Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Poetry of Headlines

Book available at Barnes & Nobles, if you want to know.
If a headline is meant to grab you, then it's possible The New York Post writers are geniuses. They never cease to disappoint, as this book covering years of the Post's classic headlines proves.

I know I make fun of bad headlines a lot, as some of my past blog posts have proven. (Here's a link to Fun With Headlines Again, my most recent headlines post.) It's kind of easy to mock bad writing.

But the Post reminds me that while a great headline isn't necessarily "good writing" (whatever that is in the world of journalism), it does have to have a kind of poetry to it.

That's why I love the headlines the Post comes up with. Sure, "Headless Body in Topless Bar" is meant to be shocking; it's a "made you look" statement intended to get you to stop and read, and hopefully buy.

But that headline also has great symmetry (also known as parallel structure for those of you with a grammar fetish). And it emphasizes the irony of the situation. Somehow, that headline rises above being just another crime story in a big city. Instead, it becomes a picture of the strange, the lurid aspects of modern life. It reminds you that those faceless people you walk by, without thinking about them, all have individual lives and stories, just like you do.

Those five words say so much more. They make you wonder. They make you remember. They create pictures in your mind. They demand that you talk about them. In other words, they are a form of poetry.

Perhaps that is why poorly written headlines stand out so much to me. They are as bad as a bad poem written by a lovesick schoolgirl or a jock boy who wrote his poem in the five minutes before class starts, just to have something to hand in. No one wants to read that, do they? I don't.

And maybe this is why it's so hard to write a good headline or a good title. They really are an art form in themselves, separate from the skills needed to write a good paragraph or page. I admire those who write headlines and titles that speak volumes, that sing.

Even if the song is a little risque or impish, like "Headless Body in Topless Bar." You may be embarrassed to say it in front of grandma. But you won't ever forget it, will you?

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

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