Lawyers | Poets | Poetry

Professor James R. Elkins
College of Law
:: West Virginia University
Fall, 2012

Assignments Archive

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:

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua--that's the only name I can think of for it--like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across American, this American, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its bnks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become stilted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. [Id. at 15-16]

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.

Merriam Webster: edify

Online Eytomological Dictionary: edification

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.

Joseph Caldwell [brief bio & poems]

Ace Boggess Bio & Poems [handout in class]

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

Poems: Joan Blessing, Fern G.Z. Carr, Chris Cessac, Charles Douthat, Laura Fargas, Dan Gunter, Chris Hannan, James McKenna, Joyce Meyers, Jesse Mountjoy, Tim Nolan, Frank J. Parmenter, Georgia Ressmeyer, Charles Reynard, George F. Riess, Kristin Roedell, Wendy Willis, Warren Wolfson.

The poetry in this collection appear in the Legal Studies Forum -- volume 37 (2013).

Sept. 4. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Judge James Clarke

"The Juried Heart," Legal Studies Forum--vol.36 (suppl. 1) (2012)

The poems in "The Juried Heart" were selected from James Clarke's published collections of poetry: Silver Mercies (Exile Editions, 1997), The Raggedy Parade (Exile Editions, 1998), The Ancient Pedigree of Plums (Exile Editions 1999), The Way Everyone Is Inside (Exile Editions, 2000), Flying Home Through the Dark (Exile Editions, 2001), How to Bribe a Judge: Poems from the Bench (Exile Editions, 2002), Forced Passage: A Short History of Hanging (Exile Editions, 2005), Dreamworks: New and Selected Poems (Exile Editions, 2008).

James Clarke was born in Peterborough, Ontario, attended McGill University and Osgoode Hall. He practiced law in Cobourg, Ontario and was appointed to the Bench in 1983 and served as a judge of the Superior Court of Ontario. Clarke, now retired, resides in Guelph, in southwestern Ontario, a 100 kilometers west of Toronto. Clarke is also the author of two memoirs: A Mourner's Kaddish: Suicide and the Rediscovery of Hope (Novalis, 2006) and a second memoir to be published by Exile Editions, Canada, in 2012.

Sept. 11. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Steven M. Richman

"Missed Exits," 36 Legal Studies Forum 283-353 (2012)

Sept. 18. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Ruthann Robson

[Poems], 29 Legal Studies Forum 95-144 (2005)

Background Reading:

"A Conversation with Ruthann Robson" [on-line text]

James R. Elkins, A Poetics--of and for--Ruthann Robson," 8 N.Y.C. L. Rev. 363 (2005)

Biographical Note: Ruthann Robson is Professor at City University of New York's Queens College of Law. She is the author of a collection of ooetry, Masks (The Leapfrog Press, 1999). Robson's poetry has appeared in Calyx, Kalliope, Florida Review, Madison Review, Nimrod, New Letters, Conditions, Trivia, Common Lives/Lesbian Lives. She is also the author of four books of fiction, including the novels, Another Mother (St. Martin's Press, 1995) and a/k/a (St. Martin's Press, 1997), and short-story collection, Eye of a Hurricane; author also of five books of non-fiction. Ruthann Robson's work has recently been honored in: Symposium to Honor the Work of Professor Ruthann Robson, 8 N.Y. City L. Rev. 311-461 (2005)

[Interview] [Annotated Bibliography] [Essay on Robson and Her Influence]

Sept. 25. 2012: Reading the Poetry of Margaret Hoehn

Margaret Hoehn, Trajectories, 33 Legal Studies Forum 1-119 (2009)

Oct. 2. 2012: Reading Leslie Hall Pinder

Leslie Hall Pinder, Bring Me One of Everything, 31 Legal Studies Forum 1141-1257 (2007)

Oct. 9. 2012: Class Meeting with Leslie Hall Pinder

Oct. 16. 2012: Poetry in Context and in Practice

  James Boyd White, "The Cultural Background of The Legal Imagination" [on-line text]

 Tim Nolan, "Poetry and the Practice of Law, 46 So. Dak. L. Rev. 677 (2001) ([on-line text]

Oct. 23 & 30. 2012: Lawyer Poets Talking About Their Lives as Lawyers

Nov. 6. 2012: Poems about Poets & Poetry