week.

Barbara’s most common quote?  “Bingo!”

Photo by Bruce Bentzman

Love Letters to Jersey 1932

I enjoy finding interesting things tucked into books that come into Classics.  I’ve found money, four-leaf clovers and personal checks written by witches.

My favorite, though, was found in a book of poetry in written by Richard Nixon (not THAT Richard Nixon, the other one).  There was a bunch of ephemera in it and as I went through it a story of lost love emerged.

First, I find, tucked between pages 22 and 23, a postcard that had written on it

“My Christmas thought/ Could not be bought.  /I searched the city through.  A sorry guest, / For the very best / Were none to good for you.  Richard.  Paris 1932.”

Second, later in the book, I find a typewritten letter, written from Paris on New Year’s Day addressed

Dearest Clarice.

You complain that I never open my heart.  Let us take the fanciful case of a man who after many years finds his soul face to face with a woman he once loved,–a woman presumably in love with a perfectly good husband to whom she reads her letters.  Such a man might well hesitate to unlock his heart, tho he might paraphrased Browning a little and say, Open my heart and you will see /  Graven upon it only Thee.  So it ever was, so shall it ever be.

“No, I didn’t stay on in Jersey beyond the merrie month of May, having finally been driven out of that terrestrial paradise by the Demon of Loneliness.

I was cheered by your news that this has been a successful year for Melvin and I hope that good humor in which you are ending it will extend far enough into the new one to stimulate you to write me again and soon.  Stella Farwell write me from New Orleans that you had been there twice since last spring, looking younger and handsomer than ever.  No wonder you are in such good humor, with a good husband who has had a successful year and with Time treating you like a spoiled child.

Later in the book, there is a Christmas card from Richard “with much love.”

Finally, there is a wedding invitation

“Mr. Richard Nixon has the honor to announce his marriage to Madame A Lelu in Paris on September Twenty-sixth, 1940.”

Bookstore People: Poets and Congressmen

Doc Long

Doughtry (Doc) Long is a fantastic poet who exudes integrity and charm.  Trentonians know him best as the long-running teacher of literature and creative writing at Trenton Central.  The world knows him as the Geraldine R Dodge grant winning poet and author of Timbuktu Blues and Rules for Cool.   Classics customers know him from poetry readings at the store when he brought along his own jazz band as back up or his discussions of being in the early Peace Corp.  The universe knows him best as a man who can shape the world around him with his words and lifts up the students who were lucky enough to have him as a teacher.

Favorite Doc Long quotes (also can be found in Rules for Cool).  “Be into deep heavy stuff and carry large intelligent words around in the same pocket with your money” and “know that blasé blasé woof, woof, woof at the right time and place is sacred.”

Timbuktu Blues and Rules for Cool are available at Classics.


Rush Holt

“My Congressman is a Rocket Scientist” is the bumper sticker.  And it is true.  Rush is a rocket scientists who was a five time Jeopardy champion (back when five was the limit) and beat the computer designed to be a trivia champion.  His constituents have no fear that they are sending a man to congress who is intelligent and has a memory for important detail.  On top of that, Rush is a genuinely good guy who remembers birthdays and gets his hair cut on Warren Street by Joey Festa.   When he is at Classics, you can find him talking with folks in the stacks or piling up on his reading.



June 8th: Trenton Books at Home Fundraiser

with Narubi Seelah, Wenonah Brooks, Esther DeCew, Daniel Robinson, Annabelle Quezada, La Shea Delaney

Hosted by Darren Freedom Green.

Saturday, June 8. 12 to 6 pm.

Support the Trenton Books at Home Program, which provides FREE books for Trenton kids.

Performing will be

  • 12 noon: jazz diva Wenonah Brooks
  • 2 pm: HBO Def Poet Narubi Seelah
  • 3 pm: world-class origami whiz Daniel Robinson
  • 5 pm: performers Annabelle Quezada and La Shea Delaney
  • 6 pm: belly dancer Esther DeCew

Donations to the Books at Home program are encouraged.

Learn about the Books at Home Program here: http://www.classicsusedbooks.com/?page_id=13


Poetry sampler

Here’s a minute of poetry to liven up your day–from Classics Open Mic event hosted by Todd Evans.


Art, Authors and Belly Dancing: A Trenton Books at Home Fundraiser

Saturday, June 2, 2012.4:00pm until 8:00pm.

Tamara Ramos’ Gallery on the Go, in coordination with Classics Used and Rare Books, is having a fund raiser for the Trenton Books at Home Program on Saturday June 2nd from 4 pm to 8 pm.

The program will include art installations centered around great works of literature,… including the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss and the 1001 Arabian Nights. Artists include Will Kasso, Leon Rainbow, Craig Shofeld, Andrew Wilkenson and others.

Langston Hughes poetry to be read by Trenton’s own Geraldine R. Dodge poet, Doc Long at 5 pm.

