>> Narrator: From the Library of Congress in Washington, DC >> Roberta I Shaffer: Good evening, my name is Roberta Shaffer, and I have the absolute pleasure of serving as the 24th Law Librarian of Congress Tonight is a particularly exciting evening for me, because it represents the really bringing to fruition a discussion and a dream that Rob Casper and I had about five years ago, about somehow marrying law and poetry; law and literature And my dream at the time — although I never shared this with Rob or my cartoon balloon at the time — was to totally redefine the concept of poetic justice [background laughter] And so I hope that we will be able to do that tonight Because there is something very, very important about the sibling relationship between law and poetry And in fact, Attica Locke, the 2016 recipient of the Harper Lee prize for fiction, has said that “Law and literature are really fraternal twins.” And surely we can see that they share the womb of words in both an oral and a written tradition But law and poetry, and law and literature find common ground in their reliance upon storytelling In their heavy use of analogy and metaphor In their conviction for form and format, which they then love to take great liberties with The reliance upon history and precedent And let’s not forget the heavy use of fiction in both disciplines [background laughter] The immortal Shelly provides some conformation in what I call an “Early amicus brief to civilization” His 1821 defense of poetry — a legal term — calls poets the “unacknowledged legislatures of the world” And in a more contemporary setting, the poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen, who is now ultimately legitimated by the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan, calls poetry “the evidence of life” So before I turn the podium over to the true stars of the evening, I just want to make some acknowledgements And the first is to my wonderful, extraordinary colleague Rob Casper The head of the Poetry and Literature Center He wears, in my mind, the triple crown He is a colleague extraordinaire He is an incredibly cool guy [background laughter] And he is so, so creative Let me also do a callout to our new head of the center for the book, Pam Jackson, who is sitting in the audience The center for the book — the Poetry and Literature Center is nested within the center for the book A perfectly wonderful pairing again But let me just conclude by saying that our goal for this evening is to provide clear and convincing evidence [background laughter], beyond a reasonable thought that law and poetry share so much in their DNA And together they enrich the world Indeed, they are wonderful conspirators in helping us to better understand our current times And then help us to transfer the enormous knowledge assets that we will leave as a legacy to the future So with that, I welcome Rob to the podium Thank you so much for being here [ Applause ] >> Rob Casper: Wow I have a more prosaic introduction to make after that wonderfully lyrical welcome by Roberta I should say that five years ago I remember going to the Lollybrain’s [phonetic]office and talking about a possibility of a program with Roberta and Robert Newlan [phonetic] who’s now our Chief of Staff at the library And afterwards calling my dad up who is a small-town lawyer in Wisconsin saying, “I just met the law librarian in the Law Library of Congress; we’re going to do something And I’m happy now we can tell him that we actually finally did [background laughter]

With the proper pair, it really took the right pair of people to get this program off the ground So before we begin, let me tell you to turn off your cell phones or any electronic devices that you have that might interfere with the event Second, please note that this record is being recorded And by participating in the Q & A session, you give us permission for future use of this recording This is the kind of event we’re really excited about having a webcast to let the whole world know about the ways in which we’re thinking about law and literature Finally, let me tell you a little bit about the Poetry and Literature Center We are home to the US Poet Laureate The Poet Laureate Consult of Poetry established by a law — an act of Congress in 1985 And we put on 30 to 40 programs like this throughout the year To find out more about our literary programs, you can sign on our sign-up sheet which is in the foyer and we’ll send you emails about what’s coming up You can also visit our website, www.lsc.gov/poetry There we go So let me tell you a little bit about how tonight’s event’s going to work First, Monica Youn will read from her book and discuss her book, “Black Acre” It’s her newest book of poetry Then as you’ll see, Martha Dragich, the Emerita Professor of Law, from the University of Missouri will give a presentation about teaching law and literature in her many years as a professor And then they will both come up on stage to participate in a moderated discussion, and we’ll have time for your questions afterwards We also have copies of “Black Acre” for sale in the back I hope you buy a copy and get Monica to sign it You can read more about both of our participants in the program that should be on your chair or next to you But let me say how much I appreciate their willingness to bring this event to life I’ve known Monica for a good, long time We’re New York buddies, and I talk to her often about her work as a poet and as an attorney No one I know is more capable of connecting these two worlds with an understanding of what contemporary poetry is doing And her new book exemplifies how poetry can employ concepts such as the legal fiction of “Black Acre” to powerfully personal ends I look forward to both of our featured speakers begin this conversation about law and literature So please join me in welcoming Monica Youn and Martha Dragich [ Applause ] [ Background Room Sounds ] >> Monica Youn: Thank you Rob had asked me a couple of minutes ago whether this was the first time I had read in a law library and I had to tell him, “Of course it is.” I mean the law library — law libraries don’t usually host poetry readings And also, it’s I think maybe the time I felt my legal career and my poetic career come together most strongly, because I’m staying at the same hotel that I would always stay in as a lawyer when I would come here to lobby on Capitol Hill or to attend oral argument at the Supreme Court And so it’s — to be here as a poet rather than as a lawyer To be staying, you know, and eating at the corner bakery around [background laughter], is really very interesting to me So I’m going to — you know, I’m really looking forward to kind of getting a conversation started, and some thinking started about the relationship between law and literature And, you know, and you know, I