Poetry Inspired By California Lawyers

When you hear the word “lawyer,” you probably don’t immediately think of creative writing, poetry, or liberal arts education grants and programs. But believe it or not, writing is a pastime that anyone can love to experience. Then again, others stick to reading (or avoiding). Poetry is a worldwide phenomenon that has been around since the beginning of recorded history, and for good reason.

Some Socal Injury Lawyers were inspired to form California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA) back in the 70s, but the organization has grown a lot in the almost 50 years since then. When the CLA hit its 40th anniversary, it published a collection of poems by its most popular poets. Here are our favorites!

The following excerpt is called “Tender Arrivals” and was written by Amiri Baraka. This delightful poem is one calling out to be interpreted in the classroom by children or young adults who have no idea what she’s talking about.

Where ever something breathes

Heart beating the rise and fall

Of mountains, the waves upon the sky

Of seas, the terror is our ignorance, that’s

Why it is named after our home, earth

Where art is locked between

Gone and Destination

The destiny of some other where and feeling

The ape knew this, when his old lady pulled him up

Off the ground. Was he grateful, ask him he’s still sitting up there

Watching the sky’s adventures, leaving two holes for his own. Oh sing

Gigantic burp past the insects, swifter than the ugly Stanleys on the ground

Catching monkey meat for Hyenagators, absolute boss of what does not

Arrive in time to say anything. We hear that eating, that doo dooing, that

Burping, we had a nigro mayor used to burp like poison zapalote

Waddled into the cave of his lust. We got a Spring Jasper now, if

you don’t like that

woid, what about courtesan, dreamed out his own replacement sprawled

Across the velvet cash register of belching and farting, his knick names when they

let him be played with.

Lucille Clifton wrote “won’t you celebrate with me,” taking liberties with punctuation (or the lack thereof). This short masterwork presents simplistic questions that demand complex answers about life, race, gender, and the reality in which we live — which isn’t always an easy one to survive. Here’s the full poem:

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Our Favorite Poems About Nature

The natural world is an oft-explored concept in poetry — although not as much as it once was when we were still exploring the New World. But there have been bursts of new nature poems published in the last few decades as the extent of the danger of man-made climate change has become more apparent. Many writers feel close to nature and find that speaking to what they know comes easier when exploring. 

One of our favorites is a simple poem by Katherine Riegel called “What I Would Like To Grow In My Garden.”

Peonies, heavy and pink as ’80s bridesmaid dresses

and scented just the same. Sweet pea,

because I like clashing smells and the car

I drove in college was named that: a pea-green

Datsun with a tendency to backfire.

Sugar snap peas, which I might as well

call memory bites for how they taste like

being fourteen and still mourning the horse farm

I had been uprooted from at ten.

Also: sage, mint, and thyme—the clocks

of summer—and watermelon and blue lobelia.

Lavender for the bees and because I hate

all fake lavender smells. Tomatoes to cut

and place on toasted bread for BLTs, with or without

the b and the l. I’d like, too, to plant

the sweet alyssum that smells like honey and peace,

and for it to bloom even when it’s hot,

and also lilies, so I have something left

to look at when the rabbits come.

They always come. They are

always hungry. And I think I am done

protecting one sweet thing from another.
Riegel’s work is a testament to simplistic writing — while it doesn’t always work the way we expect, it can evoke truly beautiful emotions when it does. In only a few lines, she reminds us of what it is like to nibble on fresh vegetables, smell colorful flowers, or watch cuddly animals try to invade the sanctity of the backyard garden.

The Different Types Of Poetry

Poetry is a form of written art developed by humans almost since the first word was written down and recorded. Needless to say, we’ve refined the artform into many different styles using many different literary devices. While we usually focus on finding new and interesting writers for our readers, today we’ve decided to go a different route: we’re going to explore the many different kinds of poetry.

Rhymed Poetry. This is obviously one of the most classic and commonly used forms of poetry — and of course this style can be used in conjunction with or to complement other popular styles. It’s not unusual to see the end of each line or every other line rhyme inside an epic, sonnet, or ode, for example. Finding words that rhyme was once a skill all its own, but there are many websites devoted to helping writers find rhyming words through complex algorithms — making the style easier to try than ever before.

Epic. We prefer to avoid sharing epics on our website because they’re simply too long to post. These poems are long, narrative works of art. They often explore legendary characters or mythological stories. Common themes in poetic epics are adventure, going on a journey or quest, or performing an almost god-like feat. 

