Constructing a Canon of Law-Related Poetry: Reviewing David Kader & Michael Stanford, Eds., 'Poetry of the Law: From Chaucer to the Present' (2010)
27 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2011 Last revised: 6 Jun 2012
Date Written: March 27, 2011
Law and poetry make a potent, if surprising, pair. Poetry thrives on simultaneity and open-endedness, while legal writing aspires to resolve issues decisively, whether it advocates or adjudges. The law and literature movement has traditionally focused either on law as literature, applying literary theory and techniques to legal texts such as judicial opinions and legislation, or law in literature, i.e., law as portrayed in literary and artistic works. Poetry and poetics have garnered relatively little attention under either approach. While some scholars blame that omission on a supposed dearth of law-related poetry, the poems collected in Kader and Stanford's "Poetry of the law: From Chaucer to the Present" (2010) belie that claim. This essay considers the place of poetry in legal studies and advocates incorporating it into both the dialogue and the curriculum of the law and literature movement. It identifies themes that emerge from the juxtaposition of the poems in the anthology, examines the relationship of fixed-verse forms to law in the poems, and draws attention to those voices that are underrepresented in the collection and the movement. It relies primarily on the process of close reading several of the hundred poems included in "Poetry of the Law" and, in so doing, it practices law in literature while it models precisely the type of critical approach that would serve those participating in the study of law as literature. It prescribes a canon of law-related poetry and illustrates how the inclusion of poems and techniques of poetic interpretation stand to benefit students, lawyers, and theorists alike.
Keywords: law & literature, poetry, book review, metaphor
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