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Inaugural U.S. law and poetry conference to take place at U of I          Send a link to a friend

[FEB. 14, 2007]  CHAMPAIGN -- The first U.S. conference to explore and celebrate the relationship between law and poetry will be held at the University of Illinois Feb. 15-16.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, is titled "Opening Arguments: Poetry and the Law." Events include panel discussions, presentations, readings and workshops.

Sponsors are the U. of I. College of Law, the MFA Creative Writing Program and Richard Powers, the Swanlund Professor of English and the author of nine novels, including "The Echo Maker," which won the 2006 National Book Award for fiction.

Carl Reisman, a Champaign-Urbana lawyer and author of the poetry collection "Kettle," is the conference organizer.

In addition to Reisman, the participants are:

  • James Elkins, a professor at the West Virginia University College of Law, the editor of the Legal Studies Forum and of "Off the Record: An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers"

  • Rachel Contreni Flynn, a Chicago lawyer and the author of "Ice, Mouth, Song," which won the 2003 Dorsett Prize

  • Timothy Nolan, a construction and real estate litigation lawyer and partner at Rider, Bennett LLP in Minneapolis and a poet whose work has been published in The Nation, Ploughshares and Poetry East

  • Frank Pommersheim, who specializes in American Indian law at the University of South Dakota School of Law and is the author of three poetry collections and of "Braid of Feathers: American Indian Law and Contemporary Tribal Life"

  • Evie Shockley, a professor at Rutgers University, a former environmental lawyer at Sidley & Austin in Chicago and the author of "a half-red sea" and "The Gorgon Goddess"

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Reisman said he noticed, after practicing law for a decade, that many lawyers seemed to "suffer from depression and other mental afflictions."

He decided to organize a conference on poetry and law, showcasing poetry-writing lawyers and judges, because he thought such an event might help law students "gain some courage that they could pursue their passion for writing and still be lawyers -- perhaps even better, healthier ones."

He said he also hopes that students, lawyers and judges who attend "will be inspired to examine their own lives, the ways that they might follow their own lights."

Very little of the poetry to be read during the conference will relate to the practice of law, Reisman said. The discussions will focus on "what it means to practice both as poet and lawyer, how one impacts the other." One such discussion is a talk Nolan will give on how Abraham Lincoln was influenced by Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."

Program details can be found online or by contacting Reisman at

(Text copied from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Bureau release)

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