Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

   Lawyers and Poetry   

It seems, on first impression, as if lawyer and poet must surely exist in different universes of thought, feeling, and practice. And for many lawyers and poets,there must be truth embodied in this crude impression–the law leads north and poetry south, to follow one is to give up 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, and to the clever deployment of language as rhetoric and drama, 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, even a sense of wonderment, at the idea of a person both 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 poets, in the way we do lawyers, 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. (We know it to be the exceptional reader and person who reads poetry, and claims to learn from it, to depend on it to hone sensibilities and chart a path in the world.) With our great ignorance (if not active disdain) of poetry, how can it continue to play a part in our literary lives? What makes poetry, and thus the poet, special, different, marginal, misunderstood, ignored?

We may find that the poet, like the lawyer, sees 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 taste, 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 must begin by learning who these people are.

  Chronological Index  

  Alphabetical Index   

  State Index  

  Civil War  

  Misc. Index  

  Contemporary Lawyer Poets [ A-L ]  

Contemporary Lawyer Poets [ M- Z ]  

  An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers 

  Lawyer Poets Around the World   

  Poetry Resources  

  Books By Lawyer/Poets We're Reading  

Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and Poetry is based on research conducted by Professor James R. Elkins, College of Law, West Virginia University. The site was posted Labor Day, September 2, 2001. It is constantly being revised and updated. I add the names of newly discovered lawyer poets as I locate them.

Please contact Professor Elkins with comments, suggestions, criticisms, corrections, or aberrant thoughts about this endeavor. Suggestions for additions are particularly welcome as is biographical information which can be be used on any of the webpages.

  James R. Elkins, September 2, 2001-September, 2006

Announcement: The Legal Studies Forum, edited by James R. Elkins, publishes the poetry of contemporary lawyers.

In February, 2004, LSF published a volume of poetry titled, Off the Record: An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, the first collection of non-law-related poetry ever published (or so our research would suggest). The anthology presented the poetry of sixty-six contemporary lawyer poets (and poets who took up the study of law but abandoned the legal profession for other pursuits). For a preview of the poetry presented in Off the Record: An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, see: Tarlton Law Library-Law in Popular Culture Collection-Etexts.

In May, 2005, the Legal Studies Forum published a second poetry-focused issue that presents approximately 350 pgs. of poetry by lawyers, Hank Lazer's law poetry and essays about Lazer's work, and interviews with lawyer poets Ruthann Robson and Simon Perchik. The poetry found in this issue is available online: Intelligible Hues.

In March, 2006, a third major collection of poetry by lawyers was published by the Legal Studies Forum and is now available (and is now being posted online, summer, 2006).

For an essay on Professor Elkins and his research on lawyer/poets, see James R. Elkins, The Remnants of a Lost & Forgotten Library: On Finding the Lawyer Poets, 30 Legal Studies Forum 1 (2006) [online text]

Copies of the Legal Studies Forum poetry anthology, as well as the 2005 and 2006 collections, are available from the editor, James R. Elkins, College of Law, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506-6130. For inquiries and orders: contact Professor Elkins.