guess my bailiwick would be the relationship between law and poetry And so I was going to start off with some shorter poems that employ some legal settings; legal concepts This first one is called “Sunrise Foley Square” Foley Square will be familiar to anyone who’s ever litigated in New York as the setting of the state and federal court houses And will also be familiar to fans of “NYPD Blue” [background laughter] because it’s where the opening credits are shot And this poem was set — you know, it’s an odd little poem And I’m not quite sure whether it succeeds It’s a poem that’s notable for absence Because it was written when, you know, when the Ferguson protests were taking place, and my son had literally just been born, I mean he was a couple of weeks old I was in that, you know, new parent haze of nursing him around the clock And we live only a couple of blocks from Foley Square, which is where a lot of these protests were gathering And so pretty much this sort of around the clock of, you know, of taking care of this newborn coincided with around the clock helicopters, sirens, and chants

And, you know, and one morning, you know, before — right around sunrise I noticed that all of the noise had stopped And I was thinking about the absence of that noise, and also how kind of the expectation that there was always going to be another name added to the list of those — of those who had been killed by police violence And so this poem contains a blank, which I’ll just kind of indicate by stopping “Sunrise Foley Square.” “One siren stained the morning in concentric rings Another starts up Stops. Starts again Stops. Little chips of sound, like a climber’s hammer Testing for handholds on an upward-sloping face Daylight floods the soundscape with clear liquid Thickening Flowing over and around A lack that could be displaced, but not entirely dispersed An air bubble trapped in rubber tubing Something cone shaped; nearly discernable Starting to resemble a cry.” And this poem is also — and we have a handout of this poem, which we’ll discuss a bit later This poem is also structured around absence It’s called, “Landscape with Dayadand” [phonetic] And I was a, you know, in law school I was a huge — even before law school actually, I was an enormous legal history geek My favorite class in college was British Constitutional History from 1060 — from 1066 to 1688 And, you know, and I took as much like very early English legal history as I could And so a dayadand, on Old English law, is kind of this fascinating thing It is the instrumentality of a death So if a tree branch falls off you — falls off a tree and hits you, then the tree branch is a dayadand If a wagon kills you, then the wagon is the dayadand You know, if a donkey kills you, then you know, the donkey is the dayadand And under the law of dayadands — there was a law for this — all dayadands were forfeit to the crown and were usually destroyed In this odd, sort of — you know, end So this is a landscape with dayadand “A road in the trees from the sound of it A milky shift in the water where the silt shelves down And the wet branch, beating for its life against the pages of that book.” So you can chew on that for a while, and we’ll discuss it later [laughs] And then the title poem — the title sequence of the book — the title of the book is “Black Acre” And those of you who are — who attended law school in the Anglo-American tradition probably know that Black Acre — and those — for those of you non-lawyers in the room — Black Acre is a legal placeholder term for a piece of property or an estate, the way John Doe is a legal placeholder term for a person So often times in your property law class, and trust and estates you’ll get, you know, John Doe transfers his property, Black Acre to Jane Roe in consideration for her property, White Acre And there’s a kind of sequence to the hypothetical So it’ll just spin out as, Black Acre, White Acre, Blue Acre, Green Acre, Brown Acre — I added Red Acre and Gold Acre just because I could [laughs] Poetic license, you know? And so I thought — and I was thinking about — I used the thought of the acre to think about what is given and what is transformable A piece of land is an interesting metaphor Because you have a certain pied of land and there are things you can do with it You could sell it to a shopping mall developer You could build a house You can plant a garden You can make a home You could dig a grave You could make it into your legacy But there are certain things you can transform about it; there are certain things you cannot transform about it At some point in dealing with a piece of land, you know, what we are allotted, we come up against the concept of the given You know, what cannot be transformed And what we pass on to those who come after us And so I was — you know, a lot of these acre poems ended up being works of art, or landscapes What in poetry is called an acrostic poem You know, ways in which we can think of these mini landscapes as types of — as pieces of land that can or cannot be transformed So this first mini landscape will be familiar to you all It is the back of the $1 bill, which has the Latin motto, “annuit coeptis”, which is a phrase from Virgil’s “Gorgics” about, you know, I think — I can’t even remember, but like —

oh God, I’m going to have to look up the translation I got very little — yes, it’s “He favors our undertaking” So — and it references the myth of cadmos A cadmos, for those of you who are mythology buffs, is the legendary founder of thieves So his sister, Europa, is kidnapped by Zeus, the white bull And so he goes off looking for her, and he completely — and he fails to find her, but instead he decides to found a city He’s told by an oracle to do this And so he kills a dragon, and he sews the dragon’s teeth in the ground — this might be starting to sound a little familiar And these armed men spring up And the — and he doesn’t — he’s afraid of the armed men, so he throws a rock into their midst And I’m kind of using this to think about the way in which — the unthinking way in which we want money to be fruitful; to multiply The judge I clerked for was obsessed with the notion of usury An sort of, so am I Green acre But what if a given surface is coaxed into fruitfulness wrongfully? For instance, this lushly verdant plane Imagine it dialed back to featurelessness Each spiraling stock retracted Each filigree rosette slow-blinking shut Dialed back to bare promise; to smooth napped expanse The forehead of an alien princess might convey such tranquility She surveys her ranks of suitors Shakes her exquisite green head in scarcely feigned regret So thinks Cadmos, hands still outstretched in a nation-building gesture As if to freeze in time this instant Scatter of seeds still aloft Arrayed like little dive bombers information Not yet