Lawyers have a lot to learn from poets. I credit the Oulipian Raymond Queneau for my appreciation and, more important, comprehension of what is perhaps the longest sentence in the legal canon, section 341 (e) of the Internal Revenue Code. Try making sense of a sentence with 435 words preceding the main verb without a perverse appreciation for arbitrary constraints. That’s a dare, in case you were wondering.
Or try convincing a tribunal that it’s all right for a raunchy magazine to publish long-forgotten salacious photos of a now-famous actress without her permission. Well, the photos previously appeared in another (albeit less vulgar) magazine, so republication hardly invaded her privacy. And the text appended to the photos, while suggestive, was hardly libelous. Wallace Stevens cut right to the heart of the case:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
from ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
Unlike Flaubert, Stevens graduated from law school and practiced law. He fairly presented both sides of the dispute but surely knew, deep in his dark lawyer’s heart, that the only choice is, precisely, both. So do I. Sometimes the clients are just wrong, and there’s not much we can do. We’re not poets, so we know we can’t win every time. All we can do is dispose of the poets’ debris.
(Debris în Who Reads Poetry: 50 Views from Poetry Magazine, ed. University of Chicago Press, 2017, la pp. 134-5)