Law and Conversation

May 23, 2011

Watch This: Lynda Barry on Poetry

Filed under: Books and writing,lawyers,poetry,storytelling — Helen Gunnarsson @ 5:37 pm
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Via Rachelle Cruz I found this inspiring video from the amazing and brilliant artist Lynda J. Barry on poetry.  In “The View From Here,” Barry sings Emily Dickinson to both Gershwin and Jobim, explains that haiku isn’t an exercise in 5-7-5 syllables, but a picture, and opines that poetry, like other arts, is alive and not only useful but essential.

I love Barry’s message. Today I had a great conversation with another lawyer who told me about how much music adds to his life. He’s one of a number of busy and successful lawyers I know who find time to play an instrument, paint a picture, or tell a story in poetry or prose and have a richer professional and personal life as a result. All of those creative pursuits are part of what makes us human.

Barry also says we can best understand poetry not by reading it, but by memorizing it, and that music can help. Her video from The Poetry Foundation is well worth eight minutes of your time.

I urged everyone a while ago to read some poetry every day. What are you reading, or playing, or writing that’s not for work today?

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January 12, 2011

Poetry: Three to read

Filed under: Books and writing,poetry — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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Earlier this week I busted some hackneyed excuses for not reading and urged everyone to read a poem a day.  Turns out I’m not the only one with that idea!

Joanna Paterson over at Confident Writing posts “You Don’t Need a Book to Start Enjoying Poetry.”  She says she, probably like most of us who occasionally read poetry, rarely reads an entire book of poetry but opts instead to dip in now and then–a great activity for the busy person.  And she advocates looking for poetry in unexpected places and keeping an open mind about it. 

British writer Jane Gardam is on a campaign to get her neighbors to display poetry in their home and shop windows as well as inside businesses and the church yard, The Guardian writes.  I’ve seen Gardam’s highly praised books in the library and at the bookstore, and am putting them on my list.

Here are three wonderful poems.  And you can read each one in a minute or two.

1)  “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Read it and marvel how complex and moving a story Shelley tells in so few words.

2)  “Introduction to Poetry,” by Billy Collins.  Collins wants to put the fun and enjoyment back into poetry.  Good on him!

3)  “Late Poem To My Father,” by Sharon Olds.  A tribute to an imperfect but loving father.

Readers, what poems have moved you?

January 10, 2011

Read This: Poetry

Filed under: Books and writing,poetry,Read This! — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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No time to read?

Sure, you’re busy.  You work, you’re understaffed, you have a partner, you have a spouse, you have kids, you have other family members who need your time, you’re tired, you have chores, you travel, you’re on call, you do volunteer work, you’re active in professional organizations, you’re campaigning for a promotion, you’re a Very Important Person.  So, you sigh, much as you’d love to, you have No Time To Read.

Excuses, all of them. 

I know:  I’ve made many of them myself.

Here’s what all of us can do in the course of any day:  read a poem.  One poem.

Most of us probably don’t think of poems when we think of what we’d like to read or draw up our reading or book group lists.  Andrew Petcher’s comment on my post about the Elgin Marbles, quoting “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” Lord Byron’s eloquent poem from 1812, on Lord Elgin’s plundering the Parthenon, got me thinking about how great it would be if we all read more poetry.  And nobody is too busy to find two minutes in a day to read a short poem.

Here are a few reasons to read poetry:

–Like reading anything else not required by your employment, it challenges and refreshes your mind and outlook.

–Most poems are short.  You can read many in just a minute or two.  You can also spend more time savoring the language and thinking about how the poet put words together, structured the poem, and what the poem means to or evokes in you.  (Of course, some poems are epics, and require the time of a hefty novel to read and enjoy.)

–In a good poem, every word counts.  There’s nothing superfluous.  A short poem might tell a very complex story and evoke strong feelings in the reader.  Reading a terse, carefully crafted piece, whether an essay, fiction, or poetry, is a delight.  It will also influence the reader to become a better writer.

–Poetry is beautiful. 

You can start by reading Byron’s poem, which Project Gutenberg has made freely available online.  For more poetic comments from Byron  on the Elgin Marbles, see his “The Curse of Minerva” (also free).  For background on Byron and the Elgin Marbles, see Ann Wuyts’ 2009 post on the Heritage Key blog.  (To my delight, I see that Ann has recommended several graphic travel novels on her bio page on the Heritage Key site.)

Another good way to get some poetry into your life is to sign up for Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” via e-mail, RSS, or podcast.  It’s free, and Keillor starts every edition with a poem.

Do check out Andrew Petcher’s “Have Bag, Will Travel“; he’s just posted about his trip to Segovia, Spain.  Some of his commenters have their own very interesting and beautifully illustrated blogs, including James ‘s Plus Ultra.

Readers, any poems you’d recommend?

October 4, 2010

Read This: A Book You Dislike

This week I’d like to urge everyone to give a book you originally disliked another try, as I am.  I’m giving another chance to Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee’s universally praised “Disgrace,” a novel I disliked so much the first time I started it, a few years ago, that I put it aside.  

Aside from the entire rest of the literary universe, two friends whose reading recommendations are generally right on tell me “Disgrace” is great.  So, even though the main character strikes me as repellent, and even though I know that there are at least two really awful incidents of violence in the book, I struck a deal with one of those friends, Chicago lawyer Ava George Stewart:  I’ll give “Disgrace” another try. 

I’m not doing this for nothing, though:  Ava’s part of the deal is that she has to give Vikram Seth’s “The Golden Gate,” a novel written entirely in sonnets, a try.  Seth is better known for his more conventional prose novels, “A Suitable Boy” and “An Equal Music,” both of which I loved.  But I also enjoyed “The Golden Gate” tremendously. 

Though Ava says she’s not much for poetry, I think she’s getting the better end of the bargain.  Seth’s novel, though bittersweet, is a lot of fun, while I’m fully expecting to be horrified and depressed over the course of “Disgrace.”  Still, I’m the one who crafted and proposed the exchange.  What I’m hoping and expecting to get out of it is an appreciation of the work’s merit, but even if I end up hating it, I’ll have gained the right to criticize it.

After trying and putting aside “Disgrace,” I read another classic South African novel:  Alan Paton’s “Cry, The Beloved Country.”  Now, THERE’S a beautifully told story.  It seems unfortunate that the Booker Prize hadn’t yet been funded back in Paton’s day, but the book did win the Cheltenham Booker Prize in 2008 for the year 1948.

Both of these South African novels are chock full of legal issues.  “Disgrace” begins by setting up a case for a university professor’s sexual harassment of a student and continues through vicious crimes of violence inspired by South Africa’s now dismantled apartheid system.  “Cry, The Beloved County” is all about the misery of colonial racial policies that led to the country’s adoption of apartheid laws later the same year the book was published (1948).  It, too, depicts a crime and legal proceedings, which I won’t detail in order not to spoil things for those who haven’t yet read it.  The South African government banned it–a timely note, since last week was Banned Books Week here in the US.

“Disgrace” won’t be the first book I originally disliked that I’ve tried again:  I recently gave John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run,” another chance.  This time, I not only finished it but also went on to read the next book in the “Rabbit” tetralogy, “Rabbit Redux,” and added the last two to my list.  I’ll have more on my experience with Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom later this week.

What highly touted books have you tried and hated?  Might you be willing to give any of them another try?  If you’ve done so, did you end up eventually liking, or at least respecting, the book?

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