Monday, June 1, 2009

poet Justin Marks — on copy & poetry

You work as a copywriter. How do the demands of writing copy differ from writing poetry? Also, are there similarities?

Marketing copy has to be concise and to the point, say as much as possible with as few words as possible, and it absolutely has to get and maintain the reader’s attention, even if it is only for a few moments and all you're ultimately saying is "Buy Now". Poetry is like that. (Though there are certainly worthwhile poetries out there that are not at all concerned with the whole maximum-impact-with-minimum-words model.) But I think the most significant similarity is that marketing copy is pretty conceptual. You have to think about all the ways what you're saying can be interpreted and if that fits in with what you want people to take away. For me, with poetry, it's not that I necessarily have a specific idea of what I want people to take away, but I definitely put a lot of time into thinking about how any random stranger out in the world could interpret my writing. In that sense, being a copywriter has made me a much more conscious and aware (I guess "better") poet than if I were in some other profession.

This feels even more true to me when I think about the connections between putting together a marketing campaign and writing a book, or even an extended project that spans across many individual books. You have to really be aware of how each part interacts with the other, whether it's individual ads in a campaign or poems in a book (whether that book be a more traditional collection of individual poems or something more extended/conceptual).

There's also the fact that corporate and marketing lingo is some of the weirdest, most mind-blowing shit I've ever heard. Total goldmine.

But the biggest difference between copywriting and poetry, for me, is that I often feel restricted when writing copy. I may come up with an idea or a line, but so many people above me will have their feedback that I have to find a way to incorporate, and there's also the whole staying on brand and within the voice aspect as well. And that's cool. But poetry, for me, is in large part about freedom. I really don't have anything to lose or gain career-wise with poetry so I feel generally free to do whatever I want. Of course that feeling winds up compromised by various factors and circumstances, as it must, but I'd like to think that that sense of freedom that I try to start from still remains somehow at the core of my poetry.

from Interview With Poet Justin Marks (Poetic Asides by Robert Lee Brewer)