Introducing Terror, Terrible, Terrific by Rebecca Wadlinger


We talk to W+K Portland Creative Director Becca Wadlinger about her newly published book of poetry.



Becca Wadlinger is a creative director at W+K Portland, but she didn’t come up in the ad industry. A creative writer by trade, Becca received her doctorate in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston, her Master of Fine Arts from the prestigious Michener Center for Writers, and studied writing and translation at places like Oxford University, University of Oslo, and the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University.

Some of Becca’s past ads for W+K include imaginative, fun work for Fisher-Price, an emotional anthem for P&G Tokyo Olympics, and multiple Super Bowl commercials for Coca-Cola, including some that feature poems. She also helped to make the largest free standing cuckoo clock in North America (carved with chainsaws from a single Oregon maple tree) for the Portland tourism account.

We sat down with her to talk about her newly published book of poetry, Terror, Terrible, Terrific.

Talking "Terror, Terrible, Terrific" with W+K Portland Creative Director and Author Becca Wadlinger

A Note from the Publisher

Terror, Terrible, Terrific is a dark, imaginative collection with a distinct love of language, melancholy humor, and affinity for noticing the remarkable in the unremarkable. Working in the heritage of surrealist poets like Tate or Edson, Wadlinger writes with both expansive imagination and narrative control. She keeps “one horrid eye” always open (as Neruda said) to the unspeakable parts of existence while maintaining a plainspoken optimism that things will ultimately be okay.

These poems are awful and invigorating, leading us from terror to a sense of terrific wonderment, just as the title promises.


Q: Tell us about your new book, Terror, Terrible, Terrific. What inspired it?

I’ve been working on this collection for a very long time, so it was inspired by many things including: my own curiosity about everything (from bananas to death), the desire to have conversations with other poets, and an intense love of language. And who was it that said all poems are either about love or death? That’s also true.

Q: The title is also so good. Did that come first, last? How did you come up with it?

The title came towards the end. I noticed how many poems contained the words “terror” or “terrible,” and was also reading about the etymology of those words, and how the connotation of “terrific” shifted to a happier meaning in the 19th century. Word evolution! (Also called “amelioration” when a word takes on a positive connotation over time.) A lot of the poems move from dark to light, so it felt right.

Q: Your background is actually in poetry and creative writing, not advertising. How did you end up in this industry?

Back when I was in graduate school, a Creative Director named Kevin Jones left W+K to write fiction at The Michener Center. I was there studying poetry. He told me I’d be great at advertising because my poems were conceptual, funny, and not impossible for non-poets to understand. I didn’t want to “work for the man” (poets, right?) and got a doctorate instead. Then I moved to Portland, and Lauren Ranke recruited me to write a poem for Diet Coke. I’ve been here since.

Q: How has your background contributed to the work you’ve made at W+K?

Prosody, image, metaphor, concise language–it’s all relevant. I hesitated being “the poet in advertising” at first because I thought I should be an ad person instead. But that didn't last long. Poetry is a huge part of my voice in whatever I write. It’s just in there because I’ve read poems nonstop for… twenty years? Probably longer.

And as a Creative Director (and former writing professor), I love to teach people how to write. I gave one of my writers a crash course in iambic tetrameter for a film last year. She rocked it. I can still recite that script because her meter was so good ‘n sticky. (Hi, Becky.)

Q: Be real. How do you find the time to write a whole ass book AND have a full time job? (and parent, btw. Becca is a mom of two).

Writing books is hard. I took my time. The first poem in this book was written in 2006, and the last was written earlier this year.

I used to come in early and work on poetry before the agency opened. I didn't have kids then. Now, it helps that my partner in life is also a writer. My W+K sabbatical was perfectly timed to finish the edits for this book, and he booked me an Airbnb and said, "Go. FInish your book. I've got the kids, I'll do laundry, go."

Q: I’m absolutely obsessed with the visual accompaniments for this project. Can you tell us how they came about?

It's all Nick Stokes. Nick is a wildly talented illustrator, and he somehow understands the complex, haunted landscape of my brain. He started texting me different drawings of book cover ideas–he sent 42 of them–and I thought, “Holy shit. I’m going to have to write 41 more books.”

Seeing all of those drawings together made Nick want to illustrate and animate a film–and make his directorial debut. So he pitched me the animation for “If You Feel Terrible,” the first poem in my book, which we’re releasing online in a week or two.

Q: What are you reading right now and what books do you always find yourself recommending?

I’m always telling people to read Mary Ruefle (right now I’m reading Madness, Rack, and Honey for the hundredth time). I tell a lot of people to read Terrence Hayes. And I’ve given away dozens of copies of The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert. “Michiko Dead” is a perfect poem.

Q: Any other projects in the works right now?

I have a second collection that’s a book-length lyrical poem about a woman in an iron lung. It’s based on a play I wrote that was at the Off Center Theatre in Austin. And I might venture into young adult fiction, but we’ll see.

Q: What advice do you have for creative writers who want to work in advertising?

The biggest task is finding a place that will appreciate you being a writer-writer.

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Years and years ago, I did some work and mentoring for Caldera, Dan Wieden’s nonprofit.

After a presentation, Dan asked where I was from. I said… “I’m from poetry.” Ugh. Yep. (I still feel dumb for saying that.) Dan’s response? “Well don’t let this place fuck that up.”

Turns out Dan loved poetry. He showed me the books he was reading. Told me about how E.E. Cummings blew the top right off his head and made him want to write poetry, too. He knew Robert Creeley. He loved words and stories. After that conversation, I felt right at home.

Thank you Becca!


Poem by Rebecca Wadlinger

Directed, illustrated, and animated by Nick Stokes

Edit and sound by Steve Sprinkel

Produced by Jennifer Fiske and Hayley Goggin Avila

Additional animation by David Mellor

Sound Design and Mix by Natalie Huizenga

Finish by Gavin Wright

Special thanks to Adam Sirkin, Cameron Blake, JP Petty, Ana Balarin, Hermeti Balarin, Zachary Schomburg, Sarah Usmen, Catherine Liu, Kathleen Russell, Jenny Greenfield, Louise Woodward, and Poe

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