#StartYourStory: How poetry and short-form content can shape our storytelling

#StartYourStory is an ongoing series that explores storytelling lessons from popular media and how we can apply them to branding our organizations and businesses.

By Lauren Tamboer

Storytelling steers everything we do at Moonsail North. #TeamMoonsail is made up of people with sharply different backgrounds, but we all agree that the driver of an effective marketing communications strategy is a good old-fashioned story.

Recently, I learned March 21 is World Poetry Day, and I got to thinking. It’s no secret that we’re influenced by the media we choose to consume. For most of my life, I’ve delighted in picking up poetry books as a form of escape, and as a refreshing contrast from depressing news stories (or, while I was a student, jargon-filled academic journal articles).

I asked myself: How have these short-form narratives influenced my own storytelling? I’ve tried — and failed — to author my own poetry, but none is strong enough to share. Instead, I’ll spotlight a few authors whose writing stuck with me long after I closed their pages.

Here are three of my favorite books of poems, each with a lesson that has shaped my own writing on behalf of our agency and our change-maker clients.

Tom Leveille — Down With the Ship

I don’t know if I’ve come across a writer who can make stark comparisons between as disparate of ideas or weave such a compelling image with words as does Tom Leveille in his collection Down With the Ship. At any point while traversing lines Leveille has strung together, the audience has a tangible sense of the picture he is illustrating. He won’t let you read from left to right without your imagination formulating its own interpretation of his experiences.

The takeaway: No imagery is too sharp. Granted, a typical communications pro does not want to conjure quite as jarring of images as a poet might, but the lesson remains the same: Powerful storytelling brings a picture to our mind, and ideally, that picture drives us to act.


Yrsa Daley-Ward — Bone

From Daley-Ward’s reflections on the heart and on life itself came the punchy and poignant Bone. Her background as a first-generation black British woman and her experience with depression form the basis for her detailed descriptions of womanhood and of the experience of turning feeling into written word. Daley-Ward’s antithetical lines irrevocably join hope with despondency, and satisfaction with emptiness.

The takeaway: Let emotion drive your narrative — even contradictory emotion. At Moonsail North, we often reflect on the art and the science behind compelling stories. As #TeamMoonsail’s Sedora notes, it’s as simple as thinking in story. Consider the last time a piece of writing moved you. It probably wasn’t technical writing or a pared-down description. Instead, it layered in emotion that wouldn’t let you leave without feeling immensely or taking an action.


Chloe Camille Seymour — How to Love a Wildflower

I met Chloe Seymour in a creative writing course at Michigan State back in 2014. She moved to the Motor City after graduation, and fell in and out of love, leaving her readers with the heartwrenching brainchild that is How to Love a Wildflower. After countless evenings spent with Seymour’s exquisite stories, I can’t drive through Detroit without hearing her words echo in my head. I can’t look at sections of the city’s blight, propped up right next to gentrified development, without her descriptions narrating what I see.

One of my favorite quotes:

“The Midwest looks at this city nostalgically. The world views it as ruined. I may have always looked at it as rose-colored but that is how the greatest (and most tumultuous) loves begin.

There are places in Detroit where churches are the only thing left in a neighborhood. I don’t believe in God but I believe in faith like that.”

The takeaway: Write about what you know, what you’ve lived. If you don’t have enough understanding to do so, seek more background or pick a different topic. #TeamMoonsail’s Scott eludes to this nicely in his storytelling and martial arts exposé. The outcome of putting pen to paper only when the writing wants to burst out of you — to paraphrase another one of my favorite poets — will be both more passionate and more compelling.

Do you have a favorite poetry book that has shaped your own use of language? Connect with us! #TeamMoonsail would love to hear from you.