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What Would Your Company Do With a Poet in Residence?

I recently discovered a wonderfully provocative essay by one Peter Sansom on poetry and business. Sansom is the poet in residence at Marks & Spencer, the giant U.K. retailer.

I recently discovered a wonderfully provocative essay by one Peter Sansom on poetry and business. Sansom is the poet in residence at Marks & Spencer, the giant U.K. retailer.

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As Sansom writes, “…the first perceived difference between business and poetry, that business is rational, gets to the point, says what it means; and poetry, well, that makes it up as it goes along and – when the reader’s slogged through it – what does it boil down to? ‘Isn’t life short’ or ‘She’s buggered off and I do feel fed up’.

“Business, this is to say, is utilitarian. The poet on the other hand is worse than useless. In a meeting in an office dedicated to M&S’retail ideas for the millennium, they expected some lateral input from their poet in residence. My head was empty except for that man’s haircut, and the way the woman always looked over my shoulder or at the floor, and wondering if it was me or her, and then what it was they did all day and how much they got paid. Evidently their job was to be creative, even though they were part of the machinery of this giant of high street retailing.

“Me I’m only creative in words on paper. Some poets assuredly are ‘creative’. There’s Paul Durcan, for instance, the man (as Sean O’Brien says) with the lefthanded head, or John Agard, whom I’ve met just the once and whose life seems to be a poem. Or Ian McMillan. Geraldine Monk. Most, I think, are like me, and not poets at all, but people who sometimes write poems, and whose lives, for good or ill, are given over to making that sometimes possible. However that is, my point is that the millennial think-tank is only a very obvious example of creativity in the business-place.

“It goes without saying that creativity is everywhere in business, not just those certain areas – design for instance or new product-placement – that immediately come to mind. It’s worth pointing out something equally obvious, that many poets are also businesspeople. In their day-jobs, or indeed as free-lance writers.”

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