On Branding Poetry

by Rishi Dastidar, Head of Verbal Identity

Poetry now has a brand.

OK, I know that’s a bit of an eyebrow-raising statement, so let me clarify.

The Poetry Foundation, based in Chicago, is probably the world’s most high-profile organisation when it comes to promoting, publishing, sharing and promulgating poetry in the English language. Its magazine, Poetry, is one of the ones that many, if not nearly all, working poets want to be published in at some point in their careers – it’s a sign that you’ve arrived. (I haven’t managed it yet, alas.)

So in our little sphere of literature, a change to how the Foundation manifests itself is big news indeed. And naturally, as you’d expect from the custodians of one the great literature traditions, its gone for the very best, the rebrand being overseen by Michael Beirut of Pentagram.

(BTW, in case you were wondering how the Foundation can afford the fine fellows of Pentagram, back in 2003 it was the lucky recipient of a $100m donation from the philanthropist Ruth Lilly. That gift is still talked about in awed tones in fundraising circles. Speaking as someone who chairs a literature charity, if there is anyone reading who’d like to show they really care about words, I’m available 24/7.)

The Foundation has always been a forward-thinking place, as best evidenced by its app. If you’ve not had a chance, do download it and give it a spin – literally, as that’s the gesture by which it serves you up a poem. It’s like having the most comprehensive library of poetry possible in your pocket.

The rebrand itself is, as you’d expect, an elegant piece of work – Beirut expands upon it here – in what you could consider the ultimate piece of concrete poetry, the word ‘poetry’ is re-configured on a 2 by 3 grid, in a variety of fonts, which not only gives the identity potentially infinite flexibility, but it deeply speaks to what we as poets do: taking the same base materials available to us as to any other writer, and making something new out of them, every time we put pen to paper (or more likely, fingertip to keyboard.)

Meanwhile the website, already one of the more comprehensive resources available if you’re thinking, teaching, talking or writing about poetry, is now cleaner, lighter and brighter – it’s become a place you want to spend more time, hang out in – I mean, who knows what gem you might discover?

I hope that with the rebrand, the Poetry Foundation reaches more people, poets and readers alike. Yes, as a poet I have a vested interest in this, but it is something that literature organisations of all forms (including publishers and magazines sometimes forget) – that how you look does have a bearing, maybe small, maybe not, on how many readers come to you, to sample the delightful words you proffer.

More than that the project is a reminder of how poetry is at root nothing if not finding patterns in language that might communicate something more than just the meaning you see in front of you.

Which is, when I come to think of it, not a bad starting definition of a brand too.