Sunday, September 20, 2009

Poetry And The Law

So, I am a huge reader of, lover of, and student of poetry and I have, in my wicked youth and childhood, even composed a few poems that I believe do not suck.

But I spend most of my days doing and absorbing not poems but legal writing which, I swear to you, when done well (which is not all that often (Clauses, people. Learn where to put them)), is a thing of beauty and transcendence. There are even a few legal opinions (the things the judge(s) write that say how they decided a case and why they think they are right) that are written in poetry and, if I can ever afford to retire, I'd love to collect them in a slim volume. I've only ever quoted poetry in a brief once, and the quote, a tribute to my father, was from John Milton's Areopagitica: And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously [to] misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to second best in a free and open encounter? (My dad misremembered this in a more poetic, and, thus, better version: "Whoever knew Truth put to second best when scattered to the Four Winds?" I grew up on that. I think Milton never anticipated Fox "News").

Here's a lovely (and short!) article by a federal judge about the relationship between poetry and legal writing. I'll add only this: legal writing is all about, IMHO, expressing exactly what you mean, in such a way that nothing distracts your reader and in such a way that there is zero, absolutely zero, ambiguity about what you mean. Poetry is about expressing exactly what you mean, in such a way that you grab your reader's insides and there is zero, absolutely zero, ambiguity about what you mean, although your words may, and in a good poem quite often do, have layers of meaning. I'm good at one, good at appreciating the other. I've had a v rich life as a result.

(I'm going to be blogging a bit over the next few weeks about people who are talking about poetry. If you don't read poetry, you should likely skip over those posts. My own experience is that you need to read a lot -- no, really, a lot -- of poetry before you try to read, what is obviously "the experience once removed" of people writing about people reading poetry. I've tried to come at poetry from both directions, and I think that actually reading poetry, figuring out what you like, what you don't, what would work for you in a Dark Moon ritual, on the treadmill, in your darkest hour, when your heart overflows, should come a long time before reading about reading about poetry. YMMV.)

Picture found here

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