I wish that David Orr’s “Poetry And, Of, and About” had explored the relationship between poetry and law more fully, rather than shifting its subject to the relationship between poetry and academia. The one quotation given as a poem “about” the law, Lawrence Joseph’s “Admissions against Interest,” is interesting mostly because it violates the laws of English and of poetry, as those laws were understood before Modernism undermined the very concept that there are rules that govern composition. The poem’s division into two-line stanzas, using the typographical conventions of verse to accord significance to an essentially prosaic text, exemplifies the kind of linguistic subterfuge that has eclipsed clarity and lucidity in Modernist literature and law.
On the other hand, Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” also quoted by Orr, is written in eight-line stanzas, each of which consists of two quatrains rhyming abab, whose very regularity facilitates the comprehension of its text. Furthermore, the three central stanzas of the poem are not, as Orr claims, out of place, nor do they thus represent any celebration of playful autonomy from rules. “Two Tramps in Mud Time” is a poem and not a treatise; its central descriptive passages create a dramatic and suspenseful pause between the onset and the resolution of the poem’s conflict, during which one’s sensory experience of the surrounding environment might well be heightened.
Orr rightly concludes that “just poetry” has, indeed, always been more than enough—except to those Modernists for whom the laws of verse seem too trivial to express their lofty philosophical preoccupations.
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