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Kader and Stanford edit anthology of 'Poetry of the Law'

March 30, 2010

Professor David Kader of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and Michael Stanford, an attorney in the Maricopa County Public Defender's Office in Phoenix and a College of Law alumnus, have assembled an anthology of law poems, which is being described as the first serious anthology of law-related poetry ever published in the United States.

A reading of the book, Poetry of the Law: From Chaucer to the Present, is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, April 7, in Room 105 of Armstrong Hall at the College of Law. It was published in March by the University of Iowa Press.

"Set in courtrooms, lawyers' offices, law-school classrooms and judges' chambers; peopled with attorneys, the imprisoned (both innocent and guilty), judges, jurors, witnesses and law-enforcement officers; based on real events or exploring the complexity of abstract legal ideas; the poems celebrate justice or decry the lack of it, range in tone from witty to wry, sad to celebratory, funny to infuriating," according to the publisher's description.

Dean Paul Schiff Berman praised the book.

"Law is pervasive and an important part of the fabric of our cultural life," Berman said. "Accordingly, the anthology of law and poetry is both a welcome literary addition and a contribution to our understanding of law's impact in society."

"Language is the tool of law, both written and spoken," Kader said. "It is the same with poetry. With these common tools of expression, the idea of law and literature being intimately related is no surprise."

Both Kader and Stanford have had a lifelong love of poetry.

Kader, an affiliate faculty member of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, was an English major in college with an emphasis in poetry. He edited his college poetry magazine, in which he published some poems, and considered pursuing a master of fine arts degree before deciding on law school.

"I love poetry," he said. "I read it almost every day and have since my college days. Every evening I pick up a book of poetry and consider at least one or two poems, and on weekends I will frequently read an entire volume."

Kader kept stumbling across poems about the law, and began to keep a list of these law poems. He also created a course on Shakespeare and the Law, which he taught at Cambridge University in England and subsequently several times at ASU.

Stanford, who has a doctorate in English, also edited his college literary magazine and won the Academy of American Poets literary prize for a collection he wrote as a student. He has published poetry and literary criticism, and has taught at the University of Virginia and Stanford University, as well as ASU's Barrett, The Honors College.

In 2001, Stanford grew restless and because he found law intellectually fascinating, decided to go to law school. While he was in law school, he continued to teach part time, including a class on law and literature.

Eventually, Stanford and Kader connected and began to share their interests in law, literature and poetry, and wondered at the lack of a poetry anthology devoted to law.

Kader said the law can be found in a great deal of fiction, as well as plays, not to mention films, but very little on the law in poetry is readily available. And Stanford had noticed the same issue in preparing to teach his law and literature course.

"It is exciting to find an important, but genuinely neglected topic," Stanford said. "Finding the next thing to say about Hamlet gets harder and harder as more and more is written about it."

The two set out to put together an anthology.

"We saw a gap there that needed closing, and our book accomplishes that, and in so doing makes a significant contribution to the study of law and literature," Kader said.

"It was a wonderful kind of intellectual companionship," Stanford said. "We had long conversations about the connections between law and poetry. We found poems from inside the system, poems from outside the system, satirical ones, deeply serious ones. As with all poetry lovers, we would say, 'Isn't this a marvelous line? Can you believe this metaphor?' "

They soon had more than 200 high-quality law poems organized in a number of thematic chapters, and submitted a manuscript to publishers. Eventually the University of Iowa Press accepted the submission, but on the condition that the anthology be reduced in size, to no more than about 100 poems, for market reasons.

The cutting process was demanding and not without many tough but cordial discussions between the two editors on which poems simply had to go.

"We each had our favorites, but throughout the process, Mike and I would come to agreement on what poems remained and what had to be removed," Kader said.

Eventually, the list was shortened to exactly 100 poems from the 1300s to the present. The book also contains an introduction and notes.

Some of the poems are about cases, like Sacco and Vanzetti, or The Scottsboro Boys. Some are about judges, lawyers or witnesses. They include love poems from Shakespeare, who used legal language, like "indicted" and "accused." Poet Robert Haas dedicated a poem to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan that celebrates jurisprudence, including images about the law being like tree trunks growing up toward the light. Rudyard Kipling employed a similar image of laws as reeds that "bend so far but never break." Poet Percy Shelley, who lost custody of his children to his in-laws after his wife's death, wrote a poem criticizing the judge. William Wordsworth wrote defending capital punishment.

"Our primary criterion was, of course, did the poem concern itself in some vital way with the law. But beyond that we asked: 'Is it a good poem?' " Kader said.

Stanford said that, working as a lawyer, adds meaning to the poetry he reads.

"When I read Mi Vida: Wings of Fright by Martín Espada, who worked as a tenants lawyer helping communities of illegal immigrants in New England, and he talks about how hard it is to help clients, saying, 'the lawyer … had a bookshelf of prophecy but a cabinet empty of cures,' I relate to that.

Stanford said that, in hundreds of hearings and close to a dozen trials, he has sometimes quoted the Constitution, movies and even television, but never poetry.

"That is, in part, because the cultural heritage we have is more and more divided and attenuated, and you can no longer expect every high school graduate to recognize Shakespeare," Stanford said. "I would never want to be condescending to a jury."

The book is available at bookstores or directly from the press, 800-621-2736 or

The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, renamed for the retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 2006, is pursuing a bold and transformative model for public legal education in the 21st century, a model we call "legal education in the future tense." This model re-imagines the law school as a multifaceted legal studies center serving law students, professionals from other fields, and undergraduates seeking broad-based exposure to legal issues. At the core of this expansion is a dedication to making the law school a valuable resource for addressing major regional, national, and international problems of law and public policy. The College is the leading law school in the Phoenix area, boasts an Indian Legal Program that is arguably the best in the nation, houses the Center for the Study of Law, Science & Innovation, the oldest, largest and by far the most comprehensive law and science center in the country, and the new Center for Law and Global Affairs. Beyond the traditional J.D., the College offers several concurrent degrees, including a J.D./M.D. program with the Mayo Medical School, a J.D./M.B.A. with the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, a J.D./Ph.D. in Law and Psychology with the ASU Department of Psychology, and a J.D./Ph.D. in Justice Studies with the ASU School of Social Transformation's Justice and Social Inquiry Program. It also offers graduate degrees in Biotechnology and Genomics and in Tribal Policy, Law and Government. A Master of Legal Studies program gives non-lawyers an opportunity to develop needed legal skills to help students advance in their professional careers.

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law