Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

In Law Find Poetry

I noticed, my first time through the big-firm interview process a few years ago, an odd trend: I was most drawn to tax attorneys. One attorney in particular was a young lovely thing who -- now get this -- wore a Little Black Dress to work the day I interviewed her. White-Shoe Law Firm Interview Rule #1: Try try try not to check out the hot third-year associate's legs (but O those legs), and whatever you do don't give her a Saturday Night Smile (what exactly that is I'll leave to your imagination). She was a former philosophy major with a transparently artistic disposition; and time and again, the most creative of my classmates and of the partners and associates I met at big firms seem to have a yen for tax work.

The semester after I observed this phenomenon, I took Federal Income Tax. This is not a requirement for law students, but it's generally thought to be a Good Idea, since a) tax law infects just about everything else a lawyer does, and b) it's tested on the Pennsylvania bar exam, or was then anyway. And what I learned, that semester, was that the Internal Revenue Code is a thing of beauty. Some federal legislation is better than others, cleaner and more elegant than others. But the IRC is -- and this is the thing -- poetry. It has an elusive, but discernible structural paradigm, something like vilanelle (think "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," the quintissential vilanelle), and an underlying order that, while at first seeming intuitive, eventually, reluctantly reveals itself to be sublime.

Contrast this with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) (a bench memo regarding which Moon once had to write for a 3d Circuit Titan for whom he was externing many moons ago, which had to be the result of some sort of cruel practical joke: stick the kid with one year of law school under his belt with the case involving ERISA, the most involuted, cryptic statute in the Known Universe), a statutory scheme the disarray intrinsic to which numerous appellate judges have openly mocked in several formal published opinions (I went looking, but couldn't find any quotes (I don't have Westlaw at home, which might have helped), but just take my word for it).

But even here, there is poetry to be found, or so runs the thesis at the heart of this new weblog:

There is not a more unnatural pairing than the elegant terseness of the haiku and the bulky and indecipherable text of ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974). Below, however, you will find that opposites attract as the beauty concealed beneath ERISA's dull veneer is revealed through the simple and stirring 5-7-5 of the haiku. Enjoy.

I can't wait to see whether this is the work of some flustered attorney with a momentary good idea and a minute to kill or something more substantial. Here's hoping it's the latter. A law geek's variation on Dillard's Mornings Like This: Found Poems, which coaxes original poetry from the literal language of such unlikely sources as the Gnostic Apocrypha, etc., to alarmingly entertaining effect.


Blogger Masterisa Showitome said...

Dear Friend,

I had wondered if anyone would discover my oasis of verse entitled ERISA Haiku. You are the first and I hope not the last to pass through. I hope you enjoyed your visit, and be assured that your kind encouragement emboldens me to hack with greater force through the jargon jungle to rescue the ERISA haiku so securely encased in its text, regulations and interpretive guidance.

- Masterisa Showitome

9:31 AM  
Blogger Moon said...

I see you added a new one this morning, MastERISA. Your best yet, in my humble opinion. I'll blogroll you as soon as I figure out whether to file you under Words, Fun, or Law.

9:41 AM  

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