Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
                                                                        – Shelley

Confirm thy soul in self-control,
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.