apple’s “your verse?”

Yes, interesting things happen at the corner of the arts and technology. And technology can do some truly amazing things. But I can’t listen to Apple’s recent ad without a jolt of ambivalence. Watch the TV ad here; the language is below:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry, because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman,

“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

What will your verse be?

The language is simple and direct. And I’m even tempted to say profound. Not because my beloved Whitman is quoted — that’s part of the ambivalence, like when a believer learns that a religious verse is used to sell toothpaste — but because there’s a very clear distinction between conventional livelihoods like “medicine, law, business, engineering” and poetry. And poetry is awarded primacy, as it is associated with the life-giving powers of imagination, meaning and purpose. Like I said, I can’t watch the ad without a sense of deep ambivalence.

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7 Responses to apple’s “your verse?”

  1. Jessica Ryan says:

    yeah, poetry is associated with the life-giving powers of imagination, meaning and purpose which can be yours for the base price of $400…..that’s the part that makes one a little queasy.

  2. Pykk says:

    It’s softcore, flattering, boneless wish-wash. It wants to massage poetry down to a burp of impulse. Do you feel lovey-romancy-passiony-humany? Contribute a poem! It might as well be describing a vomit. “Passion” and “beauty” in this context are exactly the equivalent of “cute,” the word that it pretends it doesn’t support. They all circumvent the ideas of work and thought and the expressions of ambivalence to which thought leads; and also the “contemplation” or controlled and concentrated mental coolness that allows poetry to be written after it has been felt (or as it is being felt). I’m taking “contemplation” from Wordsworth’s Introduction to Lyrical Ballads.

    “I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment.”

    Poetry, in other words, is a complicated system of composition in which “powerful feelings” may play a role, but not the sole role, and the necessary emotion is “enjoyment,” a more measured word than Apple’s “passion.” In fact Wordsworth sets the two apart. The warmly nurturing passion of Apple’s formulation is not even the joy that might lead to “enjoyment,” as joy is characterised by shock and surprise, and is not necessarily benevolent. Geoffrey Hill, interviewed a few weeks ago by the Times: “You’re only prepared to enjoy what you already have a taste for: whereas joy is shocking and surprising.” Transfer this into Wordsworth’s equation and say that the poet, in order to write a poem, needs to calmly assimilate and subdue “joy” until it becomes “what you already have a taste for.”

    Unspined woo like the Apple ad is the enemy of poetry pretending to be its friend.

    (Geoffrey Hill again “The language they think of as democratic anti-elitist are really the scraps of the English language that have dropped from the feasting tables of the oligarchs.”)

    • What you see as massaging down to the burp of an impulse, I see as an effort to dramatically, almost meaninglessly, expand poetry out to such wide dimensions that it becomes equivalent to imaginative conception, which is so much broader than a system of composition, etc. Poetry becomes the common denominator of the musician, the film enthusiast, the marching band, the tornado chaser, the hockey coach, and children crawling on hands and knees in search of mantids. Interestingly, Apple, like Whitman, conceals the poet cobbling together words and forging meanings. It’s a list of activities, athletics, commerce, and beyond.

      • Pykk says:

        Then you’re not expanding poetry, you’re manipulating the word “poetry” (which is a different thing) to cover a miscellaneous range of circumstances. If you mean “imaginative conception” then why not say “imaginative conception”? Why does the poet “cobbling together words” need to be concealed? Why is this desirable?

        Do poets think that poets need to be concealed? Some of them do — conceptually, like Conceptual artists in other fields — but the majority? Then why do they like the word “I” so much?

        Why doesn’t the athlete need to be concealed? Why not refer to poems as “hockey” then, and poets as “hockey players”? Why is that not the same thing?

        Is it because anybody can recognise hockey as a distinct activity with its own inviolable rules? And they know that the people around them recognise it like that too? And they know that applying the word “hockey” casually wholesale to Pound’s Cantos and Basho’s pond frog and the collected works of Sappho would sound ridiculous, and profoundly wrong? I’m leaving out instances of elaborate metaphor, obviously.

        Then: is poetry only being treated like this because people don’t know what it is, they just have a pretty idea that it’s something about “passion” and having feelings and acting rhythmically, and therefore the word can be mushed out like soft butter over any activity that seems passionate or rhythmic or propelled by feelings?

        How does Whitman conceal the poet? Not with the quote above. And not by telling us in his Song that he imagines himself inside grass and sailors and children. The expression of that piece of imagination is a poem, and nothing but a poem: the poem itself does not conceal the poet, it exposes him. It is a refractive and connective artifact.

        What will you call the thing that used to be poetry, once you’ve made the word stick to everything else?

        And how is this butter-spreading not an act of collusion in the phenomenon that Hill describes in that last quote? I mean: if you are using a word that represents a multifaceted mental discipline (the poet is not only taking meaning into account, but also the musical constitutions of words and their connotations, and also their appearance in space; they are appreciating the past and present beings of words; they are behaving like a philosopher, a musician, and a historian) to describe a kiddie pestering a beetle, then how is this not extremely pleasing to Hill’s oligarchs, who do not like to think of mental discipline existing in anyone but themselves? Squashy, mushy, foggy words suit them very well.

        Treat these all as rhetorical questions if you like.

  3. […] Kevin is ambivalent about Apple’s new Walt Whitman adverts. […]

  4. Scott W. says:

    I’m reminded of the satirical “Hitler wore khakis” ad aimed at GAP’s similar appropriation of people like Gandhi and Einstein. Now off to hunt down that Geoffrey HIll piece, which sounds great.

    • Pykk says:

      His Oxford podcasts are good too, if you can get hold of them. Up at the podium, comparing himself to a mad voice in the wilderness and describing the current state of affairs as “anarchical plutocracy.” I don’t have the link with me at the moment, but Keble College keeps them, or kept them, on its website.

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