Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Rhyme and Tide.

When I was a little boy, the world was a different place.

My late friend of fifty years, Fred, disagreed with me on this, but I think it was a better educated place. Maybe a smarter world. 

For instance, Life magazine, one of the best selling magazines of it day, once had an entire issue devoted to the Baltimore Colts football team with short funny poems of the type he was famous for by Ogden Nash. 

Nash also wrote this baseball poem. As a boy with pine-tar and horsehide in his veins, not ichor, it taught me a lot.
When my tilted New York neighborhood was making the shift from vinyl to cassette tapes, my father, for my tenth birthday bought me a small Bell & Howell cassette player/recorder. The first cassette I bought was of Ogden Nash reading his poems.

I loved poems like these. They've informed me for more than half a century, even if they ain't Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Gerald Manley Hopkins. They make me snort.

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.


My wife, who is also a copywriter and I were talking this morning. When both in a couple are copywriters, one or the other or both usually has a manifesto hanging over their Mac and screaming to be written. Writing a manifesto is a bit like visiting your in laws. Driving there, you don't want to be stuck in traffic. But you don't want to get there too fast, either.

Manifestos today are like old gum on the underside of seats in a decrepit movie theatre. They're everywhere. They're usually disgusting. And you need to wash your hands if you come into contact with one.

I mentioned to my wife, with more of a dose of my usual pedagogy, that the greatest manifesto I've ever heard was by 
W. H. Auden. A poem called "This is the Night Mail." It was later, in 1988, turned into an actual manifesto for British Rail.

During my last twenty years in the business, manifestos have proliferated even more rapidly than Starbucks or CVS drug stores. And most of them are as predictable as travel delays. They are meant to inspire and uplift--to get a viewers' ass lifted off her chair, but so many seem to be laden with baggage of every manifesto that ever went before. So it's uninteresting. Tired. Not inspired.

I remember once twenty-five years ago being with a bunch of fellow creatives and being dressed-down by our ECD, Chris Wall. I will never forget his two sentences of all-purpose creative guidance.

"I'm not pissed," he said, "that the work sucks. I'm pissed that our level of ambition has started to drop."

If you spend a minute thinking about that, you'll realize it's a lesson for the ages. Like wise people say about fishing, "The fishing's always good; it's the catching that varies." I think we should think somewhat the same about our efforts. "Our work varies, but our drive to do something special never changes."

Before I'd build a wall, I'd ask what I was walling in or walling out, as Robert Frost wrote.

Before I'd write a manifesto, an email, a banner ad, a blog post or a simple joke, I'd ask if someone had seen it before. If I had something to say. And if I said it in a memorable way that made a promise and asked the viewer to do something or made them feel something.

Really, the struggle of life is a struggle against boredom. It's not just an unexamined life that's not worth living; a boring one ain't worth much either.

For no particular reason other than I love it, I'll end with another poem, this time by a guy I know nothing about called David McCord. It's as deep as a well.

Epitaph on a Waiter

By and by
God caught his eye.

If you want to catch someone's eye--which is much of the purpose behind advertising and marketing communications, try something different, funny, rude, thoughtful.  Actually, that too would make a good epitath, maybe for me.

Epitaph on a George

 Different, funny, 
 Rude, thoughtful.


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