puncturing the land Not yet rooting Not yet sending up terribly thin, ambitious tendrils toward the light Not yet trained onto wire frame espaliers Not combed into bombastic pompadours Not yet extruding seed pods resembling pale grapes; resembling pearls The root of remorse isn’t tooth, he recalls abruptly, but to bite and then stoops, groping for the biggest rock he can find Here a Brown Acre is just a landscape Brown Acre “After the clear plastic sheeting has been pulled back; folded away After each woody rhizome has been pried loose from the soil Each snarl of root traced to its capillary ends Twigs and petals tossed aside Worms reburied elsewhere After the soil has been rubbed through a sieve After the ground has been leveled with rakes and stakes and string, no need for further labor; further motion Nothing has been sewn Nothing is germinating in the raw dirt The light strikes each granule the same as any other A windlessness rises; becomes a precondition Why is it hard to admit you couldn’t live here? No one could live here This is not the texture of the real Lacking attachment; lacking event This is neither landscape nor memory This is parable A caricature of restraint But why does this shame you? Even now you’re trying to hide that your gaze is drifting upward This plainness cannot hold your attention You’re searching the sky for some marker of time; of change In a cloudless sky the sun beats down But if you observe that the sun warms the soil You must also concede that the soil will grow colder The sun stains only the body And the body is what is simply not an issue here.” And then this is another poem called “Brown Acre”, which I think is pretty straight forward “Brown Acre” “We were sitting, leaning back against the house on the stone patio or terrace Looking out over a steep drop at the mountains arrayed in a semicircle around us All expectant angles, like the music stands of an absent orchestra Summer colors; orangey golds and dims blues And there must’ve been greens as well I wasn’t paying attention I was watching the thing you had just said to me, still hanging in the air between us Its surfaces beading up with a shiny liquid-like contempt That might have been seeping from the words themselves,

or else condensing from the air its inscrutable humidity The droplets rounding themselves as they fall Edging a darker patch on the patio tiles A deepening concavity, and above it a roughness in the air The molecules of concrete coalescing grain-by-grain into a corrugated pillar topped by a cloud A tree form, not a sapling or a mountain tree But a tree that would look at home in a farmyard or a meadow Sheltered from winds Branches stretching out with all confidence toward the horizon A shape that should have been an emblem of sufficiency; of calm But whose surfaces were teaming with a turbulent rush of particles, like the inner workings of a throat exposed And whose dimensions were expanding with shocking speed Accumulating mass Accumulating coherence and righteousness Pulling more and more of the disintegrating teras into its form taller than us, then shadowing us, and doubtlessly underground a root system of corresponding complexity and spread Was funneling down displaced nothingness from a hole in the upper air And then it was time, and I stood up and went inside and shut the door Unsure what still anchored us to the mountainside.” And I’ll end with this This is a strange poem It’s basically — I think like a lot of poems; like a lot of legal opinions, it brings a lot of contradictory things together So partially, a memory from junior high school where a Twinkie [background laughter], we had come to understand, or we were told, was not a baked good [background laughter] It was — actually, you know, what we were told was it was like this kind of tube of paste that was extruded, and then exposed to some sort of catalyzing chemical so it’d grow this kind of golden foamy outer layer, right? You know, and then they sort of tinted the bottom of it brown with some tints of some kind to make it appear baked And this is what I believed for decades [background laughter] Up until a couple of years ago, actually [laughs] You know, I just thought, “Oh, okay it’s not a baked good That’s why its shelf life is so long.” And unfortunately, this turned out not to be true But, you know, Gold Acre is also, you know, acre — when you’re thinking of acre legacy, you’re also you know, obviously thinking about identity You’re also, you know, obviously thinking about identity You’re thinking specifically about race And as I have a son and I’m thinking of raising him, you know, as a Korean-American And I think, well, you know, as an immigrant who was born here, my own relationship to being Korean-American is not exactly authentic I don’t speak the language I’m not the person who can tell you what the best thing to order on the menu is at every Korean restaurant You know, and what does it mean to be, you know — ? So that made me think of the other junior high school sense of Twinkie, which is someone yellow on the outside and white on the inside I think, you know, lawyers might enjoy — lawyers are always grammar nerds, so the other thing to notice about this poem is it’s all cast in the subjunctive, you know? The “as if it were” The subjunctive is the mode in which we express fantasy or the improbable And one interesting thing about the English language in particular is, our fantasy mode is often indistinguishable from the past tense So it’s, you know, you — so sometimes we often tend to think of the past as if it were our — you know, the past becomes a kind of fantasy, and often a racial fantasy “Gold Acre” “As if you were ever wide-eyed enough to believe in urban legends As if these plot elements weren’t the stalest of clichés The secret lab The anaerobic chamber The gloved hand Ex Machina The chemical infused fog As if every origin’s story didn’t center on the same sweet myth of a lost wholeness As if such longing would seem more palatable if packaged as nostalgia As if inner and outer were merely phases of the same substance As if this whiteness had been your original condition As if it hadn’t been what is piped into you What seeped into each vacant cell Each airhole Each pore As if you had started out skinless Shameless Blameless Creamy, as if whipped Passive as if extruded Quivering with volatility in a metal mold As if a catalyzing vapor triggered a latent reaction As if your flesh foamed up a hydrogenated emulsion consisting mostly of trapped air