Narrative. Speaking of narrative poetry, these poems tell a story. They can be short or long, but they veer toward longer length. One of the most popular narrative poems is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Narrative poems are different from other stories because of the tendency to use metaphorical imagery and other literary devices to get the point across.

Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is a beloved type of poetry with only three lines going back and forth from five syllables to seven, and then back to five. Because of their ultra-short length, they can be an easy assignment for young students — because they won’t take much time to complete and force the writer to say a lot with only a little.

Limerick. These short poems consist of five lines that rhyme in the form “AABBA” (i.e. the first, second, and fifth lines follow one rhyme, while the third and fourth follow another). Limericks are great assignments for young children. They’re not as long as traditional poems and not as short as the traditional haiku.

Ballad. This type of poetry generally flows like music from stanza to stanza, with quatrains that follow rhyming schemes. John Keats was a popular writer of ballads. 

Ode. These poems, which originated in Greece, generally give a shout-out to a historical figure, dead or alive. An ode is meant to be sung. They usually glorify the subject, which might not be a figure at all. The subject might be an event, object, or even an abstract concept. It’s all up to the writer’s imagination. These are challenging assignments usually given to liberal arts college students.

Our Favorite Poems About Murder

Human history is rife with bloodshed, either through war or murder. Poets have explored every facet of this penchant for violence: why we do it, how we do it, and the cost of doing it for each successive generation. And even as we explore the reasons and mechanisms behind our own self-destructiveness, it continues to haunt us. Here is one of our favorite murder poems. Yuck.

His Soul is Torn in Response to A Ragged Soul was written by Bryan Florence to explore the feelings of a jury member when faced with the soul-crushing responsibility of deciding on another person’s fate when that person stands accused of committing a murder. Here’s the poem:

His soul is torn, taken in his youth.

I am not excusing him for killing his spouse with a hammer

His soul was lost long ago

When he was a child, merely four.

This does not enter into my conscious thoughts.

Should it though?

No.

We are here to decide on his fate.

He has already killed one,

and is suspected of murdering two who are missing.

Who could believe these were all coincidences?

Not me.

He turned and looked into my eyes once.

I felt the jury box melt.

I knew he wanted to kill me.

I felt dead.

If he could do that with a look, what could he do with a hammer?

I find it easy to cast my vote to keep him in prison for the rest of his life.

Imagining what a woman went through as he killed her with a hammer.

Pounding her head with at least forty two blows.

I never want him out.

When the verdict is read he turns and gives me a stare of pure hate.

I am terrified.

I had never met anyone soulless before.

Poems about murder all share a particular morbidity, but Florence’s short work manages to evoke feelings we don’t often think about or perceive. Juries are usually formed of mostly anonymous individuals who work behind closed doors. What do we know about how they feel when they convict a person for murder?

Exploring Debt Through Poetry

Debt and bankruptcy are among the biggest problems faced by American citizens — and their government — today, and those problems will likely be carried with us well into the future. It seems like they’re only getting worse with each new president. Poets have explored the notion of “debt” from a figurative standpoint forever. Here are a couple of our favorites.

The following poet by Paul Laurence Dunbar explores the concept of “debt” and the lack of debt settlement or relief in life. You might interpret to mean the “debts” that accrue one on top of another through bad decisions each day, i.e. the things we regret by the time we go to the grave. Or you might interpret it more literally as a commentary on American materialism and going into debt because we like to buy and buy and buy.

This is the debt I pay

Just for one riotous day,

Years of regret and grief,

Sorrow without relief.

Pay it I will to the end —

Until the grave, my friend,

Gives me a true release —

Gives me the clasp of peace.

Slight was the thing I bought,

Small was the debt I thought,

Poor was the loan at best —

God! but the interest!

This next poem is called “College’ll Wait” by Mark Stellinga — and it was added only this year! It explores debt from a different standpoint. The poem suggests that each of us has a debt to pay because we have a duty to society. College can “wait” because military service and making the world a safer, better place to live is more important. Here’s an excerpt:

She’d be doin’ absolutely everything she could to stop me from enlisting in 

the Army after school.

Trouble was…Dad and Grandpa both had proudly served, and plans ignoring their decisions didn’t feel too cool. 

