Book Titles can be Tricky

Nikon rangefinder cameras
Years ago I learned to be careful about the names I chose for my various books of poetry. When my first collection of poems appeared it was titled «Parallax and Other Poems». I was rather pleased with the title, which refers to the different field of view obtained when the observer’s position is moved slightly. It’s used in astronomy (the earth keeps moving, but the starts don’t, relatively speaking.) And in photography: rangefinder cameras suffer from parallax error, because the viewfinder is to one side of the lens that takes the picture, and thus the lens sees a slightly different view to the one you see when you take the photo. Poets, you understand, I implied pretentiously, see things just a little differently. Oh well, I was still in my twenties.
Blue Movie, cover

(The photo, top right, is a detail from an advertisement for Nikon rangefinder cameras from the 1950s. The brand first became widely popular when American soldiers returned from the Korean War, 1950-53, with the Nikons they had purchased on leave in Japan.)

The poet David Malouf congratulated me on the publication of the book. “And what’s the meaning behind the reference to the Nancy Cunard volume?” he enquired. I had not read Nancy Cunard’s poetry, and was nonplussed. David explained: “That’s the title of her third book of poetry. «Parallax», 1925. Good title.” Was I mortified? Well… just a little.

For my second book I had chosen the title “Blue Movie”, but with the vision of a smiling David Malouf hovering over my shoulder, I decided to check the catalogue of the local library.Candy, book coverSure enough, the title had already been used, by the literary smart-alec Terry Southern, who also wrote the brilliantly outrageous novel «Candy» (with Mason Hoffenberg), and the script for the outrageously brilliant 1964 movie «Doctor Strangelove». I chose “Red Movie” instead, rather resentfully, though later I came to prefer its obliqueness.

It was David Malouf, I think (I’m remembering things that happened over forty years ago), who said he was tempted when reviewing a book titled «Towards Silence» (perhaps UK poet Edward Lucie-Smith’s book of that name, published in 1968) to say only that “For this author, a step in the right direction.”