As if though sponge-like, you could remain shelf-stable for decades Part embalming fluid Part rocket fuel Part glue As if you had been named twin, a word for likeness Or wink a word for joke Or ink, a word for stain Or key, a word for answer As if your skin oxidized to its present burnished hue Golden, as if homemade Thank you [ Applause ] [ Background Room Sounds ] >> Martha Dragich: Good evening everyone My immediate task is to talk just a little bit about law in literature Responding to the question that may be latent in many of your minds, what do the two have to do with each other? Now Roberta talked about that some And I have to say, I will talk about literature generally speaking rather than about poetry specifically, because I am not qualified to talk about poetry specifically So about 20 or 30 years ago, law schools started offering courses in law and literature There an amazing variety of such courses There is a literature of law and literature that has developed And it’s hard to generalize much about these courses in this field of study because they’re characterized most by variety But I’ll try to give you, just in very brief form, a few of the objectives why people offer such courses Why people write about law and literature What do we think we — either field can learn from the other one, how do they correspond with each other? And just by coincidence, I read something the other day I was reading a very new book of essays by a poet, Mary Oliver The collection of essays is called, “Up Stream” And I read this sentence which seemed to me quite pertinent She says, “The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and absolute, but to the extravagant and the possible.” Well narrow and absolute sound to me something like law And extravagant and possible, perhaps something like literature And she goes on to say that rather than providing answers — I’m paraphrasing now — rather than providing answers — Mary Oliver suggests — literature opens doors and tells us to look at things and think about things for ourselves So that, I think, encapsulates perhaps the few strands that I’ll talk about in the study and teaching of law and literature So these are some of the most prominent objectives One is to contextualize law and events triggering the application of law A apelet opinion — the way we teach in law schools is to use apelet opinions So the end of the line — the end of the story; after everything has happened, much being — having been stripped out along the way; condensed down to a narrow set of relevant facts and so forth So law as delivered to law students and lawyers, is narrow in that sense It has a very narrow focus Literature, on the other hand, paints a much richer picture It’s full of the details of events and lives and personalities; circumstances, motivations and so forth So finding a way to bring some of this context back in, and to understand that regardless of what the apelet opinion says in the end, that may be the condensed version that’s relevant to the rule of law that’s established, but earlier on there was a lot more to the story And it’s important for law students in particular to develop an understanding Because they’re going to be dealing with real people who are coming in at the beginning of this story with a whole set of life circumstances and hopes and dreams and problems and what not So building that context back in is one objective Another objective of the law in literature movement — if you can call it that; that’s too strong a word But law in literature does have some early connection with law — with critical legal studies; law in feminism

Things of that nature So the objective is to recognize differences in laws meaning and its impact on individual people and different groups of people So law often speaks universally; abstractly Using words like — as Monica pointed out, Black Acre, John Doe and so forth, that are abstract, or that are perhaps fictions And it relies on concepts like, for example, self-defense That’s a concept that might be understood and felt, and experienced, and appreciated very differently by people of different ages, genders, races, and so forth So just to, again, sort of reintroduce that notion into legal study And literature helps that because literature helps us see into the lives of people who are not like us Helps us develop an understanding of what their lives might be like Another is to humanize law So this universal tone that law has a matter-of-fact nature of an apelet opinion can deaden law student’s ability to relate to party situations and to respond in a caring way Literature, on the other hand, arouses our emotions And invites us to assess; to judge the actions of characters And finally, law and literature study sometimes hopes to open a conversation about the relationship between justice and mercy; the dimensions of fairness and so on So studying literature and discussing literature can help us, perhaps, reconcile the demands of justice and the desire for mercy And there’s a strong argument to be made that one important ingredient in reconciling justice and mercy is the development of empathy, which is what literature — at least one of the things that literature can help us do So despite all of these various approaches to law and literature, the different aims and objectives and so forth, I haven’t seen any work really significantly exploring law and poetry So we have a perfect opportunity tonight in our conversation with Monica Youn, to open that window a little bit, perhaps through her reading, which we’ve just heard from her collection, “Black Acre” So at this point, I think I’ll invite Monica to join me up here, and we will have a conversation [ Inaudible Background Conversation ] >> Monica Youn: I seem to have an embarrassment of water up here [background laughter] >> Martha Dragich: We certainly do So as you may have gathered — how could you not, from the poems that Monica read for us earlier, her collection, “Black Acre” includes an astonishing variety of poems Both as the subject matter and form Those of us not well trained in poetry, and I include myself in that group, certainly May still think of poems in sort of a grade school kind of a way with tidy versus strict meters; incessant rhyming These poems don’t look that way I’m happy to say And so perhaps they begin to challenge at least unsophisticated rudimentary notions of what poetry is So let me begin our conversation Monica by asking how you see or whether you see your work in “Black Acre” Where it fits in; how it relates Whether it exemplifies things going on in contemporary American poetry >> Monica Youn: I think that, you know, it does — you know, it is reasonably representative And, you know, Rob can speak to this as well, of what is going on in contemporary American poetry, in that I think traditional form, with what is often referred to as “received form” is one option among many And, you know, this — you know, I always feel like this seemed more odd to people than it perhaps should I mean you can think of representational or figurative painting as being one option among many options of painting You can think of painters as moving back and forth

