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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Poetry in Advertising

By August 26, 2009

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Pithy slogans and rhyming jingles are the centerpieces of advertising language, and they are made with the essential elements of poetry—compression and memorable patterns of repetition. Most poets would say, however, that advertising uses poetic language to serve the practical goals of commerce, while “real poetry” is made in search of a kind of truth that is nothing like a sale. Poetry and advertising have had a long and somewhat prickly relationship in this modern age—a fact I’ve been reminded of this week, by this recounting of the old story about Marianne Moore and the naming of the Edsel:

from The New York Times:
Poetry in Motion,” by Danny Heitman
“It seems that we’ve done just about everything to get the American auto industry out of the doldrums. We’ve forced bankruptcies. We’ve exchanged cash for clunkers. But have we tried poetry?... The question is brought to mind by the story of Marianne Moore, the famous American writer, who served for a brief season as the Ford Motor Company’s unofficial poet laureate.”

Quoting Heitman’s line that “These days, poetry and commerce are rarely on such good speaking terms,” The New Yorker offered a contemporary counterpoint in ad-woman/poet Ada Limon:

from The New Yorker:
The Book Bench, Driving Force,” by Jenna Krajeski
“I’m always surprised that there aren’t more poets working in advertising, marketing, or copywriting....”

And looking back a little further, there’s another point of view in Martin Espada’s response to the Nike Poetry Slam:

from LiP magazine: (1998)
The Poetics of Commerce, Martin Espada on the Nike Poetry Slam,” by Martin Espada
“I confess that I am a poet of situations. I have written poems for weddings, birthdays, and holidays. I wrote a New Year’s poem for the radio. I wrote a poem for the 25th anniversary of a magazine, and so the number 25 had to be featured in the poem. I even wrote a poem called ‘Pitching the Potatoes’ for an anthology of poems about potatoes. Then I was asked to write a poem for a Nike commercial. This was the Nike Poetry Slam....”

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