Finding poetry in paper titles

Brian Moeran offers a collection of haiku using research titles from the programme of a recent academic conference  

December 28, 2018
Signing a letter with a fountain pen
Source: iStock

I don’t know why, but anthropologists like to come up with all sorts of titles for their papers, articles and books that they regard as clever and catchy, but which often sound esoteric and mean very little in themselves. 

They then usually add subtitles to define what a particular piece of research is all about. My first book, for example, was titled Lost Innocence: Folk Craft Potters of Onta, Japan

As a publisher friend later advised me, this was a bad move. At the time at least, university libraries’ data processing methods dealt with titles only, and ignored subtitles. As a result, Lost Innocence was likely to be followed up by someone interested in romance or soft porn, rather than in pottery.

At the recent meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Jose, I encountered in one panel after another the customary failure of anthropologists to state clearly what they wanted to talk about. While a few paper titles (such as “Myth, magic and materiality” and “Washlets, capsule hotels, and fembot receptionists”) gave good indication of what an audience was to expect of its presenters, others (such as “The power of Mary” and “Wilted but not ruined”) were somewhat more obtuse.

In spare moments of despondence between panels that too often turned out to differ markedly from my expectations, I found myself noting down paper titles from the programme. When I got down to re-reading them back home, I realised that they often made for rather cryptic, even fun, haiku. So here are a few to remind you of how silly some academics must appear to the outside world. And, lest you think I’m being superior, let me point out that the Eau My God title is my own.

Ungovernable ferns 
Over the fence
Pinpointing failure

Funeral strippers in Taiwan
Creating internal heterotopia –
The dead wait 

The frog in the well
De-rendering the industrial pig –
Wild boar chase 

Stay away from certain people
It’s all about me –
The triumph of the id 

K-pop fandom in periphery
Marching to a different tune –
Piano transductions

One click at a time
Files, floppy disks, and morbid metadata
Rule by decree  

Eau my God! 
The ideal Japanese papa
Negotiating motherhood 

Big soda, Sea of soy,
Broccoli on my plate –
They poisoned our cacao fields 

Free-range kids in Shanghai
Putting parents back in place –
Orchid children

War of words –
I said, they said –
The answer is “yes” 

Pockets of peace
Recovering from ruin –
Cows matter 

Wilted but not ruined
Emancipate yourself –
Hidden scars 

To be or not to be a corpse
Travellers don’t pack a pest –
Ghostly encounters 

Speculative futures
Taking on fake news –
The politics of joy 

Concrete buys time
Size (and shape) matters –
A manifesto for bridge builders 

Gut feelings Going feral
I don’t want to be a zombie –
We punk tattooing 

Brian Moeran is honorary professor of anthropology at the University of Exeter.

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