across various modes of representation And you don’t find that strange, but you know, if a poet is to write in a way that doesn’t resemble a traditional form, you know, it’s like, oh my God, call the police [background laughter] So yeah, I think that — you know, so I think poets these days are taking advantage of the widest possible pallet; the widest possible toolbox for, you know, for enacting or rendering various states of mind; states of consciousness States of language >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm And so though your poems don’t necessarily follow those received forms, I noticed in my reading of them, they do seem to invoke legal conventions in a certain sense For example, when you used this one in the first “Green Acre” poem, you have the motto, “He favors our understandings” Very often you invoke, at the beginning of the poem, or elsewhere in the poem, you mention cadmos “Black Acre” — the longer “Black Acre” poem at the end of the collection response to Milton’s “Sonnet 19” on blindness So I wonder if you could talk with us about why it’s important to you to tie your work to those thoughts; those artworks; even paintings you’ve mentioned in several poems from the past >> Monica Youn: I think that writing in what is called an acrostic mode is interesting to me, because it both allows and takes away a certain freedom In that if you’re writing about an existing story, you don’t have to tell the story You can just talk about the story If you’re writing about an existing work of art, you don’t have to describe the work of art; the work of art exists Someone can go look at it if they want to You know, that you know, explicatory burden is off of you I mean you know how annoying it is, you know, in the first couple of scenes of a movie where some character, for no reason at all, will just launch into this sort of paragraphs long explanation of like the setting and the context and who’s who, and who’s related to who And you know that’s just being done to like, relieve themselves of this burden of explanation And, you know, the great — one great thing about writing acrostically is you don’t have to do that You don’t have to explain yourself as much But, you know, on the other hand you do have a certain fidelity to what came before You know, you have — your parameters are set, and you’re sort of, you know, tethered in a way In a way that — and so I find that interplay between being free and being constrained to be very interesting >> Martha Dragich: And so do you connect that with — in your thinking, with traditions of citation and precedent? >> Monica Youn: Absolutely I think that, you know, when you were talking about the connection between law and literature, you know, a lot of what tends to be focused in the law and literature curriculum are the narrative connections And I think what tends to be left behind is — are the language connections The way legal language and poetic language function similarly And the way I like to explain this, you know, is, in ordinary language, words are pretty much straight forward They’re what my friend, James Longenbach [phonetic], calls like “a disposable container for meaning” Like, you know, “I am going to pick up this bottle.” There’s nothing unclear about that And lawyers, I think, you know, poets know better And lawyers, in a weird way, know better I mean if you’re looking over contractual language on behalf of a client, and you’re trying to figure out whether this is good contractual language, one of the things you have to do is imagine every possible scenario that could be applied to a particular clause Like what is the most far out possible interpretation that someone could make of that clause, and how do we come to terms with that? How do we cabin — you know, you have to recognize the uncertainty of language before you can deal with the uncertainty of language You know, similarly, I think in the common law tradition, which I — you know, I was a litigator, so I’m obsessed with common law You know, you have phrases like, you know, “Cruel and unusual punishment” Or “Due process of law” or person that are by no means straight forward I mean no one is just saying, “Oh, okay those are — you know, those are readily understandable terms just to be taken at face value.” You know as a lawyer, that your job is to go through every instance in which those phrases have been used

And so these things just can move through history They’re accumulating layers of meaning as they go through >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: And I tell my students, you know, it’s kind of the same thing with poetic language Like, if you say “apple” in a poem, you’re dealing with Snow White You’re dealing with Adam and Eve You’re dealing with the computer company You’re dealing with, you know, Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter You’re dealing — you know, you have all those [background laughter] resonances that you need to take account of And so I think both, you know — but both poets and lawyers feel that there’s a lot of — at stake in recognizing, but also working with the uncertainty of language >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm And so maybe this would be a good point at which to return to the poem that you read earlier, “Landscape with Dayadand” >> Monica Youn: Yeah >> Martha Dragich: You explained that legal concept in your reading of the poem, but I thought perhaps you could sort of lead us through a reading of the poem, and the audience has a copy — >> Monica Youn: Yeah >> Martha Dragich: Of the poem >> Monica Youn: Yeah And I’ll just — I mean I don’t think that there’s anything particularly uncertain about this language What I was playing with really here is the relationship between the title and the poem The poem itself consists of a road in the trees from the sound of it A milky shift in the water where the silt shelves down at the wet branch beating for its life against the pages of that book So if I were to ask one of my students in intro poetry, you know, what is going on in this poem? >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: And, you know, the student would say something like, “Okay, well there are these kind of observed details of landscape There’s a bit of uncertainty You’re not quite sure what’s happening; what’s being looked at But at the same time you’re reasonably clear that you’re in a landscape >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: There’s, you know, there’s a road There are trees There are water We don’t doubt any of that And then there’s this oddly personified wet branch beating for its life So there’s an urgency suggested there against the pages of that book And that that book is specific in a way that calls attention to itself, and you don’t know