Poetry and Copy: A Marvellous Match

Today’s Google Doodle celebrate’s the life and work of poet Mascha Kaléko whose poetry of everyday life has been celebrated throughout the twenty-first century.

In response to Nazi suppression of her collections in 1930s Berlin, the poet emigrated to the United States and set up home in Manhattan with her husband and baby son. 1.

As a proverbial poor poet, Masha wrote advertising copy and jingles to generate an income for the family, not the first poet or author to do so. A thorough search for any existing ad work revealed zero hits and it got me thinking about attitudes to the two forms: poetry and advertising copy. Is there an underlying assumption that a poet doing commercial and media work represents something of a sell out?

I hope not. In the poetry world alone in Britain and Ireland several treasured characters worked across various media. W. H. Auden took up employment with the GPO Documentary Film Unit for a while, penning and reciting the famous words of ‘The Night Mail’. Our own magical Louis MacNeice worked for the BBC over several years, again on documentaries, unfortunately suffering an untimely passing from pneumonia after an outdoor radio recording session. Seamus Heaney made documentary programmes as well, for schools broadcasts and for RTÉ.

Poets as copywriters

Television documentaries are one thing, but marketing ads might be seen as quite another. Not so. Susan Elliott Brown describes her love of both occupations she holds down – a poet by night and a copywriter by day.

Digging deep into the common ground of attention-holding succinctness, impactfulness and the cypher-like qualities of both forms of writing, her article is a treat. Describing the work of a number of contemporary poet-copywriters, several poetry-copy commonalities emerge:

  • the first few words or lines are crucial
  • every word matters
  • speaker voice is essential
  • sound and image must work together
  • emotion and connection are core qualities

Finally, the post presents a few engaging video examples of recent years that were scripted by working, published American poets. I found the nurse training video ad effective and moving; not too sure about the truck one! (just my personal taste), although the attributes are all there; Levi’s ‘Go Forth’? –the jury’s out. Then again, even the fact that these productions call up mixed responses attests to their impact. I hope they are of interest, I’d love to have some suggestions for more.

To round off, I’m shamelessly adding a link to my all time top ad. While it wasn’t made yesterday and has also drawn a mixture of admiration and criticism, it does something to my heartstrings and I never tire of watching it! While not an actual poem, it is iconic like it’s brand and has a central element of a song, whose lyrics get the message across in ‘perfect harmony’ with the imagery.

Enjoy the real thing!

Citations and sources: 1. Masha’s Biography at Jewish Women’s Archive. “Mascha Kaléko .” (Viewed on September 16, 2020) <https://jwa.org/people/kal-ko-mascha>

Book image: amazon.co.uk

Published by Roberta McDonnell

Author and consultant with mental health nursing, counselling, life coaching, health research, retail sales and marketing experience; trained in psychology, social anthropology and marketing at Queen's University Belfast [PhD 2006, MSc 2019]. Love music, films, reading, writing, blogging, crafting, cooking, walking and psychology-anthropology, especially all things Jungian. Love David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Louis MacNeice, not necessarily in that order. My blogs are www.subliminalspaces.wordpress.com and www.robertamcdonnell.com/blog. I published my first book on creativity and social support in mental health [Palgrave Macmillan 2014]. Consulting in marketing, time and stress management and creative mental health.

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