• Christine Delea

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.

Quaker Oats

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—

mind-reading—Mysteria From

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.

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