Every word matters for VSA’s Ben Purkert

Ben Purkert has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but in many ways he’s just getting started. From elementary school beginnings to getting published in The New Yorker (as seen above), The Awl, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, DIAGRAM, AGNI and more, Purkert balances this career with one as a Senior Writer for VSA Partners.

Purkert had an interest in writing as far back as he can remember, though one instance stood out: “When I was very young, Coretta Scott King visited my school,” he recalled. “All the students wrote poems to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and she autographed mine.” Returning home with the poem, he remembers the effect it had on him; “like maybe I had something to say.” Later teachers exposed him to the works of Bishop, Sexton and Plath, “long before I could really process their poems. The incomprehensibility was probably part of the appeal.”

He continued developing his passion at Harvard University, where he studied under renowned poet Jorie Graham. As an MFA student at New York University, he was honored with the opportunity to teach undergraduate students as a New York Times Fellow and serve as poet-in-residence at PS 110, an elementary school located under the Williamsburg Bridge, helping others grow their writing talents. Purkert explains, “The poetry coming from the second graders was especially inspiring. The imagination is so unbound and sincere at that age. One student wrote a poem that ended with the line, ‘Wake up, people. The moon loves us!’ I thought, wow, she’s right.”

Though poetry naturally isn’t a big part of his work at VSA, Purkert’s found that both forms of writing greatly influence each other. Since writing for brands, he claims that his poems tend to pay more attention to the labels on things. Inversely, his experience with poetry informs many technical aspects of his brand writing, particularly brand narratives and video scripts. “Poetry teaches the value of the image, the sonic quality of language, the importance of precision, the power of delivering a punch; I bring these to bear in the writing I do for VSA.”

Purkert’s The Past is the Present Only Colder was named last week’s Poem of the Week by Narrative Magazine. He’s currently completing his first poetry collection comprising six years’ worth of work. To learn more about Purkert, read additional poems or receive updates on upcoming publications, head to his website or follow him on Twitter.