Belly dancing performance, for the 1001 Arabian Nights, by Esther DeCew at 6 pm.

In addition, we will line the streets with local authors, each of whom will be selling and reading from their books. Authors include Louise Barton, Tika Bernadette, Karen Boyce, Todd CC Evans, Thierry Lundy, Jon Naar and Tracey Syphax.

The Books at Home Program provides FREE books for Trenton kids. Last year, with your help, we distributed almost $10,000 worth of books to kids in Trenton’s struggling school district. We hope to double that again this year. For more information about the program, visit http://www.classicsusedbooks.com/?page_id=13.

There is no suggested dollar amount for the fundraiser. If you can give, give what you feel comfortable giving. If you can’t, please still come and have a good time!

If you are able to give, checks should be made out to “Children’s Future” and have “Trenton Books at Home” in the memo line. Children’s Future is a 501c3 non-profit and these cash donations are tax deductable.

Sponsors for this event include former Mayor Douglas Palmer, Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Councilwoman Marge Caldwell Wilson and Children’s Futures.

For more information, contact Eric Maywar at book_cellar@mindspring.com.

Some Tips for Getting Published, by Nancy Scott

As the author of five books of poetry and managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in central New Jersey, the question I most frequently get asked is, “How do you get your poetry published?’ The quick answer, “I work really hard at it.” There is no magic bullet for finding a publisher. I have had over 200 poems and short fiction published in journals and anthologies, and four different presses have published my books. Very often a press will be interested in a second book.

Before you tackle publishing a book of short stories or poetry, it’s important that you get some of your work published elsewhere first. This is not the case for fiction or non-fiction. Publishers want to know that you are not only a good writer, but also a serious one, and know the audience for your book, because very few have any budget to help you with marketing. That’s up to you.

A few years ago, I was entirely committed to placing my work in print journals; now I have far more work published in online journals. Although it is really cool to hold a copy of the journal in your hand, and admire the cover image and the layout of your poem, I find that I get as much satisfaction from seeing my work online at a beautiful website where there is a continuing audience, especially where journals archive your work indefinitely, but still return the rights to you after the work is published, so that you can publish the work in your manuscript.

You have to do your homework. Unless you are famous, no journal is going to come knocking at your door. There are many resources for locating journals to submit to, among them, Duotrope’s Digest, New Pages, LitLine, and Poets&Writers. Most journals have websites, so you can explore who and what they publish. Chances are slim that you will have work accepted by Poetry or Ploughshares or Narrative at first, but there are hundreds of other journals. More and more accept online submissions so you don’t have to waste money on stamps and return envelopes.

Before you send out work, revise, then revise again, make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors, and don’t use crazy fonts or weird layout. Follow the guidelines to a T. If something is unclear, contact the editor and politely ask for an explanation. When your work is accepted, contact the editor and express your delight. If you are asked to forward additional information or okay proofs, do it right away. When submitting a whole manuscript or a short story you may be asked to pay a reading fee, but avoid journals that ask for a reading fee for individual poems. Expect a free contributor’s copy. Sometimes you will be asked to pay for your copy. That’s up to you, so know beforehand. Most journals are not greedy; they are just broke.

Write, write, write, and good luck!

Nancy Scott’s most recent book is On Location (March Street Press, 2011), which is a collection of poems inspired by the works of artists from all over the world.  Find out more at www.nancyscott.net.

A Hard Head and Delayed Blessings, by Theresa Bowman Downing

The Hood

It rings with many sounds.

Late night car horns.

Signifying conversations.

A woman’s screams.

The boasts of men.

The boasts of women.

A symphony of profanity.


It reflects misery, hopelessness, and decay.

Streets and sidewalks glitter with broken glass,

Boarded up homes, and unkempt yards.

Street corners overflowing with a lost generation,

a runway of chemical zombies.


The old generation struggles to maintain.

They struggle to regain the beauty and peace of yesterday.

They sweep.  They paint.

They beautify with flowers and trees.


We all live here together.

This is the hood.

This is my neighborhood.


Distorted Body, Freed Soul


I came into this world as a beautiful creation.

With skin that resembled Mother Earth.

With hair like lamb’s wool.

With teeth as white as the whitest pearls.

With eyes that sparkle day and night.

With a body of strength and virility.


But as I mature…

My beauty fades.

My ski is bruised from the force of your fist

And the swing of your baton.

My back is perforated with holes

From your piercing bullets.

My pleading eyes are full of tears.


Yet, there is a part of me that you cannot destroy…

For God has called me home

And my soul has been set free at last.

No more struggle.

No more pain.


Dedicated to all Black Africans who have lost their lives in the struggle for freedom…yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Theresa Bowman Downing is the author of A Hard Head and Delayed Blessings: Poetry Reflecting the Life and Times of an African American Woman, which is available at Classics.