April 13 Poetry Prompt: Subvert Advertising
Entire books have been written on the role that advertising plays in society and the negative and often subconscious effects it has on us. Academics also worry about its effect on our language skills--advertising dumbs down language while also using logical fallacies to get us to buy things. How can poets and writers reach people, many academics ask, when advertisers have gotten to them first by using language that does not challenge or excite?
Solve this philosophical dilemma in an 8 line poem . . . KIDDING!
Below are 2 poems by 2 of my favorite poets: Rita Dove and Robert Hayden. In each poem, an advertising icon is brought to life. However, the poems are saying something about America--the icons are how the poets get to those insights.
Read the poems below, choose an advertising icon, and write a poem in which that icon appears in some way.
by Rita Dove
The grain elevators have stood empty for years. They used to
feed an entire nation of children. Hunched in red leatherette
breakfast-nooks, fingers dreaming, children let their spoons
clack on the white sides of their bowls. They stare at the carton
on the table, a miniature silo with a kindly face smiling under a
stiff black hat.
They eat their oats with milk and butter and sugar. They eat
their oats in their sleep, where horsedrawn carts jolt among miry
roads, past cabins where other children wait, half-frozen under
tattered counterpanes. The man with the black hat, a burlap sack
tucked under his arm, steps down from the wagon whispering
come out, don’t be afraid.
And they come, the sick and the healthy; the red, the brown, the
white; the ruddy and the sallow; the curly and the lank. They
tumble from rafters and crawl out of trundles. He gives them to
eat. He gives them prayers and a good start in the morning. He
gives them free enterprise; he gives them the flag and PA systems
and roller skates and citizenship. He gives them a tawny canoe to
portage overland, through the woods, through the midwestern
Aunt Jemima of the Ocean Waves
by Robert Hayden
Enacting someone's notion of themselves
(and me), The One And Only Aunt Jemima
and Kokimo The Dixie Dancing Fool
do a bally for the freak show.
l watch a moment, then move on,
pondering the logic that makes of them
(and me) confederates
of The Spider Girl, The Snake-skinned Man . . .
Poor devils have to live somehow.
I cross the boardwalk to the beach,
lie in the sand and gaze beyond
the clutter at the sea.
Trouble you for a light?
I turn as Aunt Jemima settles down
beside me, her blue-rinsed hair
without the red bandanna now.
I hold the lighter to her cigarette.
Much obliged. Unmindful (perhaps)
of my embarrassment, she looks
at me and smiles: You sure
do favor a friend I used to have.
Guess that's why I bothered you
for a light. So much like him that I—
She pauses, watching white horses rush
to the shore. Way them big old waves
come slamming whopping in,
sometimes it’s like they mean to smash
this no-good world to hell.
Well, it could happen. A book I read—
Crossed that very ocean years ago.
London, Paris, Rome,
Constantinople too—I’ve seen them all.
Back when they billed me everywhere
as the Sepia High Stepper.
Crowned heads applauded me.
Years before your time. Years and years.
I wore me plenty diamonds then,
and counts or dukes or whatever they were
would fill my dressing room
with the costliest flowers. But of course
there was this one you resemble so.
Get me? The sweetest gentleman.
Dead before his time. Killed in the war
to save the world for another war.
High-stepping days for me
were over after that. Still I'm not one
to let grief idle me for long.
I went out with a mental act—
The Mystic East—veils and beads
and telling suckers how to get
stolen rings and sweethearts back.
One night he was standing by my bed,
seen him plain as I see you,
and warned me without a single word:
Baby, quit playing with spiritual stuff.
So here I am, so here I am,
fake mammy to God's mistakes.
And that's the beauty part,
I mean, ain't that the beauty part.
She laughs, but I do not, knowing what
her laughter shields. And mocks.
I light another cigarette for her.
She smokes, not saying any more.
Scream of children in the surf,
adagios of sun and flashing foam,
the sexual glitter, oppressive fun . . .
An antique etching comes to mind:
"The Sable Venus" naked on
a baroque Cellini shell—voluptuous
imago floating in the wake
of slave-ships on fantastic seas.
Jemima sighs, Reckon I'd best
be getting back. I help her up.
Don't you take no wooden nickels, hear?
Tin dimes neither. So long, pal.