April 1, 2015

April Is National Poetry Month, and Lawyers Are Participating

The poetry of the law: it's a fine phrase, and some people take it literally. David Kader and Michael Stanford published an anthology of law-related poems in 2010 (University of Iowa Press).


Here's a meditation on lawyer-poets from Martin Espada (a poet-lawyer), written in 2011.

A surprising number of poets were or are lawyers. Archibald MacLeish (Harvard Law, 1920), John William Corrington (Tulane Law, 1975), and  Wallace Stevens (New York Law School, 1903) are among the better known US lawyer/poets. For a film based on Corrington's work, see Decoration Day (starring James Garner)  Like several other scholars, MacLeish was also Librarian of Congress (1939-1944). William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) practiced law for ten years before turning full time to writing. Among his best known poems is Thanatopsis (1821). 

The seventeenth century legal scholar Sir John Davies also achieved fame as a poet. The radical poet Ernest Charles Jones (1819-1869) also practiced law, before and after his confinement for support of Chartist politics. William Schwenck Gilbert was law trained;  his knowledge of law helped flavor many of the works he wrote with composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. John A. Quinby was an admiralty lawyer turned poet and soldier. Charles Perrault (1628-1703) the author of the Mother Goose stories, was a lawyer by training.

Federico Garcia Lorca studied law before becoming famous as a writer of dramas and poetry. He was a noted anti-Fascist who was murdered by Franco's forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  

Edgar Lee Masters ("Spoon River Anthology") was a Chicago attorney.  James Weldon Johnson had many talents, including songwriting (he composed "Lift Every Voice and Sing") but he was also the first African-American admitted to the Florida Bar.  The early nineteenth century lawyers William Ross Wallace and George Watterston were also poets; Watterson was the third Librarian of Congress.

Attorney Adam Taylor is a comic poet.  Maybe that makes him a poet-lawyer-ate.  George Wallace is a former actor turned attorney and poet.  Vanessa Place is a poet-publisher who also practices criminal law in California. Susannah Gilman has left the practice of law for the practice of poetry.

Academia boasts a number of poetic practitioners. Mary Leader was an assistant attorney general for the state of Oklahoma and then earned a PhD from Brandeis; she then taught English at Purdue. She has won several national prizes for her poetry.  Alex Scherr started out as a poet, then went to law school, and now combines his love of words and his love of the law as a member of the law faculty at the University of Georgia. The law professor Lawrence Joseph (St. John's University) is also a noted poet.  Seth Abramson is a lawyer-poet who now teaches English at the University of New Hampshire (Manchester).  Both Professor Abramson and Ms. Place (mentioned above) are part of the Conceptualist Poetry movement.

Want to read more about lawyer-poets? Here's another list, from James Elkins of West Virginia School of Law. Or see the following articles:

Elizabeth Cohen, Man of the law, and of letters as well, New York Times, April 1, 1994, at B8. About law professor and poet Lawrence Joseph.

Jerry Crimmins, A Specialist in all, even iambic pentameter, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Sept. 19, 2005, at 3. About attorney poet Paul Homer.

“Spoon River” at the firehouse, The Ithaca Journal, June 8, 2000 at 4C. About Edgar Lee Masters.

Dana E. Sullivan, From briefs to poetry, a classic change of pace, New Jersey Lawyer, March 28, 
2005, at 1.  About attorney lawyers through history, including Francis Scott Key, James Russell Lowell, Sidney Lanier, Edgar Lee Masters, Wallace Stevens, Archibald MacLeish, Steven M. Richman, Scott Alan George, and C. Megan Oltman

Celebrate National Poetry Month (April 2015)

No comments: