Yesterday, I began in earnest what I've been struggling to get myself to do since December. I actually sat down and checked a card catalogue--yes, a card catalogue--detailing the poem titles of 49 books. When my friend--the librarian--had suggested I simply go through his library's poem-title index (discontinued in 2009), I wasn't too excited; can you actually tell what a poem is from its title?
By the time I finished going through the available catalogue (the rest of the entries had been encoded, but the machine on which the file was encoded had been 'retired'), I realized that there's a lot you can tell from going through a book's poem titles. For example, you can tell which books were compilations of occasional poems, and those whose energies were propelled by certain concerns that required? captivated? obsessed? their writers. In the latter case, even the titles tended to be specific (and memorable) rather than generic, indicating a particular stance and point of view. Certainly not the usual.
For somebody writing about my topic (and trying to do this by reflecting on how my topic has been reflected in poetic writing), reading the titles was surprisingly inspiring. Just the thought of having to go through thousands of books made me dread the work. In my mind, I imagined going through all the poems, book by book. But going through a small box, title by title? That seemed doable. And when I went through a card, the title of the poem performed like a koan.