Friday, January 31, 2014

Want to sell something? Stick a poet on it

Walt Whitman is flogging iPads and RS Thomas has appeared on a packet of crisps. Poets are being used to sell some unlikely things these days, says Charlotte Runcie

RS Thomas on a packet of Tyrrells: the poet's face was recognised by academic Jeremy Noel-Tod
RS Thomas on a packet of Tyrrells: the poet's face was recognised by academic Jeremy Noel-Tod Photo: 

RS Thomas is one of the most highly respected British poets of the last 100 years, best known for beautiful, serious verse about faith, natural landscapes and his native Wales. Recently, however, he has been seen moonlighting on a packet of crisps.
He's not the only poet to find himself the face of an unlikely product, ever since WH Auden's poem about a mail train written for the film Night Mail.

1. RS Thomas – Crisps
Tyrrels, maker of high-end crisps, unwittingly used a photograph of Thomas as a whimsical promotion for a competition they were running, using the caption: "Win a fleeting look of contempt... or £25,000".
A Tyrrels spokesman said on Twitter: "The picture was chosen solely for the look. We are humbled we didn’t recognise RS Thomas sooner".

Thomas died in 2000, but academic Jeremy Noel-Tod, who spotted his face on the snacks, said that Thomas would have been "contemptuous" of the use of his image.
"The fact that they advertise themselves as 'Handcooked English Crisps' would certainly have been a red chilli rag to Thomas' fiercely Welsh nationalist views," he said.

2. Walt Whitman – iPads
The new ad for the iPad Air features a voiceover from Robin Williams in his Whitman-toting Dead Poets Society incarnation. The Whitman extract in question is from Leaves of Grass:

O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish

... Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Who knew that your verse could come in the form of a mobile Apple device?
Actually, it's surprising that Apple didn't choose Whitman's poem I Sing the Body Electric instead, and claim that iPads come charged "full with the charge of the soul". Only a matter of time.

3. Roger McGough and John Keats – Waitrose products
The first time you hear the poet Roger McGough's lilting voiceover on an autumn-themed Waitrose advert, it doesn't sound like poetry. It just sounds like a soothing recitation of something pleasantly middle class. But then, you realise: it's the same voice as the one on Poetry Please! And it's reading Keats!
Does the fact that McGough is (unlike Whitman and Thomas) knowingly endorsing his product make this better or worse?
Keats is still obviously unaware, however. When he wrote the line "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" he probably wasn't thinking about a three for two offer on Braeburns.

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