Money and Art
A Wizard Academy Field Trip
She judged us one-by-one as we entered the building. Chin held high, she looked down the ridgeline of her nose like she was sighting along the barrel of a gun. A quiet sniff let us know she did not approve.
I hope to God she doesn't know how to fire that thing.
“You're here for the Dana Gioia lecture?”
Her tone suggested this woman was trying hard to be perceived as an aristocrat. Just like the man who spoke from behind me.
Wow. There really are people who talk like Thurston Howell III.
It was like we'd stumbled into a costume party where the game was to act bored and superior. Throughout the room every pose, every comment was calculated to deliver an impression of “tut-tut” sophistication. It was a voice-symphony of condescending tones.
The little hand was on 7 and the big hand on 12 in a tiny auditorium in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Dana Gioia, (JOY-ah) the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, was scheduled to speak. I'd come with 7 students from Wizard Academy's Magical Worlds Communications Workshop.
It turned out to be one of the most stimulating nights of my life.
Gioia, a Harvard graduate and published poet, bemoaned the modern trend to analyze and critique poetry as though it were an intellectual thing. Throughout Gioia's riveting performance I wondered, “Do the people in this room realize that he's saying they are the problem?
Gioia performed his own poems and others. Whether the poetry served as punctuation to his comments, or whether his comments were the punctuation between poems, I cannot say.
During the Question and Answer session, a woman asked, “What do you think of these so-called ‘cowboy poets?'”
Her loaded question backfired. Gioia got happy as he explained that the first of today's cowboy poets was encouraged by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, “and now there are more than 200 chapters of cowboy poets who meet across America to read their poetry.”
The cowboy has found his soul and that makes Gioia happy: “If you don't hear anything else I say tonight, please remember this: The goal of public education in the arts is not to create more artists, but to create complete human beings in an age of technology. We're failing our children, especially our young men. We provide them a cognitive, analytical education, but we are failing to educate their emotions.”
David of Israel was a warrior poet. His son Solomon was a scholar poet. Neither of them was considered effeminate. Just ask Goliath. Yet David and Solomon gave us deep treasures of poetry in Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and the intensely sexual Song of Solomon.
It was when Gioia confessed his frustration that night that I began to feel pride for Wizard Academy. “If I had one wish,” he said, “it would be that we immerse our children in a performance of the arts. Let a storyteller or a poet perform in a way that leaves the audience breathless and every child in the room will say, ‘I want to learn to do that.' They'll become better readers, better writers, and more complete human beings.”
I was proud of the academy because we're doing what Gioia said needs to be done. Just last week Kim, Peter, Paul and Will taught a class called Making It As an Artist. All four of these gifted instructors perform in public schools at every opportunity. Those of you who have heard me speak publicly will recall that I always perform at least one important poem relevant to the topic of discussion. The audiences are surprised, attention is elevated and people are delighted.
Wizard Academy is putting adventure into science, romance into writing, and art into the heart. We're going for Broca.
The late poet Robert Graves said, “There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.”
If Graves was unable to find money in poetry, it was only because he failed to look where it might be found.
Philip Dusenberry said, “I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes.” Dusenberry is a successful motion picture screenwriter, was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1994, and is the chairman of BBDO, one of the largest advertising agencies on earth. He began as a copywriter at a radio station.
If you're a poet and would like to make your living with words, the secret is to aim part of that energy at ad writing.
Here's what some famous men have had to say about poetry. Listen closely and see if their advice doesn't also apply to ad writing:
Jean Cocteau said, “The poet doesn't invent. He listens.”
The same is true of great ad writers.
Paul Engle said, “Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.”
Couldn't the same thing be said about great ads?
Sigmund Freud, that spelunker into the human psyche, said, “Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.” On another occasion Freud wrote, “Poets are masters of us ordinary men in knowledge of the mind because they drink at streams which we have not yet made accessible to science.”
Anyone who's tried the scientific approach to ad writing has bumped their nose against this same hard truth. It is the poet, not the scientist, who understands the hearts of men.
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” – Robert Frost
Amen, Brother Frost. And precisely the same thing is true of great ads. Semper infinitas.
And now it's time for me to go to work and print money with me pen.
What will you be doing today?
Roy H. Williams
MARK YOUR CALENDAR, Keyholders of Engelbrecht: June 30 – July 1, 2007. It's the Grand Opening of Engelbrecht House and you're invited! Details coming soon.