Poetry in Motion

Poetry seems to be having a moment in U.S. culture, especially after Amanda Gorman’s reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” to great acclaim, at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Consumer products are part of the trend: Both Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the U.S., and Yrsa Daley-Ward, an influential “Instagram poet” and author of Bone, signed deals in the licensing space in January. Other poets have been involved in occasional collaborations, especially in fashion, over the past few years.

For marketers, such partnerships offer inspiration and a new story to tell, often one that raises powerful themes, appeals to the emotions, and/or touches on current events. For the poets, meanwhile, collections like these provide an opportunity to stretch creatively while also expanding awareness, not only for themselves and their work but for poetry in general.

Some examples:

  • Gorman signed IMG Models as her representative for fashion and beauty endorsements, in a deal announced last week. She will be part of a portfolio that includes supermodels such as Alek Wek and Paloma Elsasser and other celebrities such as tennis star Naomi Osaka, who has created collections with Nike and Adeam in recent months. Gorman also signed a book deal with Penguin Young Readers for three titles, one for children, one for young adults, and one a reprint of her inaugural poem. All three will have 1 million-copy first printings.
  • H&M announced its collaboration with Daley-Ward, a U.K.-raised poet of West Indian and West African heritage who also acts and models, on January 20. The collection of comfortable loungewear, made from sustainably sourced materials, is billed as being dedicated to self-care. The pieces, some of which debuted online on January 21 with the rest set for a launch in stores on February 11, incorporate phrases excerpted from Daley-Ward poems and feature a muted color palette.
  • For its Fall/Winter 2019 collection, Valentino partnered with four poets, including Daley-Ward as well as Mustafa the Poet, Greta Bellamacina (also an actress, filmmaker, and model), and Robert Montgomery. The poets’ words are integrated into a collection of gowns. That same season, Valentino designer Paolo Piccioli collaborated with Jun Takahashi and his label Undercover on a collection of menswear featuring prints inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. (Other couture designers also used poetry as inspiration that season.)
  • Back in 2016, luxury designer Maria Cornejo and her Zero + Maria Cornejo label partnered with poet and activist Cleo Wade for a collection of 15 pieces, exclusive to Barneys, that incorporated Wade’s language and were inspired by her hometown of New Orleans. Some of the proceeds went to support The National Black Theater.

In another indication of poetry’s high-profile role in pop culture at present, Gorman will recite a poem at the Super Bowl LV pre-show this month, representing a rare instance when poetry and American football come together.

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