Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Title-ology

Titles are funny, slippery things. Their job is tough: they must entice a reader to pick up the book and crack the cover, and they must sum up the entire work without giving all the good stuff away. Like a good band name (i.e. Soundgarden), a good title can bring a wider audience and more exposure. Conversely, a bad title (or band name...Velvet Revolver, I'm talking to you) can relegate you to the bargain bin.

Many people have asked me about the title of my poetry collection, Perpetual Care, and I thought I'd expand a little on its origins. In the New Orleans of the past, families often took part in a strange gravesite tradition: after church on Sunday, they'd gather by the family mausoleum, spruce up the stones and walkways, converse with other families doing the same thing, and then picnic with their dead loved ones. As New Orleans grew and old families died out or moved away, the once-fine cemeteries began to fall into disrepair, so the practice of purchasing "perpetual care" of one's grave became popular. If you purchase "perpetual care," you are assured that someone will always take care of your grave, no matter how long ago you passed.


Of course, this practice, like many of the city's other traditions and organizations, has been thrown into turmoil by Hurricane Katrina. I don't know if those graves are still being cared for, or if they will continue to be cared for forever. But my book, along with many others now being published, hopes to "care" for those things that have been lost, as well as those things that endure. Literature is, in a way, the ultimate "perpetual care;" by recording and remembering we preserve and honor the past.

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