Tom, Rob and In Defence of Poetry – By @philgull

By Philip Gull


Tom, Rob and In Defence of Poetry


We get copy mentors and copy masterclasses from time to time.


Many of them believe in speaking to as many people as possible.


Which I fully, completely, one hundy and ten pc believe in, too.


But in championing the common cause, sometimes a tension, even an opposition, is set up – which I don’t believe in: between comprehensibility, or ease of reading, and poetry.


Some people think that poetry is long words.


They’re fully, completely, one hundy and ten pc entitled to this opinion.


And while there is a great deal of poetry in long words, and a great deal of long words in poetry, I don’t think you have to write poetry off to write copy.


Poetry, as S.T.C. says, is “the best words in the best order”.


And I respect that best isn’t always easiest, or plainest, or going-with-the-grainest.


But I thought I’d go fish in the written rivers for this SCAB, and collect some proudly short-word poetry, to show that poetry can be a wonderful, wonderful aide in the pursuit of compact prose.


See, sometimes poetry is nothing more than simple words, perfectly arranged.


Which isn’t a definition too far from some people’s definition of copy.



“The sharp tears fell through her hair, and stung

Once, and her close lips touched him and clung

Once, and grew one with his lips for a space;

And so drew back, and the man was dead.”


Swinburne – The Triumph of Time


I’m not here to adjectivise poetry under the banners of good and bad – but there’s force and rhythm, suspense and release in these four lines.

All produced by thirty-seven monosyllables in a row.

And all 37 syllables – 37 words are simple and recognizable.


An awful lot of English poetry is like this.


There seems to be a fear that some of us, in our studently aspiration, are going to start quoting Paradise Lost in Lidl ads.


I promise you, we really, really aren’t trying to do that. No-one is.


And you know what? I’d be proud to write as simply as some of the most famous sections in our language’s most famous poem.


“One who brings

A mind not to be changed by Place or Time.

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”


Milton – Paradise Lost


How many of Shakespeare’s lines that are perfect tens are ten perfect syllables, in ten perfect words?


“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”


Shakespeare – Sonnet 18


There is awful power in short words. There are sections of poetry we read longing for longer words, hoping for a release from the coiled power and tension of our old, simple, Anglo-Saxon tongue.



“Here is no water but only rock

Rock and no water and the sandy road

The road winding above among the mountains

Which are mountains of rock without water

If there were water we should stop and drink

Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think

Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand

If there were only water amongst the rock.”


T.S. Eliot – The Wasteland


And if Guinness surfers can channel and challenge Moby Dick, at least give us a chance. A chance to make mistakes in grasping for poetry – but criticising us, not criticising the poetry. I promise you, it isn’t Shakespeare’s fault my headline is bad. It’s my fault. That’s my copywriting dream.


“So runs my dream: but what am I?

                        An infant crying in the night:

                        An infant crying for the light:

And with no language but a cry.”


Alfred Tennyson – In Memoriam


Anyway. If you still need convincing, I’ve got two good friends, Tom and Rob, who are fantastic copywriters. And they read a mean book, and write a mean line. And make no bones about the poetry and literature they read. And they both made a fantastic PB this week, with fantastic, fantastic scripts and copy. So go watch those, instead. Marc can send you the link.


And their names are really short. Just in case you’re on the fence.


Phil Gull.



The copy scores 81.5 in the Flesch Reading Ease test

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