why that book is important And then you have the title, “Landscape with Dayadand”, which causes you to — you know, it’s as if you were to, you know, say someone in this audience has committed a crime >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: You know, to say “Landscape with Dayadand” is to make you look at every noun in the poem and say, “Wait a second, is that the murder instrument? Is that the murder instrument? Is that the murder instrument.” And you know, what are the various murders that [laughs] could’ve taken place with a, you know, a wet branch or a, you know, a road in the trees And so, you know, I was kind of — so really this poem is about kind of playing with this idea of expectation and suspicion in the same — in the same way that the “Foley” — I read this with the “Foley Square” poem with that blank in it To think of, okay, well what does it mean to have a blank in the poem? To set up the reader’s expectation that that blank will be filled? And that that blank will be filled with a name? >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: So, you know, the poem — I think when I tell my students, you know, what is the medium of poetry? The medium of painting is paint The medium of music maybe notes; maybe time You know, a relationship between sound and time What is the medium of poetry? And you know, words certainly; white space maybe But also the expectations that are created in the reader’s mind by things like titles By things like blanks So — >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Mm-hm. Mm-hm Thank you So I wonder then if you might talk with us a bit about your long time dual life as a lawyer and poet And specifically about how your experiences of each profession inform the other, and yeah Let me stop there for the moment >> Monica Youn: Yeah I mean I was always very enamored of both And in fact, when I was an undergraduate I had done a political science major with a focus on legal theory And then — and I combined that with a creative writing minor And for my creative writing minor I wrote this long, terrible, terrible, terrible poetry sequence that my students still like dig up out of the stacks and like taunt me with it [background laughter] But that was based on Palsgraf vs. Long Island Railroad Company, 1928 [background laughter], which you know, those — is one of Benjamin Nathan Cardozo’s most — absolutely most famous opinions And this ties directly into what Martha was talking about earlier about how this — how what seems, even in Cardozo’s like, you know, beautiful language, seems like a factual scenario

Is it self-shaped by all of these different points of view? What actually happened in this very strange — I should probably explain what happened [background laughter] So Palsgraf vs. Long Island Railroad company is a classic tort case that is used in I think every first-year tort’s textbook to explain the principal of proximate cause and negligence Which is, how far-fetched does a chain of causation have to be in order for you still to be liable for it? And so what happened to Mrs. Palsgraf — Mrs. Palsgraf is a cleaning woman And she’s standing on the platform of a Long Island Railroad Company train, trying to get to Rockaway Beach It is August It is very hot It is very crowded This man drops a package on the tracks The train runs over the package The package, as it turns out, contains fireworks [laughs] The fireworks explode, causing a crowd to stampeded The crowd on the platform knocks over a pair of scales that fall on Mrs. Palsgraf, that — this isn’t actually in Cardozo’s opinion, but you know, the facts of the case are actually that the damage was that it triggered a latent psychiatric disorder, causing her to become mute [background laughter] And so you’re like, okay, so [laughs] is the railroad company liable to Mrs. Palsgraf Under a negligence — under the tort of negligence And the judge I actually ended up clerking for, you know, years — five years later, through some weird coincidence Judge John Nunan on the 9th Circuit had written a book called, “Persons and Masks of the Law” — >> Martha Dragich: Yes Yes >> Monica Youn: Which is one of the early classics of law and literature, which talks about the Mrs. Palsgraf decision, and talks about the way in which Cardozo very carefully shapes the narrative and makes it into the finished apelet — >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: You know, to make it seem — to make his account of things seem more inevitable >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: More certain, you know? >> Martha Dragich: Right >> Monica Youn: And so — and then I was also studying — I took a class with the great legal historian, Morton Horowitz >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Yeah >> Monica Youn: And he had also kind of framed the Mrs. Palsgraf decision, and said that, you know, “Well this decision is being written at the same time that modernist artists are thinking about what does it mean to frame a work of art? How do we, you know, consider these shifts in perspective? These changes in, you know, in the technologies of representation? And so, you know, I wish more of this had made it into the terrible, terrible poems that I wrote [background laughter], and get inspired by that But, you know, so I’ve always kind of been thinking about the ways in which the two go together >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: And, you know, in my last job as a lawyer, I was a Constitutional lawyer working with a lot of this language And, you know, I was working both with apelet attorneys, who as crafters of language, you know, are really hard to match And also with my boss, who was President Clinton’s Chief Speech Writer for five years And who I worked with very closely And we would talk about the ways in which legal language and poetic language were related >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm And so that’s a perfect segway into asking you how you use the tools of poetry in your law practice? >> Monica Youn: Well I did once get to point out that a — in a trademark case, that something was a trophy I think that that was my [laughs] — my favorite moment But no, I think that the tools of poetry Compression Repetition You know, those sort of cadences are often times the tools of what makes you a good advocate or not >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: Especially when you’re, you know, delivering oral argument Or when you’re trying to write a brief in which you’re trying to, you know, compress you know, 100,000 pages of trial record into a, you know, a 54 or 28-page brief with all of the, you know, rule what is it, 35? Like, you know font and margin restrictions And, you know, and trying to do that and trying to boil it down to its core and to come up with a way in which the court hasn’t thought about it was absolutely about the crafting of language I think no one ever devotes as much thought to semicolons as lawyers and poets do [background laughter] >> Martha Dragich: I know, right? >> Monica Youn: Like no one else cares that much about, like, you know — or advertising You know, I mean there are a lot of — a lot of professions that focus very, very intensively on the written word, but certainly those are two of them >> Martha Dragich: Yeah And I’d have to say that in this collection that’s one of the things I most love is the grammatical nerdiness,

