In a drive to remedy the disproportionate underrepresentation of poetry, April has been designated National Poetry Month. Schoolchildren will march on Washington chanting, “Make poems, not tests!” The ABA will henceforth require lawyers to participate in remedial poetry readings. The NY Court of Appeals has ordered all briefs filed in April to be written in iambic pentameter.
Poetry has traditionally been a staple of summation arguments, from prosecutor Marc Antony’s “For Brutus is an honorable man,” to defense counsel Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained but falleth like the gentle rain from heaven,” to Johnnie Cochran’s immortal, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.”
A more recently developed legal-poetic form is the jingle in personal injury lawyer ads. These feature such gems as, “We turn your pain into rain,” showing a happy client being showered with dollar bills, or the blank verse, “I am the hammer/ They are the nails,” referring to slow-paying insurance companies. Recognizing that a good poem admits of multiple interpretations, one firm declaims, “If your wound ain’t mending/ We’ll give you a happy ending.”
An entire blog devoted to satirical legal verse from haiku to limericks is MadKane who claims to be a “recovered” lawyer, although anyone who comes up with stuff like this is clearly on the verge of relapse:
What the Law’s About [to be sung to “The Hokey Pokey”]
You have to dot those i’s.
You’ve got to cross those t’s.
You have to seem so wise.
You must justify those fees.
And if you’re smart and lucky
You will turn your case around.
That’s what the law’s about.
For the client-centered, the richest source of law poetry is the booming-from-cars genre, such as 2pac’s “16 on Death Row,” whose narrator laments, “Dear Mama, these cops don’t understand me/ I turned to a life of crime ’cause I came from a broken family,” and ends up advising, “I’m convinced self-defense is the way/ Please, stay strapped, pack a gat every day.”
We enthusiastically recommend a dip into Poetry of the Law, Kader & Stanford, eds., for everything from Sir William Blackstone’s “A Lawyer’s Farewell to His Muse,” (poet who can’t get a job except at Burger King reluctantly decides to go to law school), to Lewis Carroll’s “The Barrister’s Dream” (Snark defends pig charged with deserting its sty), to Martín Espada’s “The Legal Aid Lawyer Has an Epiphany” (on finding his storefront office window smashed).
And for those of us constantly defeated by judicial decisions copied straight from the People’s brief, there’s Alexander Pope’s defiant salvo, “‘Tis hard to say if the greater want of skill/ Appear in writing or in judging ill.”
Happy National Poetry Month!