Pointing at the photographs of my and my Dad’s father, all decked out in uniform, I argued with her, “Mom… 

Lots of other guys I know are joining up this summer, an’ I’d feel like a coward tellin’ Dad and Grandpa Tom…

“Given all the conflicts overseas…that I’m not going!   Plus – having missed the scholarship we all were sure I’d get –

College ’ll wait…and seein’ as Dad has yet to find a job…I don’t wanna add another dime of fam’ly debt.”

“Get in the car,” Mother barked…“it’s best you see – up close – the facet of – 

a conflict -that may help you to decide. 

We’re going to tour Walter Reed, and…by the time we leave…I’m sure you’ll feel the lucky ones are actually – those who died!”

At the end of the poem, the narrator realizes that what his mother showed him only made his desire to serve his country stronger. He’d now seen first-hand what others had sacrificed. It was important that those sacrifices be seen as a debt handed down to each future generation — and paid back one day at a time.

Valentine’s Day Poetry

Now that the holiday is past, we can start to reflect! Valentine’s Day means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s a special day where we get to show others how much we care. For others, it’s a special day to wallow in self-despair, doubt, and wonder if we’ll ever really find someone to love and who loves us back.

For many, the idea of Valentine’s Day is a joke all by itself — because why shouldn’t you share how much you love someone routinely, every day, all year long instead of just using one day as sort of an exclamation point on love?

No matter your personal beliefs, you can write a poem. And thankfully, others have already done the work for us. Here are a couple of our favorites.

Lord Byron wrote “She Walks in Beauty.” It’s a perfect way for a man to envision loving and cherishing a woman (or vice versa, if you change pronouns). Here it is:

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!

Another writer named John Clare describes his feelings of “First Love,” which we mostly likely all remember. Here’s a short excerpt:

I ne’er was struck before that hour

With love so sudden and so sweet,

Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower

And stole my heart away complete.

My face turned pale as deadly pale,

My legs refused to walk away,

And when she looked, what could I ail?

My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face

And took my eyesight quite away,

The trees and bushes round the place

Seemed midnight at noonday.

I could not see a single thing,

Exploring The Hardships Of Divorce Through Poetry

You’ve probably heard the relevant statistics: nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Or young people aren’t marrying or having children as much (or as early) as they once did. Society is about to collapse, blah blah blah. We’ve all heard the doomsday naysaying. Marriage is a difficult vow to uphold. The institution is under pressure from all sides. But sometimes it’s important to focus on the pain we feel at the end of one journey — which we can use to recognize that it can just as easily be viewed as the beginning of another.

How often do couples claim to have had an amicable divorce? They happen. But even when couples split up agreeably, it can still be an emotional roller coaster — especially after years of togetherness have been invested. The following poems explore divorce in all its forms, from the good to the bad.

“The Break Away” was written by Anne Sexton. And she’s not one to cut corners when describing the harsh realities of a life apart:

Your daisies have come

on the day of my divorce.

They arrive like round yellow fish,

sucking with love at the coral of our love.

Yet they wait,

in their short time,

like little utero half-borns,

half killed, thin and bone soft.

They breathe the air that stands

for twenty-five illicit days,

the sun crawling inside the sheets,

the moon spinning like a tornado

in the washbowl,

and we orchestrated them both,

calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.

There was a song, our song on your cassette,

that played over and over

and baptised the prodigals.

It spoke the unspeakable,

as the rain will on an attic roof,

letting the animal join its soul

as we kneeled before a miracle–

forgetting its knife.

Pablo Neruda’s popular poem “If You Forget Me” explores what it might be like to lose someone you love — even when you know you’re better off without them:

I want you to know

one thing.

You know how this is:

if I look

at the crystal moon, at the red branch

of the slow autumn at my window,

if I touch

near the fire

the impalpable ash

or the wrinkled body of the log,

everything carries me to you,

as if everything that exists,

aromas, light, metals,

were little boats

that sail

toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

And then there are the poets who explore what it means to make and break a vow at a time when vows were taken, well, more seriously than those made today. John Dryden shows us how to walk this path in “Why Should a Foolish Marriage Vow:”

Why should a foolish marriage vow,

Which long ago was made,

Oblige us to each other now

When passion is decay’d?

We loved, and we loved, as long as we could,

Till our love was loved out in us both:

But our marriage is dead, when the pleasure is fled:

‘Twas pleasure first made it an oath.

If I have pleasures for a friend,

And farther love in store,

What wrong has he whose joys did end,

And who could give no more?

