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What Do Poetry and Advertising Having in Common? Paul Feldwick Provokes

Hot on the heels of the Is Blogging Killing Planning? debate, Paul Feldwick has bravely stepped into the ring by suggesting that poetry and planning have things in common, and that poets and advertising folk have things to learn from each other. He recently gave a talk on Poetry and Planning at the Account Planning Group, the gist of which is available to download from the APG site, as well as his ‘Fine Frenzy Manifesto’ about “poetry as a force for change in organisations”.

Here’s the basic (ahem) proposition:

Poetry and advertising are usually thought of as remote from each other, with a good deal of distrust or ridicule often expressed on both sides – even in an agency world that prides itself on its ‘creativity’.

Despite – or perhaps even because of – this, I find there is a lot of latent power to be released by bringing these two worlds together.

Having seen eyes roll, both in poetry classes when I’ve talked about working in ad agencies, and in business seminars when I’ve mentioned poetry, I can testify to the “distrust and ridicule”. So I’m very interested in what Paul’s doing. Creativity often happens at the point where two worlds meet – sometimes it’s a conversation, others it’s more like a flashpoint. It’s amazing how conservative so-called ‘creative’ disciplines can be when invited to consider an alternative worldview, so I’m intrigued to see what happens when Paul introduces poetry and advertising to each other.

Here’s a paragraph from the ‘Poetry and Planning’ pdf that caught my eye:

my experience of poetry has led me to reconsider some of the popular ideas we have about ‘creativity’. In advertising, and in business generally, the idea of creativity is often associated with innovation or originality for its own sake. Poems do generally I think strive to seem fresh and express things in new ways. But innovation for its own sake is really the least important thing that makes a great poem. Surely it’s all rather to do with getting every detail right, getting the structure and rhythm and balance right, the nuances and for want of a better word, the ‘artistry’? I’m sure that this is just as true of ads as it is of poems. Yet we routinely devalue all this as a mere ‘craft skill’, and celebrate instead the originality of the ‘creative idea’. I don’t think, however that great ads are just ideas dressed up to go out, any more than poems (or plays, or pictures) are. This thinking is based on a desire to reduce something complex and organic to a simple essence that can be analysed, owned and controlled. I don’t believe that’s possible and it has damaging consequences.

I love this as I get tired of hearing creativity equated simply with idea generation, when that’s often the easiest and least interesting part of the creative process. Shakespeare wasn’t interested in creating ‘original’ plots, but his execution was pretty good – he was so intent on “getting every detail right, getting the structure and rhythm and balance right” that the originality took care of itself. In my own humble way, I know that when I’ve made a conscious effort to write an original or new kind of poem, the strain shows in the writing – the most interesting things happen when I’m focused on something else, on trying to capture something accurately or tease out the little animating goblin in a word or phrase.

I was disappointed to miss Paul’s APG talk so I’m grateful to Russell Davies and Mark Rapley for inviting me along to an evening last week where Paul entertained a group of (mostly) planners with readings from poets including Rilke, John Hartley Williams and Billy Collins. As well as having good taste, Paul is a terrific reader and has lots of interesting things to say. Have a read of his talk and manifesto pdfs (on the APG site) – they’ll bring a bit of inspiration to your day and maybe even your business.


  1. Matt Moore says:

    Hullo Mark. Creativity does indeed get mystified. My recent poetry-writing (and performing on Sydney’s Open Mic circuit) has been a fascinating & enjoyable experience. And contrasts strongly with my current job writing corporate communications (and made it bearable for a while).

    A poem is never just one idea – it’s a whole bunch of them stuck together, reworked, polished, etc. But it also needs an emotional core. I have encountered technically proficient poets who have left me cold – they just seem to be shuffling words sometimes.

    My goal as a poet & performer has been to tell people what they already know in a way they have never thought of before. I will go off & check out some of your poems…

  2. Hi Matt, ha ha yes open mic is a great way of stripping away poetic mystification!

    And I agre there’s no point in technical virtuosity for its own sake, that’s the kind of dead-end I’m talking about trying to avoid. Ted Hughes said the most important thing was for a poem to have a ‘good heart’ – meaning that the various elements were harmonised and resonating with each other, not just ‘shuffling words’ as you so aptly put it.