Ralph Lauren has a line called “Rugby” which has recently launched a campaign to find the “next great poet” through a contest on Facebook. According to the Rugby website and Facebook page:
Rugby Poets Club
The Hunt for the Next Great Poet
Like this page then submit your poem below for a chance to win a $1,000 Rugby Wardrobe and to be crowned Rugby's Next Great Poet. Check out the competition and vote for your favorites. Four runners-up will receive $500 Rugby Gift Cards.
After that, they have three videos featuring an award winning spoken word poet, a classic Beat poet and a female poet. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you who. All you need to know is that one of them is dead and the other two can only be heard, not seen in the blatant commercial that each video is. All you get is pretty people wrapped in Ralph Lauren clothing that the average poet can’t even afford while pretty words are being heard.
You don’t even see the poet in the commercial! The two living examples are perfectly good looking people who they could have put some Rugby clothes on and had them actually in the video. You get the name of the poem and the name of the poet at the beginning of each video, but these days, exposure should require a little more. Especially if I am letting you take one of my works and using it everywhere.
Because the prizes are clothing and gift cards. They are not paying you for your work in the traditional sense. Exposure is great, but are you going to talk about my website and everything else I have done? If you are not going to pay me royalties or even a lump sum, give me that much. Give me a million hits to my website, not clothes that I wouldn’t wear or can’t even fit me.
Another thing that irks me is what they are portraying a poet to be. I know that while I dress up occasionally, I look nothing like that. And I certainly do not write while looking like a Ralph Lauren model. Poets have their own style. Each and every one dresses differently. I know most of the poets entering this contest do not dress like that. Most of them probably can’t even afford the clothing in that line (I know I can’t).
The poet writes in their pajamas, late at night. They write in their work clothes on the subway. They write in their jeans on their way to class. A poet does not just dress like a Ralph Lauren model. I bet very few play Rugby.
This brings up many questions in my head. I was thinking about entering for a second, but then I had to really stop and think what this would mean for me as a poet. We all want to be known for our writing, but at what price? Is Ralph Lauren exploiting poets? Would this bring more exposure towards poetry and spoken word? Can a poem sell clothing? Is this really about the poetry?
What are my rights as a poet entering this contest? Is my poem still mine? Is it still my intellectual property? Or does it become stagnant and frozen on this Rugby contest page? Are you going to do a commercial like the ones on the page and then call it a day? What is the extent of my exposure? Will you choose me based on my work or my look? Will it matter that I am not a Ralph Lauren person who dresses like that everyday? Who are you really selling to? Who am I as the poet in this venture?
I have made the decision to not enter, though I certainly have work that fits the theme and it would be great to a certain extent if I was chosen. I rather find something else that would give me exposure and is actually about poetry than try for something that seems to be about just the clothing. They just didn’t want to use music and thought this would give it more depth.
I agree with my fellow poet Cherisse when she said in a Facebook comment, “I don't care for the clothes, but if a poet should be affiliated with a brand and a brand with a poet, their ideals should match.”