‘Tis a madness that he should be jealous of me,

Or that I should bar him of another:

For all we can gain is to give ourselves pain,

When neither can hinder the other.

Poetry Topics: What Should I Ask My Students To Write About?

Many teachers will inevitably ask their students to write about whatever they feel like writing about. Sometimes an assignment will relate to a book read for class. But other times it can be most beneficial to provide students with a framework, context, or abstract idea and let them run with it. Giving the entire class the same idea can lead to some strangely provocative work! Here are a few easy ideas for poetry topics.

One classroom professor (whose name we will absolutely mention: Joseph Cardillo), routinely gave his college students a one-word framework about which a poem needed to be written. One of those topics? The word “lips.” Another? The word “eyes.” There was no other direction provided. A poem needed only incorporate the word. The results were fun, to say the least. 

Asking students to write a poem about a specific topic can inspire interest. Ask them to write about where they grew up — a town, community, state, province, or country are all fair game. The most provocative, insightful poetry will come from those who were born outside of the country, and help other students understand outsiders a little more.

You can also ask students to write about abstract concepts like a bad dream, love, the feeling of falling asleep, what it’s like to be underwater, etc. Ask them to write about a sight, sound, emotion, or anything else related to the five senses. Ask them to write about things they haven’t yet experienced for themselves! What is it like to become a parent? What is it like to climb a mountain? ….Explore outer space? Anything is fair game.

Children love to dream. Ask them to write about a fantasy, like a super power they wish they had. There are so many options! And keep in mind that these prompts don’t just work for high school students or little kids — they will work just fine for you, too!

The History Of American Cities Through The Lens Of Poetry

The United States of America is a great melting pot of diversity, much of which can be seen in its cities. February is African American History Month — but most of us have forgotten because we’re so focused on COVID-19 and a historic second impeachment. But go to America’s cities, and the melting pot is there for everyone to see. The history becomes more visible. Chinatown in NYC, Little Tokyo in LA, the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

Poetry is a great way to experience a city’s history. 

Trenton, New Jersey holds a number of events throughout the year devoted to those whose hearts yearn for more poems from new and old writers alike. The Pop Up Shop: Black History Month: Poetry Edition will occur on February 27 at 2 PM in the Heavenly J Dance Studio. Remembering Poe will take place in the Historic Village at Allaire (Wall Township, NJ), but will set you back thirty dollars.

New York is another great place to enjoy the written word — voice aloud. The Spoken Word Battle Slam series: The ReBoot will take place in Brooklyn’s APAC Studio on Friday, March 5 at 8 PM. Slam poetry is an experience like no other, and we highly recommend seeing (and listening for yourself) at least once.

Head to Honey’s Lounge in Houston, Texas for Talkin Dirty After Dark on Friday, February 19, at 7 PM. A second event at Honey’s will present The Ides of March on Friday, March 19 at 7 PM.

For fifteen dollars, you can listen to Herbs & Words Spoken Word & Smokin Mics in Philadelphia, PA on February 27 at 8 PM. 

Those interested in city-specific poems can begin a relevant search here. Chicago Poems is an aptly-named collection of poems written by Carl Sandburg. Here’s an excerpt:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

If you’re not drooling for American cities just yet, try “Elegy for the Native Guards.” Here’s a taste:

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead

trailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—

all the way to Ship Island. What we see

first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee—

half reminder of the men who served there—

a weathered monument to some of the dead.

An Influential Poem For High School Students

It can be difficult for many of us to feel relaxed when reading poetry — because it’s not for everyone! Some struggle to read between the lines or envision exactly what a writer is trying to tell us through the written word. But even though some may not enjoy the poems we share, we still have the obligation to share them. That’s especially true for young kids and high school students whose minds are still developing. 

These are some of the most influential poems that every student should read at least once. The poem “Snow” by David Berman perfectly encapsulates the strange spontaneity of childhood — and all the bizarre things we do and say to make it interesting. It reads:

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow. 

For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels

Had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake. 

The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn’t know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor. 

Our voices hung close in the new acoustics. 

A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

When we talk to kids about poetry, we always must ask several questions: “What does this mean to you?” “What do you see?” “How did it make you feel?” Part of this exercise isn’t just about poetry. Instead, it’s about learning more about the students themselves. Many will use poems to explain their own feelings and experiences to those who are willing to listen (and, ironically, read in between the lines of life).