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Friday, January 09, 2009

How Much Poetry Should a Law Professor Write?

I wanted to follow up on some of the later comments in Paul's excellent recent post about what prawfs ought to be doing prior to getting tenure.  David Zaring "mildly disagrees" with what he takes to be Paul's suggestion to "write your bliss" and says that a prawf who is inclined to write about his/her favorite poet's views about liberty might have more fun actually writing poetry.  Paul responds that David has misunderstood him and says "I'm not suggesting someone go off and write poetry."  All this makes me wonder: just how much poetry should a law professor be able to write?

I'm assuming nobody would say that a law professor can't throw off a few verses from time to time, but what if prawf wanted to make a serious commitment to becoming a poet, in addition to being a law professor?  The prawf wants to spend a good amount of time perfecting his/her craft, submitting to poetry journals, participating in poetry workshops, etc.  Since being a prawf and writing legal scholarship isn't a typical 9-5 job, and since most of us could always work a little harder to write yet another law review article if we wanted to sacrifice other things, would this commitment to writing poetry be a problem?  Say that for every 5 poems the prawf writes, he/she could have written one 40 page law review article.  Does writing the 5 poems make him/her a worse prawf?  Is he/she letting his/her school/colleagues/students/dean down?  Does it matter whether, if in addition to the 5 poems, the prawf also writes 2 law review articles?  1 law review article?  1 article every 2 years?  Never writes a law review article?  Does it matter whether the prawf is pre- or post-tenure?  And is there a difference between writing poetry and pursuing other non-writing hobbies, like painting or kayaking?  It doesn't seem like it should matter, but somehow the fact that poetry involves writing makes it maybe more problematic than kayaking, if indeed our job demands that if we are writing, we should be writing about law.

Posted by Jay Wexler on January 9, 2009 at 07:40 AM in Jay Wexler | Permalink


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I am writing "financial poetry" (click my name to my blog "A New Financial You in 28 Days") - perhaps signaling a move from Evidence and Crim Pro to Biz Orgz?
And I got a Wordsworth poem into a footnote of a paper I presented last month.
And, Jeff: Kudos.

Posted by: Brian Foley | Jan 10, 2009 4:34:00 PM

Two words for you, Jay: Charles Black.

More devoted to poetry than anything else. Wrote little legal stuff until later in his career. (They hated him at Columbia, his first gig, so he moved on to Yale). And he became about, oh, the wisest, best con law scholar, ever.

Posted by: Vladimir | Jan 9, 2009 4:05:36 PM

As to David's comment, let me paraphrase A Man For All Seasons: "Make a note of it, Master Rich: 'I always like Paul's posts.'"

On his point about quantitative trade macroeconomists, it is true that our jobs are "jobs" and require "work," but I think they are also vocations. If given my absolute druthers I might choose to be a smashingly successful rock drummer rather than a law professor, but I suspect that even then I would want to write law review articles in my off-hours, and I would certainly continue reading them. Of course the professoriate also contains various "manques" -- poets-manque, novelists-manque, etc. But I think I'll make that the subject of a separate stand-alone post.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jan 9, 2009 11:37:54 AM

At the risk of being altogether too serious about this important issue, I want to note an objection to the implicit dichotomy between what a law professor (or a lawyer) does and poetry. I just did a review for Law & Society Review of a book entitled Policing and the Poetics of Everyday Life by Jonathan Wender of the University of Washington. I'll leave the specifics of the review (positive, by the way) to the journal, but point out that Wender was a police officer turned philosophy professor, and his book is a contrast of the objective/bureaucratic/scientific approach versus an interpretive/hermeneutic/poetic to police-citizen interaction. That is to say: whenever we look for meaning in events we are engaged in a kind of poetry.

Or to put it otherwise:

A law professor writing a poem
Instead of a scholarly tome
Is rather advised
To not get tenure-surprised:
"You should do like the Romans in Rome."

Or how about haiku?

Law professor poems?
They might be a waste of time.
But then again, no.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jan 9, 2009 11:03:58 AM

Hi Jay -- Nice post. In my view, as long as the professor is producing professionally, whether she spends her free time writing poetry, kayaking, or composing symphonies should be of no consequence. It may be that the professor will be *more* productive and creative professionally, not less, given the opportunity to "sharpen the saw" by writing her poems. It is always about balance, at least if we want to avoid burnout. Only the individual can choose what best replenishes the well from which she draws in order to write incisive, worthwhile law review articles.

Collin Udell
http://www.twitter.com/collinudell on twitter

Posted by: Collin Udell | Jan 9, 2009 10:03:21 AM

It's a good question. Especially for those of us who spend some of our printed word output on blog posts.

The odd thing is that writers (and poets esp.) are supposed to benefit from having day jobs, but I assume not every serious poet can manage to be Dana Gioia or Wallace Stevens in that day job (both business executives).

I liked Paul's post! I always like Paul's posts....I'm just not sure that, say, a quantitative trade macroeconomist is necessarily spending her time doing the writing she'd most rather do if she wasn't a quantitative trade macroeconomist.

Posted by: David Zaring | Jan 9, 2009 8:18:39 AM

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