or whatever it was you called it earlier [background laughter] The very careful word choices The punctuation The white space — >> Monica Youn: Yeah >> Martha Dragich: All of it, it’s just very, very compelling >> Monica Youn: Well, yeah because I remember one of my law professors had a challenge to the class which was — there was a particular restatement of some negligence — I can’t remember what it was — and it was 28 words long That I do remember And he said, “If anyone can make this 27 words without, you know, losing either accuracy or grammar, then you automatically get an A in this course [laughs] And no one could do it I mean that was the most compressed possible form in which you could say that >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: And you know, that sort of training — >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: Is something that’s, you know, that hopefully remains part of the legal profession for a long time then >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: I mean people make fun of legal language all the time — >> Martha Dragich: Yes [laughs] >> Monica Youn: You know, but it’s functional language often, when it’s good >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm So you used the word, “advocate” a few minutes ago, which of course describes the role of an attorney How do you see your role as a poet? And I suppose I would append to that question, whether you could give us an example from your current collection, “Black Acre”, that particularly exemplifies that role? >> Monica Youn: I don’t know that I can think — I don’t know that I have a role as a poet I mean I am a poet, like I — you know, I feel like I have a role as a teacher of poetry >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: I feel like I have a role, you know, but as a poet — it’s interesting, you know, part of the reason I ended up shifting over to poetry is I wanted the ability to define my own forms to say that this is going — I’m going to set my — you know — you know, my — one of my poetic mentors, Paul Muldoon [phonetic] is — I can’t remember, you know, he says that a — every poem has rules But every poem sets its own rules, you know? >> Martha Dragich: Yeah >> Monica Youn: And I’m a rule-bound person, I realize that But I don’t necessarily want someone else setting the rules for me And, you know, I feel like the rules by which I write are necessary to become — to succeed But I want to have the freedom to find those rules myself To discover the rules that will make this particular poem be an expression of this particular thought process So — >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Mm-hm. Perhaps with that I will invite questions from any members of the audience for Monica? [ Background Room Sounds ] >> Speaker 1: [Inaudible] can you tell us what the outcome was [background laughter]? >> Monica Youn: Of Mrs. Palsgraf? >> Yeah >> Monica Youn: Oh, the railroad was not liable [background laughter] >> Martha Dragich: This was too far-fetched >> Monica Youn: Yes, this was too far-fetched So — and the way in which — and the way in which Cardozo, you know, describes the story is to maximize the outlandishness of what happened To kind of make the narrative point, no one could possibly have foreseen this, you know, this chain of events Whereas had he phrased it simply as something like, on a crowded platform, could someone get hurt? You know? You know — >> Speaker 2: He almost made it satirical >> Monica Youn: Yeah Mm-hmm? >> Speaker 2: He almost made it satirical >> Monica Youn: Yeah he almost made fun — you know, and that’s one of the — yeah >> Speaker 2: He almost poked fun at — >> Monica Youn: Yeah >> Speaker 2: Is one of the things I think people took exception to, being in a place where it can be taught >> Monica Youn: Yeah >> Speaker 2: Because it was almost [inaudible] >> Monica Youn: Because you get these cases, you know, I was — I recently — I read at Columbia a couple weeks ago, and a student there is a poetry student who is taking tort law for the first time And, you know, he was talking about all these classic Cunard cases, like the lighted squib or the eggshell leg And, you know, like all of these, you know, cases that you know, you’re just like, you know, they’re funny but at some point they were real people >> Martha Dragich: But they’re cast in the framework of the reasonable man As we always said, not even a reasonable person — >> Monica Youn: Yeah, Mm-hm Yeah >> Martha Dragich: And so could a reasonable person have foreseen all of this? >> Monica Youn: Foreseen this? Mm-hm >> Martha Dragich: So the writing in the — the writing that ups the outlandishness — >> Monica Youn: Yeah >> Martha Dragich: For ordains the result >> Monica Youn: Mm-hm Yeah, and you kind of learned as a, you know, as a litigator, you can — you win or lose in the statement of facts >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: So — >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Other questions? Someone will come with the microphone [ Background Room Sounds ] >> Speaker 3: [Inaudible] so, you know, my field is physics And we often try to do everything we can

to find those invariant relationships where equations [inaudible] And here in [inaudible] example of the law and professional poetry — poetry helps to provide — the richness of contents deepens in meaningfulness of things And I wonder if in many fields we need to retrieve further, the particular context deepens and the meaning and the semantics, and not so much just focus on the [inaudible] Because we sometimes get too abstract, like in economic theory or in physics, perhaps this can be [inaudible] a good example that includes other areas so that we have not just law and literature and poetry But perhaps physics and literature and poetry [background laughter] So maybe a comment on that >> Martha Dragich: Thank you >> Monica Youn: Well, I think it’s always useful for disciplines to have someone come in from the outside and kind of reality check them And I like the idea of the poets as the unacknowledged auditors of the [inaudible] [background laughter] >> Speaker 4: Thank you all for coming tonight [background laughter] >> Monica Youn: But I do have, you know, like