Lawyers | Poets | Poetry
Professor James R. Elkins
College of Law :: West Virginia University
Tuesday, Aug.21. 2012: Getting the Course Underway
You need no one to tell you that "Lawyers, Poets, and Poetry" is not a traditional law school course. Not being a traditional course, the course becomes what we chose to do, what we elect to read, and our own responses to what we read (and to how we talk about what we read).
I will use our first meeting to tell you about the course by telling you a story about how the course came into being--a where does it come from story.
You have, I assume, your own story of how you ended up in the course. It's a story I hope you will tell, either in class or in writing.
Thursday, Aug. 23. 2012: Reading Poems
In "Lawyers, Poets, and Poetry" we will spend a considerable part of our time reading poems. Some of the poems we read will be about lawyers (and law); many of the poems we read will not, on first appearance, seem to have any relation to the work that lawyers do. When we read these non-lawyer/non-law related poems, we could try to see how every poem we read is in some tangible or intangible way related to our lives as lawyers. I don't think we need to try to make that particular argument--that particular move--with every poem that we read. On the contrary, I think we might, at times, simply read poems and try to figure out if they mean anything to us and if they do, what they mean. In this sense, we are just reading the poems for the pleasure of this kind of reading and for the edification the poem makes possible. [I confess that edification is not a word I use every day. The word sometimes arrives at my doorstep, and I felt like I must invite it in. I first recall seeing the work in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (William Morrow & Co., 1974). Pirsig uses the term "edify" to explain the philosophical vignettes that he presents throught ZAMM. He uses as an analogy of his philosophical commentaries, the old Chautauqua shows. Here is the way Pirsig explains what he has in mind doing in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
Pirsig's Chautauqua--edifying and entertaining as it is--makes little more than a few fleeting references to poets and poetry. Poets and Poetry simply have no place in Pirsig's Chautauqua, and from all we can gather, they play no part in his intellectual development (and I think it fair to say that Pirsig's intellect is one part of the story told in ZAMM). Notwithstanding the absence of poets and poetry in ZAMM, I want to adopt Pirsig's goal-- "edify and entertain"--as the goal of the course.
I should probably make another point about the poetry we read: Most of the poems we read will be the work of lawyers. This raises the question: what does it mean that lawyers are poets? Another way to put the question: what does it mean to you that the poems we read in the course were written by lawyers?
Every course of reading must begin, and it must begin with a text or texts chosen for that purpose. After running through various possibilities, I decided to have you read the work of two West Virginia lawyers: Joseph Caldwell and Ace Boggess. Both are natives of West Virginia and Caldwell practices law in West Virginia. Ace Boggess is a graduate of our law school, although he did not, to my knowledge, ever take up the practice of law.
West Virginia has a long history of lawyer poets. See next Tuesday's assignment.
Assigned poems are designated with the small page symbol.
Reading assignments are signaled by use of the larger page symbol.
Aug.28. 2012: Reading the Poems of Lawyer Poets
Sept. 4. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Judge James Clarke
Sept. 11. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Steven M. Richman
Sept. 18. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Ruthann Robson
Sept. 25. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Margaret Hoehn
Oct. 2. 2012: Reading Leslie Hall Pinder
Oct. 9. 2012: Class Meeting with Leslie Hall Pinder