In a recent group, someone asked about "titles," wondering whether they are important to a poem. My opinion on titles runs headlong towards the "Yes" column. Some of what follows are my responses to that question in one such group.
A title is a tool that can perform a number of roles for a poem, such as giving the reader a heads-up about what to expect in a piece, to encapsulate it subtly, or even to enhance the irony of a poem. There's also the issue of being able to reference a work in the index of a book of poetry.
Once in a while I receive a response to a poem that I could not have anticipated, such as when readers reveal intense, personal insights in a poem that I hadn't intentionally written there. I could see it clear as day, though, once they pointed it out. In such a case, too much in the title could have steered them amiss.
But, if a poem has no title at all, how does one introduce it in conversation? "Well, it's the one about the guy who loves a girl..." Good luck tuning in to that one. I could memorize a few lines and recite them to reference a poem, I suppose, but a title is so wonderfully handy.
I often pull a word or a phrase from within a poem to serve as its title. This is my favorite method of finding a name for the piece without giving too much away. Plus, finding such a title often gives me a delightful 'ah ha" moment about the poem I've just written.
It is my preference that the reader should be able to understand my poems without any overt "hand-holding." If I give it too much introduction, I'm essentially saying, "You won't understand this, so here is what I intend for it to say." To me, this is a negative call-out that says to the reader, "I don't trust that you're going to get it."
Now and then, I run into tremendous difficulty coming up with a good title for a poem, and sometimes I have to walk away, having given a piece a temporary name. I do not consider my work to be finished until it bears its own appellation.
As this topic was born in an online poetry group, I think it only fitting that I recommend such groups to other poets as well as to readers. I'll leave it here with one caution, though: "Do not hold what goes on in such groups too dearly. We/they are all just trying to work out these issues about poetry. No harm, no foul."