Poetry, Law and Songwriting

A challenging thought in a book review in yesterdays NYT Book Reivew.

The writer of the review, of a book on poetry notes:

The poetry columnist for the Book Review, Orr is also an attorney, which makes sense: a good poem, like a sound legal argument, puts the right materials in the best order so as to convince an audience. A lawyer doesn’t want his listeners to say, “I wonder what he meant” any more than a poet does.

But just as you can’t predict the outcome of a trial, so, too, does poetry work in mysterious ways.

The book is called Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, and it has as at least one of its points that poetry needs to be understandable, but that its impact is often unpredicatable.

I have noted how good legal writing and good folk song writing combines the general and the very particular.

Think of Holly Near’s song referending Karen Silkwod, It Could Have Been Me:

THERE’S TALK OF NUCLEAR SAFETY AND THERE’S TALK OF NATIONAL PRIDE
BUT WE ALL KNOW IT IS A DEATH MACHINE AND THAT’S WHY KAREN DIED,

And, compare that with a good brief (not a real one here):  “The judge repeated violated the defendant’s right to be heard (“No, Sir I am not going to listen to that — its nothing to do with me.” (Tr V-3).

Anyway, maybe we are all poets at heart, and should allow ourselves more often not to hide it.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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One Response to Poetry, Law and Songwriting

  1. Charles Dyer says:

    I believe we are indeed poets at heart. I recommend George Lakoff and Mark Turner’s More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (U. Chicago, 1989). I also recommend Mark Turner’s Death is the Mother of Beauty, which I keep lending out to people, so I don’t have its bibliographic detail in front of me. Cognitive linguistics treats metaphor use as on a continuum between imaginative poetic metaphor and polysemy. We all do it, up and down the line, and legal discourse is rampant with extended uses. Richard, you are right about the general and the very particular, except that I would say that what seems general is really cultural competency, the broad use of a term to cover the multiple instances when it fits within our common experience. If anyone on the blog is interested in more about cognitive linguistics, you can email me.

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