Poetry and Branding

What’s poetry have to do with branding? We believe that the discipline is all about helping your audience see you for who you truly are. That requires holding tensions instead of resolving them. Like people, organizations are complex and more than a rational strategy, a strong logo, and some descriptive language is needed to articulate that complexity. It requires discovering both the tangible and intangible qualities that make your organization what it is and then figuring out how to express that in a way that not only lets people know what you do but also why you do it. If you do that well, with clarity, sensitivity and some artistry, it helps people fall in love with you—that requires more than a clever logo and a few lines about your USP.

I read poetry because I love it, but also because it aids me in my work. You cannot build visual metaphors and write compelling copy if you don’t drink in allegory from time to time. It turns out that poetry has a lot to do with branding, and not just as a source of inspiration. Some big brands have moved from being inspired by it to using it to inspire; A+E, Coca-Cola, and Under Armor just to name a few. There was an interesting article in Adweek that’s worth checking out about just that.

All this to say, maybe we should take the time for some poetry in our lives, and businesses. I discovered Galway Kinnell in art school. Twenty-five years later I still go back to his work and read, you should too:


The Bear
by Galway Kinnell

In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.

I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.

And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.

On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and rise
and go on running.

On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.

I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he

I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.

And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.

Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,

blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.

I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?