9 Dec 2013

How Did I Choose My Book's Title?

Submitted by Barbara Ellen Sorensen

I will admit that I like long titles. My first book of poems was a chapbook published by Main Street Rag. Because the page count was at 44, it was allowed into the Colorado Book Awards in 2011 and became a finalist. The title of that book was taken from a poem with the same title that also won a finalist position in the Joy Harjo-judged Cutthroat poetry contest back in 2010. It was called "Song from the Deep Middle Brain." I still get compliments on that title.''

But how did I choose the rather long-winded "Compositions of the Dead Playing Flutes?" It's a rather long-winded answer, but here it is in a nutshell:

My master's thesis at Regis was about my poetry book, so I realized immediately that I needed to explicate the title well enough so that it made sense. I guess the simplest thought I had about the title was to generate something, some image that would evoke a commonality or contextual structure to the poems. Obviously, there is a lot about death in these poems and I didn’t want them (the death experiences) to just be about my life events. I wanted very much for a universality to emerge and so I thought of the instrument that I actually play (!) and the etymology of its being. As most people know, the flute has very deep roots in stories and mythologies. In fact, the flute crosses continent after continent, culture after culture and offers a "kheru" for the dead in almost every ethnic group. If flute music calls forth the dead and guides them to another shore, it also must be playing from something, something written down. The compositions are what all of the creatures (including humans) in these poems have in common. Compositions can be an arrangement of elements for visual art, music, and words. In this way they become, like the flute, conduits through which the dead and dying speak to all of us whether we choose to hear them or not. Equally important in all of this death imagery is that flute music is actually happy, soothing music to the ear. So, the deaths in each of the “compositions” is accompanied by the tumbling-water and siren-like cadence of the flute. I hope that the lyrical pieces, as well as the more narrative ones reflect that cadence and perhaps help carry some of that grief to lighter places in the heart.That all being said, flute music and its compositions cross ethnic groups to articulate love. I was/am hoping that my poems are not so morbid as to make that essence completely untenable. I was hoping that love, even in the midst of death is felt, seen, and heard vividly in many of these poems.