In my last year at school
I spent much time
in Central Library
encyclopaedias of modern art
and photography year books
looking for naked women.
Somehow their art
never reached me –
only their nudity.
28 April 1979
This poem is not untitled. It is entitled ‘Untitled’. I never gave any of my paintings titles. There are only two left—Carrie got them framed and they hang in our living room—but for some odd reason I could never think of what to call them. The same goes for all my musical compositions apart from the songs. Some people don’t give their poems titles. I have one poem without a title, my one and only haiku. All the rest have titles or at least labels; there’s a difference between a title and a label. A title is an opportunity and for so many of us, a lost one.
One of my favourite artists is the Belgian René Magritte. Most of his paintings have titles that, on first glace (and most subsequent glances), have little or nothing to do with the subject matter of the work of art. This was deliberate:
The titles are chosen in such a way as to keep anyone from assigning my paintings to the familiar region that habitual thought appeals to in order to escape perplexity.
Ah, habit, the “great deadener” as Beckett put it. “Habit is a second nature,” Proust once wrote, “it keeps us in ignorance of the first, and is free of its cruelties and enchantments.” Habits are learned. Instinct is not. Titles are also artificial. No tree has a title.
My wife and I were talking on Friday morning about where we store our medicines and vitamins and what it should be called. Although we’ve lived here for about twelve years and managed to find our way back and forth to the pills with little or no trouble it seems we’ve never agreed upon a formal name for the area. I call it ‘the pill shelf’ which is inaccurate because it’s a small bookcase and has three shelves but ‘pill shelves’ or ‘pillcase’ don’t sound right. Carrie suggested ‘pharmacy’ but that, as far as I’m concerned, is a building. Of course we could just call it ‘the pills’. You see the kind of life we live, the things we have to worry about.