Confirm thy soul in
Thy liberty in law.
–Katherine Lee Bates
Shelley’s famous dictum rests
on prehistoric fact. In preliterate societies, laws had to be formulated
and handed down by poets. In the Neolithic some of these societies were
highly complex, and their poetic cultures must have been correspondingly
elaborate. The Druids may well have been representative.
As poetry gives form to speech,
so the law gives form to social life. Ideally the law grows organically
out of the life of the people, incorporating the way we believe we
should live, reflecting a general sense of fairness. Unfortunately, at
times the law can become an instrument of tyranny or a tool of special
interests. A perception that this is such a time is widespread in the
American public. It is then time for a poetic critique of the law, a
critique informed by poetry’s sense of just proportion.
The idea of a Poet’s Law
Institute (PLI) was suggested by the American Law Institute (ALI). ALI,
according to its home page (www.ali.org)
was founded "to promote the clarification and simplification of the law
and its better adaptation to social needs, to secure the better
administration of justice, and to encourage and carry on scientific
work." The ALI publishes "various Restatements of the Law, Model Codes,
and other proposals for law reform." The Restatements – there is one for
every area of law, such as Torts, International Law, etc. – are
multi-volume compilations of what the laws of the U.S. government and
the 50 states provide on every legal question. They have the form of a
quasi-code whose provisions represent the closest thing to a consensus
that can be arrived at.
The A.L.I. Restatements are the
basis of much legal research. They could also serve as a basis for a
poetic Restatement and critique of the law – if there were enough poets
to do the job, and a forum where the poets’ Restatements could be
communicated to the public.
Quite a few poets do in fact go
to law school. And the forum could be created. The process of creating
the forum might begin with the formulation of rules governing the
interaction of poets themselves – a "Restatement of the Law Governing
Poets," parallel to the "Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers" which
is advertised on A.L.I.’s homepage.
If you would like to
participate in further developing this thought- experiment, please Join the P.L.I.