Asbury & Asbury, 2008 £5.00 + 80p p&p
(All proceeds go to the National Literacy Trust)
Reviews by Jon Stone, Helena Nelson and Annie Clarkson
You can tell that Nick Asbury has a background in design and corporate marketing. Not only is this self-published (with his wife, designer Sue Asbury) fun-size pamphlet as stylishly produced as anything from Faber, with a clean and appealing layout to boot, the contents are also instantly accessible and clever in the way poetry so often isn’t. Each piece has been constructed by taking the language from a company website’s corporate overview (or the closest thing to it) and rearranging it into a modest, pithy clutch of lines that reflect both the truth and the self-deception of the business world. The introduction calls these ‘found poems’ but this is a misnomer; found poems only recontextualise sentences, while what Asbury has done is closer to collage.
Links to the source material are thoughtfully provided so you can check the author hasn’t cheated, though his own rules allow for him using the same words more than once, the better to facilitate the occasional limerick or effective use of repetition. But what really separates the results from the slick and staunchly superficial word games that advertisers have such fondness for is the tension that Asbury has allowed to germinate between the certitude of the language and perfidious reality. This, for example, from ‘Legal and General’:
We are investors in our loved ones
and they are investors in us.
And the savings we make,
the savings we make.
Often the poems serve as a cool reminder of the system of almost robotic practices global culture has become dependent on:
The continents cutting machine
is for the construction of continents
and cutting the globe into countries.
Today, the machine is in for service.
That’s not to portray the collection as resolutely grim and sombre; there’s generally a warm line of wit running throughout, a few punchlines and an impish delight taken in cutting through the marketing jargon to make simple summations of business processes:
Point to people.
Point to air.
Point to product.
Point to fare.
There is also an artful and poignant pun in the last poem (a haiku) that underlines how language is keeping up with a world that continues to sacrifice the natural for the fine-tuned and man-made.
A neat, smaller than usual, pamphlet, Corpoetics is a collection of found poems from the ‘About Us’ pages of well known brands and corporations.
Nick Asbury has found an interesting way to create a dialogue between big business and poetry—vastly different worlds—and yet here, playfully he finds some symbiosis.
The pamphlet has a simple enticing design and a loose-leaf cover, making it somewhat different from most pamphlets. It’s a little steep in price though, even with the proceeds going to such a good cause.
But it’s accessible and fun. There are links to the original texts from company websites such as Nike, Innocent, and Toyota. So, after reading the ‘found’ poem, it’s possible to click on the website and see what the corporate statement was, before Nick Asbury got his hands on it.
I liked some more than others. There is political comment within these lines, for instance in the two-line ‘PetroChina’:
Marketing is the oil of the Stock Exchange:
limited and crude.
Other poems are more subtle and playful, the words being reorganised to change the original meaning, enhance it or create a new ‘story’.
My favourites were ‘Direct Line’, ‘Balfour Beatty’ and ‘Foxtons’. These were all poems which took the language from the original text and created new meaning, without obvious connection to the original product or company. They were exciting poems, texts with space for the imagination. Others were more direct and obvious, and perhaps less subtle.
Corpoetics is a certain kind of poetry. I hesitate in describing it as gimmicky. It does follow one idea and exploit it, but Asbury does this in an original way. It’s short, cohesive and manages a good balance of humour and political comment.
This is a beautifully presented little chapbook, as you might expect from a professional designer. Not just any designer though. This is from the author of Alas! Smith & Milton: How not to run a design company, a title after my own heart. He’s one of the directors of writers’ organisation 26 to boot (http://www.26.org.uk/players.asp) – fascinating – take a look at the website.
So is this poetry with a palpable design on us? Well, yes, I think so, and none the worse for that. Here we find assembled a collection of ‘found’ poems drawn from corporate statements of well-known brands and corporations. To begin with I thought this was a straight piss-take. Here’s ‘Goldman Sachs’, for example:
You wish to submit a concern?
A concern regarding the firm?
Who are you? Are you new?
You will learn who is who.
You will learn to submit to the firm.
But it is more complicated than just sending up the language of corporate identity and official tone-of-voice by limericking it. There’s a lot of delight going on here, as well as a strong crafting impulse. Here’s ‘EasyJet’:
Point to people.
Point to air.
Point to product.
Point to fare.
Wahey! It’s slick, it’s fun, it gets you thinking. It makes you want to join in the game. Because this is a sort of game. Asbury tells us the ‘rules’ he set himself at the start. No words except the ones that are there (but not all of them), repetition allowed — as is case-changing and altering plural to singular. The fun he is having communicates itself and moves the whole thing beyond a send-up into a kind of celebration of corporate-speak. It really is the poetry of business. Thought there was no such thing? Read this chapbook. ‘Woolworths plc’ has become a kind of mournful obit statement, ‘Yale Locks’ is not to be missed and ‘Balfour Beatty’—well, ‘Balfour Beatty’ is terrific.
But this is the man behind pentone© (“Not sure what tone of voice is right for you? The Pentone specifier may help. Select your tone from the menu on the left . . .”). Honestly, each of his pentone ‘swatches’ is a poem in itself. And you should see the mugs! (go to http://www.nickasbury.com/pentone/ — you won’t regret it.) And he writes a lovely blog.
OK. I admit it. I’m a fan.