Commercial Poetry

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Oct
  • 11
  • 2009

I mentioned the VW commercial that uses a Dylan Thomas piece (not a poem, but it’s rather poetic prose) a while back. There are also these Levi’s commercials with some Whitman poetry. I’m not exactly sure what to do with them, but there’s a connection between these commercials and a way to use them in the classroom. This is too good to be useless.

Whitman – “America”
Levi’s commercial
Whitman audio clip
Whitman – “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”
Levi’s commercial
Smithsonian audio clip
Thomas – “Under Milk Wood”
VW commercial

Even though I hate the commercialism of it, preferring to make the classroom as free of advertising as possible, what if you set students loose with a small snippet of a poem and had them create an ad campaign using it? They’d have to understand the poem enough to see how it would relate to a product. Have them set images to it and there’s a whole other layer of interpretation. Use this as prewriting to some larger analysis of the poem and this could be gold. You could give them copies of poems that are game for this project along with a list of products they could choose to advertise. That would certainly help those students who struggle with too much freedom in these matters.

Team up with an Economics teacher. Most Econ teachers I’ve talked to have a project where students create their own businesses. As part of that project, they also pick a poem to use as ad copy for their ad campaign.

Do you know of any other commercials that use poems? Have any ideas what to do with all this in the classroom? Do tell!


1. Tom says:

[10/13/2009 - 11:21 am]

I wonder if you couldn’t try to undermine products as well (option?).

So you use the poem and alternate images to get at what the student sees as the real message while criticizing the company’s use of the poem.

Something like this stanza from Pioneers.

All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I’d have Levi’s founded in 1853 to match the first line.
The varied world line begs for a shot of lots of identical jeans, maybe some sweat shop scenes and then cap it off with lots of pretty models wearing Levis.

2. conl says:

[10/13/2009 - 9:52 pm]

Those commercials don’t just feature poetry by Whitman – That’s actually him reading, as recorded on a wax cylinder!

3. Todd says:

[10/14/2009 - 7:00 pm]

Yup, conl, that’s Whitman on the bit from “America.” At least I can give Levi’s props for getting good old audio instead of making their own. But I wonder if I presented these videos with a different, high fidelity recording of the poem would students prefer it.

Tom, I like the way you’re thinking and I now want to make that exact video you describe! That’s very Adbusters of you.

4. Andy says:

[11/10/2009 - 7:41 pm]

I don’t understand the dislike for things commerce. If the commercialization of poetry leaves a bad taste in your mouth, why would you design lessons around it?

Why not challenge your students to find the most compelling pictures to show while Whitman reads his own “pome” in the background?

I picture trailer parks, homeless people, the poverty-stricken.

Or make it about lost and abused pets.

Or make it about the sweeping changes that technology has brought across the nation.

But if you don’t like ads, avoid them.

5. Inner Education for Inward Educators says:

[12/8/2009 - 5:43 pm]

InnerEd’s Edublog Award Nominations…

I am so proud to be doing this.  Below are my nominations for a few of The EduBlog Awards.  For those who aren’t in the know, the EduBlog awards are a series of awards given to education blogs in various categories.  The winners are nominated and…