Monday, March 12, 2007

It's poetry mate, honest

I've been giving this one some thought and have come to the conclusion that the act of writing copy definitely bears at least some resemblance to writing poetry. Now, maybe that's crediting my occupation with a level of literary respectability it may not deserve but...

You WHAT sunshine? Did I hear you correctly?

You reckon those childlike utterances you occasionally make on behalf of some overpriced 'product' are the equal of some of the finest literary minds the world has ever seen?

Eh? Do you?

You reckon semi-literate tosh like this...

"The muffled thunder of its engine is impressively addictive, as is the 237 bhp it delivers which leaves you gasping in admiration..."

... equates with this...

"...But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know."

You think yours is better do you? Outside in the car park now!

Can I just make a couple of points before things become physically violent?

Be quick.

Well, firstly, the author of that stuff about the car wasn't me, I read it in a magazine.

You sure?

Quite sure.

Go on, point two.

Yes, er, and point two is that I was in no way suggesting that the end result of a copywriter's labours is the equal of great poetry. It's just that the PRINCIPLES ARE THE SAME. Namely, that it's all about distillation. Paring sentences, cutting words, forever reducing so that what remains has a power that comes from a concentration of the language. Copy, good copy that is, has to put over its message in as succinct yet memorable a way as possible without falling prey to cliches or lazy verbiage. And unless you're a genius, it's impossible to do in a first draft.

Likewise poetry.

And if poetry works, readers see something with new eyes. If copy works, consumers get their wallets out.

Anyway, I'm rambling now.

Here's part of The Guardian newspaper's site where they run a weekly Haiku competition. The rules are... well they're explained on the site. But basically a Haiku is a syllabic poem of three lines in 5,7,5 syllable order. Preferably topical.


The 'point' being that it's a really neat way of polishing words.

Yes, it's a UK newspaper but global subjects are welcomed.

Oh, and there's a prize for the weekly winner. Not from me, from the newspaper.


writer said...

You're not rambling at all, you're exactly right. Of course copy has just as much power as poetry to make people think; just about baked beans instead of clouds and trees.

Plus, write copy in rhyme and you're streets ahead.

Charlie Bass said...

Good post and right on the money. Copy is powerful and generates emotion and action; what will they be saying about great bits of copy in 100 years time?

Cleaver said...

I think you've got a point - the processes in writng poetry and copy are very similar.

What puzzles me is why the results are so different.

So as not to take up too much space here, I've worked up response on my blog throwing around a few possible reasons.