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Poet Law-reate

It happened in the middle of a particularly stressful assignment. There I was, sitting at my laptop, at the desolate hour of 2.20 AM, when I decided.

Enough. Nyet. Nimph. Nope. No More. I’d had it.

And before I knew it …. I was …..

Composing Poetry. 


Yes, you read that right.

I was spewing down line upon line of blank verse in the document where my taxation case comment was being typed out.

And that’s how it started. My inner poet awoke, and has refused to die out since then. While this is all very well, I’ve been compelled to find out more about this strange condition. Was there a nexus between law and poetry I wondered  - and set out on some research.

The results were …. surprising.  Starting with our own courts – 300 plus cite Tagore’s poetry to supplement their judgments – right down to the more adventurous US courts featuring a wealth of judgments with definitive portions composed as poetry.  Sample this verse  by a member of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, about a premarital contract gone awry :


Conrad Busch filed a timely appeal,
Trying to avoid a premarital deal
Which says appellee need not pay him support,
He brings his case, properly, before this Court.
They wanted to marry, their lives to enhance,
Not for the dollars--it was for romance.
When they said "I do," had their wedding day kiss,
It was not about money--only marital bliss.
 But a deal's a deal, if fairly undertaken,
And we find disclosure was fair and unshaken.
Appellant may shun that made once upon a time,
But his appeal must fail, lacking reason (if not rhyme).

The propriety of such acts of verbal gymnastics in the traditionally ”solemn”  realm of court judgments has been the focus of debate. Criticism comes from quarters that find this an exercise which may trivialize the parties and decision itself. The supporting arguments  centre around how  such tactics often tend expand a judgment’s appeal, and audience.  Further, consider how it might stand for the poet-judge himself : the way a poem might break the monotony of legal writing, the manner in which the tight-knit structure of verse would reduce much of the rambling that has became the unfortunate stamp of legal writing.   

The U.S. Courts don’t stop at conventional poetry either : a large field of judgments even has them taking recourse to  song lyrics. Bob Dylan for instance,  manages citations in as many as 26 judicial opinions, while Simon and Garfunkel manage a  tally of 10.

And finally, we have (drumbeats) : the poet-lawyer !   The precision and sense of a good legal argument it seems is not unlike a good poem – quick, irrefutable and pressured by precedent.  As Tim Nolan, a law firm partner moonlighting as a poet notes : “Lawyers cite to state and federal appellate courts. Poets use the precedent of Walt Whitman or Rainer Maria Rilke. The mind -- sorting through history, memory, emotion, personal experience -- ought to inform both poetry and the practice of law. “

Famous poets who were also lawyers ? We have E.E.Cummings, Wallace Stevens, Goethe and Schiller to name a few. And it works the other way round too : many  poets have worked the theme of law into their poetry -  Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pope, Shelley – the list goes on.


It made me think, all of this. About how we often necessarily perceive the law has to be –  of structured-to-perfection briefs, of crisp black robes, of over-drafted statutes, of staid legal writing.

And then we have verse – blank verse, rhyming verse, transcribed-from music verse –  which has its haunting innate power.

I like the thought that the two can intersect. I like the idea  that lawyers can actually be poets, not just an occasional rhyming  couplet here and there. And I like the potential that legal writing has when coupled with the power of verse – the right verse, that is. This of course throws up its own set of questions : poetry itself is so subjective, one man’s Eliot is another man’s Klingon. Context is essential for verse to retain its power : I hark back to those 300 plus Tagore-citing-Indian-Court judgments that tend to arbitrarily throw in a profound-sounding line or two from the man just for a flourish.

At any rate, to end, I’ll leave you with my own composition, from that strange first night of inspiration :


“We need to talk”

No. We don’t.

I don’t need to hear you say

“Sure, but -“

“Yes, however –“

This is fine, really.


“We need to talk”

Not really.

I didn’t, I was happy all along

Really, dapper, fine.

We’re good.


“We need to talk”

Why though !

I’ve said the right things haven’t I ?

Did it by the book

Sealed the deal

So really, a little less conversation ?


“But we do”

Fine, let’s talk.

Can I put in a few good words for myself though ?

Not lavish praise mind you

Just the standard recommendation letter



I help you make me a better person

I want to be ridiculous. With you. Around you. About you.

I want to be relevant to you

Learn a language (to converse with you in more ways than one)

Learn to let go (so I can hold on to you that bit more)

Learn you



See, friend.

If I see you better than you see yourself

That makes your life simpler

I’ll give you the answers before you ask the questions

And when that’s not good enough

I’ll give you the right questions.



And if I see you better than you see yourself

Then I have known you

I have known the joy of unbroken conversation

I have known the joy of conversation broken by a kiss

And a kiss broken by sleep where I dreamt of conversation with you

I have known you




So let’s talk then

And really, say what you’d like to say

And even if you say things that hurt

Its your voice.

And I could listen to it for ever.



That’s it then

“So now then, we can talk.

And since you’ve monologued on a bit

I suppose I’m entitled to my own little piece

Here, then, friend.”


Go ahead …

“I see why you might be a safe bet

I see why you may be right

And I know, I’ve held you

You’ve kept me warm, through the night”


Yes , and –

“And again you’re a safe bet. You’re nice.

You’re what makes sense.

You’re what should be right”


Here it comes …

“And yet. And though.

Safe may be good, and safe may be right

And yes, safe will get me through the night.

“But can’t you see, its got to be a bit wrong

Not becalmed seas

I need a dash – a hint- of a storm

You’re great, I’ll give you that

And yet ! – there … I just said that

You’ll keep me happy, and you’ll keep me well

And yet, you’ll never be enough

Just a decent bet”

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