September 14, 2015

To All the Lawyer Poets (and Other Poets Out There)-- Call For Papers: American Poetry Imagines the Law

Via James R. Martel:
CFP for panel: American Poetry Imagines the Law Shelley’s pronouncement in his Defense of Poetry that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” has been cited frequently as an argument for the study of law and literature – either as the study of law’s uses of literary language (law asliterature) or of literature’s engagement of legal issues (law in literature). Studies of law in literature have predominantly focused on prose fiction and, more rarely, on drama. By comparison, poetry’s imaginations of the law have hardly been discussed, and indeed, Richard Posner summarily dismissed poetry as a field of inquiry when he claimed that “[r]elatively few short poems take law as their theme.” Yet when Shelley wrote of “poets,” he had in mind writers of verse.

Taking Shelley as our point of departure for this panel, we explore how American poetry imagines the law in two kinds of poems. We are interested, on the one hand, in poems that engage with and reflect on legal concepts and categories such as justice, punishment, property, or rights and, on the other hand, in poems that address historically specific issues and events, such as legal reform, spectacular trials, or institutions of the law from the law school student to the Supreme Court. The central question that we address in close readings concerns the relationship of the poems’ formal characteristics to the “legislating” power that Shelley attributes to them: Which specific formal strategies do poems employ to imagine and negotiate legal categories, processes and institutions? Which poetic traditions and modes do they engage? And, most importantly, what are the affordances of the poem in imagining the law that cannot be found in prose fiction, drama, or the essay? In particular we are interested in how specific poetic modes (such as satire, didacticism, pastoralism, or sentimentalism) and subgenres (haikus, sonnets, ballads, narrative poems, etc.) have been used to deal with the law.

We invite close readings of poems from the colonial to the contemporary period; authors may include but are not limited to Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, John Ashbury, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Cullen Bryant, Averill Curdy, Phoebe Cary, Emily Dickinson, Rita Dove, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, Robert Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Marge Piercy, Muriel Rukeyser, Charles Simic, Claudia Rankine, John Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Richard Wright.

Please send your abstract (300 words) and a short CV to Birte Christ and Stefanie Mueller:;

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