On first impression, it seems that lawyers and poets
must exist in different universes of thought and feeling,
product and practice. For many lawyers and poets there may be
truth embodied in the crude impression: the law leads north
and poetry south; to follow the one path is to preclude the other, yet,
lawyers write poetry, and poets practice law. Should we be
surprised to learn that lawyers, by training and craft, attuned
to the nuance and power of language, write poetry? We may have grown accustomed in this
era of John Grisham and Scott Turow to the idea of the lawyer as
novelist, but there is still some mystery, at times a sense of wonder,
at the idea of someone who is a poet and lawyer.
Perhaps there is no reason to think so grandly of
our poets or so badly of our lawyers. The celebration of the one
and the damnation of the other becomes rather confused when we find
a man or woman embracing both. Perhaps we misunderstand our lawyers and poets,
in a similar way, because we know so little of their practices,
their language, and their contribution to a literate society. Whatever
the relative merits and worth of lawyers and poets, we are fast
becoming a society which knows far more about its lawyers than about
its poets. With our great ignorance
of poetry, how can it continue to play a
part in our literary lives? What makes poetry, and the poet,
special, different, marginal, misunderstood, ignored?
We may find that the poet and the lawyer see the
world in a nuanced way that demands it be addressed with a special
language, language that calls attention to itself and sets itself
apart by form, rhythm, and practice. Both poetry and law are acquired
tastes, all the more surprising, to have such tastes acquired by
a single person.
What then can be said about lawyers who become poets, poets who
become lawyers? First things first. We begin by identifying this country's lawyer/poets.
Lawyer Poets [ A-L ]
Lawyer Poets [ M- Z ]
Poets Around the World
Strangers to Us All:
Lawyers and Poetry is based
on research on lawyer poets conducted by Professor James R. Elkins, College
of Law, West Virginia University. The
site was first posted on Labor Day, September 2, 2001.
contact Professor Elkins
with criticisms or aberrant thoughts about this endeavor.
© James R. Elkins
"The principles of the poetic sentiment lie deep within the immortal nature of man, and have little necessary reference to the worldly circumstances which surround him."
A. Poe, "Griswold's American Poetry," 2
(5) The Boston Miscellany of Literature and Fashion
218 (Nov. 1, 1842)
News & Publications of Lawyer Poets Archive
2016 (Collections of Poetry by Lawyers)(Forthcoming): L. Ward Abel, Little Town gods (Folded Word Press)
2015 (Collections of Poetry by Lawyers)(Forthcoming): Tom Jones, Beyond Existentialism (FootHills Publ., 2015); Kristin Roedell, Down River (Aldrich Books, 2015); Michael Blumenthal, Be Kind (Etruscan Press)
2015 (Collections of Poetry by Lawyers): James Clarke, The Juried Heart (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2015); David Krieger, Wake Up! (Nuclear Age Foundation Book, 2015); Barry Marks, Dividing by Zero (Negative Capability Press, 2015); David E. Cowen, The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press, 2015); Seth Abramson, Metamericana (BlazeVox [Books], 2015); Laura Chalar, Midnight at the Law Firm (Lawrence, Kansas: Coal City Press, 2015)
2014 (Collections of Poetry by Lawyers): Warren Wolfson, At This Point (Chicago: Ampersand, Inc., 2014); Howard Gofreed, Postcard from Bologna (Milton, Delaware: Broadkill River Press, 2014); Ron Self, Rich Man's Son (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014); Ace Boggess, The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014); Sherri Felt Dratfield, Water Vigils (Finishing Line Press, 2014); Mary Anne Reese, Deep Down (Finishing Line Press, 2014); Sherri Felt Dratfield, Water Vigils (Finishing Line Press, 2014); Mary Anne Reese, Deep Down (Finishing Line Press, 2014); Richard Alan Bunch, Summer Swans: New and Selected Poems (Infinity Publishing, 2014); Elizabeth J. Coleman, Proof (
Spuyten Duyvil Publ., 2014); Paul Nemser, Tales of the Tetragrammaton (Mayapple Press, 2014); Brian Gilmore, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters (Cherry Castle Publ., 2014); Richard Taylor, Rain Shadow (Broadstone Books, 2014); Laura Schulkind, Lost in Tall Grass (Finishing Line Press, 2014); Bruce Hesselbach, Roving Enchantments (White Violet Press, 2014);
Joe Carvalko, Behind the Steel: One Life—Five Epochs (Anaphora Literary Press,
2014); Lynn Saul, In Our Language (Jumping Cholla Press, 2014); Leslie B. Neustadt, Bearing Fruit: A Poetic Journey (Spirit Wind Books, 2014); Richard S. Bank, Testation (Moonstone Press, 2014)
James Clarke's The Juried Heart was published in March, 2015 by Pleasure Boat Studio, a NY literary press. The Juried Heart is a selection of Judge Clarke's poignant poems about his life and his work as a judge. Judge Clarke, a graduate of McGill University and Osgoode Hall, now retired, practiced law in Cobourg, Ontario and assumed his duties on the bench in 1983. Widely published in Canada, The Juried Heart is his first published book in the United States. A collection of Judge Clarke's still more recent work, titled, Reluctant Witness, appears in a 2015 issue of the Legal Studies Forum.
Juried Heart is, to our knowledge, the first major collection
of poetry by a judge about his life on the bench (and off).
James R. Elkins
Contact Professor Elkins.
[Website image (books-lamp-quill): Thomas W. Herringshaw (ed.), Poets and Poetry of Kansas (Chicago: American Publishers' Association, 1894)]