Here are a few ideas for how to extend a hand to your reader that he or she will definitely want to shake:
Wendy Videlock’s “I Don’t Buy It”
John Donne’s “Death be Not Proud”
Wyn Cooper’s “Chaos is the New Calm”
Theodore Roethke’s “I Knew a Woman”
A title can repeat a particularly compelling word/s or strong phrases from within the body of the poem. This is especially effective if the phrase in question is found near the end of the poem, creating a sort of “book end” effect, but also works well, in the case of the two examples below, when all or part of the title keeps getting repeated.
Julian Stannard’s “The Gargantuan Muffin Beauty Contest”
David Rivard's "Otherwise Elsewhere"
Kinda boring, so to spice things up add a flourish, rhyming or riffing off the form you are writing in.
Mark Jarman’s “Unholy Sonnet 1"
Kathy Fagan's "Saloon Pantoum"
Doug Lang's "Tina Sestina"
Note: in general, just adding a bit more detail to your poem--instead of "Rain," "My Cat Does Not Like the Rain," or, as in the case of this poem by Wallace Stevens, ""A Dish of Peaches in Russia" -- just by adding "in Russia," I so much more want to read this poem, don't you? And yet, to go all very-well-I contradict-myself on you, what's wrong with Sara Miller's title, "Cairo"? Maybe it's because it's Cairo, not Portland or San Francisco, but I was drawn in, just saying (no one said anything about these decisions being easy, or if they did they were, well, deluded). Sfumati, as my Italian teacher used to say, as in permutations, as in the gray area, as in the ability to hold two paradoxical ideas in one's head with relative easy, aka gone up in smoke, where we all should be when we're writing poems.
A title can quickly clarify in-medias-res beginnings that could possibly interfere with the reader immediately being drawn in.
David Wagoner’s “For a Student Sleeping in a Poetry Workshop”
Kit Frick's "Lunar Eclipse"
Paisley Rekdal's "Mae West: Advice"
Note: Beginning writers sometimes have this notion in their heads that they can't use their titles to explain crucial details about the poem--setting, impetus for the poem, allusion--right from the outset, instead attempting to either a) leave the reader guessing, or b) create strained "hints" throughout the poem. Some might not agree, but I like to be clued in right away with what the heck is going on. Unless you are intentionally setting out to write a riddle, or you have some other genius reason to hold off with what's going on, it's usually best to cough up the situation/setting/trigger subject before you begin line 1. No one wants to feel like they're being left out on an inside joke, least of all a reader.
A title can clarify something that would be cumbersome to include in the main body of the poem, often a particular necessary for the poem to make sense.
Jan Heller Levi’s “Waiting for this Story to End Before I Begin Another”
A title can provide a jumping-off place for the reader to enter into the poem.
Patty Seyburn’s “On Cooking a Symbol at 400 Degrees”
This one can sometimes backfire, but you can at least give it a try if you’re stumped (especially if you’ve written a dreamy/surreal kind of poem). Open a book randomly and steal a title by titling your poem the first word your eyes find. Or … title your poem after the name of a painting, a type of food, or an Irish high cross. You may find a connection randomly (which is always fun) or delight in the fact that the title and poem have absolutely no connection that you can find.
I was coming up empty-handed, but my pal David Graham helped me out by mentioning Wallace Stevens. How about his poem "Earthy Anecdote"? Okay, the poem is somewhat anecdotal, but earthy? It's about a herd of bucks and a ... firecat. And what about "Metaphors of a Magnifico?" Surreal, these titles -- kinda perplexing ... and mysteriously, comfortingly wonderful. Can you think of any others? There are lots of poets that do this, but I am coming up blank.
9. The quirkier, more enticing, the better.
Kerrin McCadden's "If You Were a Zombie Boy"
Marcus Wicker's "Creation Song in Which a Swift Wind Sucker Punches a Transformer
Cynthia Marie Hoffman's "The Calciferous Substance Speaks to the Sleeping Fetus"
Dafydd Wood's "The Graduate Student in Comparative Literature Weighs the Merits of a Career in Pornographic Film"