my dear friend and mentor, the poet, Ray Armentrout, spends a lot of time thinking about astrophysics Working as a poet in residence at various scientific laboratories I mean this is happening, and it is interesting to kind of bring a completely new way of thinking about — especially determinacy and indeterminacy to those fields >> Speaker 5: Well thank you for everything, and I’ve just been through [inaudible] and I admire his [inaudible] section of the book; very [inaudible] And everything that I’ve heard from you [inaudible] if you’re familiar with it >> Monica Youn: I’ve read it, actually >> Speaker 5: So I’m curious, that maybe you could tell me [inaudible] says and what [inaudible] >> Monica Youn: Well I think for Ben to call the book, “The Hatred of Poetry” was more of a sales tactic than anything else It’s not really what the book’s about I mean the book starts off with a discussion of Maryanne Moore’s famous, you know, first phrase to the poem called, “Poetry, I too dislike it.” But what he goes on to really talk about is the difference between the ideal poem as, you know, as rendered in various poems And the poets inability to match up to that idea Which, you know, doesn’t end up for me having that much to do with the hatred of poetry period I do find, you know, the notion that, you know no one should be interested, not just in poetry but any of the — but in art in general; difficulty in general, a little bit dispiriting I’m sure for the same reasons you’re thinking about And, you know, and I think a lot of — but I do enjoy, you know, my — our — we have a wide enough poetry program where I teach, where almost none of the students I have are English majors And most of my students cannot name a single poet on their first day of class And I don’t really pull my punches with them You know, and you know, and for these students who are very smart and very hard working, and very risk-adverse, to engage poetry is really interesting for them What I tell them is that, “You are very used to learning how to succeed You do not know how to fail And there’s something about art which has a humility built in It teaches failure It teaches uncertainty when people are used uncertainty And I think that that — you know, if that gets lost, then we’re all in a lot of trouble [background laughter] >> Speaker 6: I thank you so much [Inaudible] a poetry lecture and [inaudible] what could we do? I work in the public often, and some of our [inaudible] under the Plain Language Act [inaudible] Policy in plain language so that people can understand it, and I wondered about your perspective from an ethical end and as [inaudible] And also how that is affecting the field if [inaudible] >> Monica Youn: Yeah, I love the idea of the Plain Language Act [background laughter] I mean if you’ve read any — you know, if you’re used to legislation The problem is not that any of the words are incomprehensible in and of themselves, is that you have this like, you know, this you know, massive document that have, you know, phrases that are internally contradictory that just cannot work together I mean the problem isn’t the language, the problem is, you know, the bill itself, often >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm >> Monica Youn: And — you know, but I — yeah, and I feel like the, you know, it’s all the fault of people trying to be too smart,

you know, to be kind of a troubling thing, you know? The reason, you know, it’s because people are being overly fancy No, it’s because you know, no one in Congress bothered to work out the details of this thing [laughs] before they enacted it — >> Martha Dragich: And because they’re hiding compromises that they don’t want to own up to >> Monica Youn: And because they’re hiding compromises, and yeah So — >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm That’s why it’s obscure >> Monica Youn: Mm-hm Exactly. Because they don’t want people to understand it too well, because if people understand it too well, they’ll understand where the bodies are buried [background laughter] >> Speaker 7: So thank you So moving from the language statutes to the language of [inaudible], first of all have you had [inaudible] justice and [inaudible] and then second, what role do you see poetry or poetic thinking in the [inaudible], are there any [inaudible] or any pitfalls that you can poetically [inaudible]? >> Monica Youn: Yeah I mean I think that, you know, the answer to both of those questions ends up kind of coming down to the same thing I both love the writing of Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, as many people do And I also deeply distressed the writing of Benjamin Nathan Cardozo There’s something about simplicity and analogy which are the stock and trade of both poetry and law that are — that are so, you know, that are so deeply powerful that when wrongly deployed, they can wreak havoc because — simply because they are so simple and so convincing Like my previous job immediately before teaching poetry full time was I was a campaign finance lawyer and advocate And, you know, the campaign finance law has been shaped really — the Constitutional law of campaign finance has been shaped by three metaphors That money is speech That corporations are people And that elections are a marketplace And those sound very simple and very appealing But if you start to say, “Hey, wait a second Those analogies don’t actually hold up all that well.” Then, you know, it’s — you know, you start to see the troubling nature of, you know, the pitfalls of poetic language used in, you know — poetic language that has the power of law behind it >> Martha Dragich: Mm-hm Mm-hm >> Rob Casper: I think on that [inaudible] [laughs] Well, and this evening, thanks so much to both Martha and Monica for an amazing conversation A great, great, great start to our law and literature series; hopefully to come again to the library Thanks to all of you for coming out Again, we hope you go buy “Black Acre” Obviously, there are a lot more exciting poems in there for you to check out You can buy them in the back; Monica will sign the book We also have surveys either on your seat or next to you We hope you fill them out It helps us in determining what we’re going to do with our future programming We hope you enjoy tonight Please write down what you think You can give it to me; you can put it on the table or put it up here And we hope to see you soon again If you want to come to more of our events, there’s a signup sheet outside, and we hope to see you very, very soon Thanks so much [background laughter] Oh — [inaudible background comments] sure We have a very exciting — [inaudible] to our panelists [ Applause ] >> Narrator: This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress Visit us at loc.gov

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