Celebrating National Poetry Month with Five Lawyer-Poets

April is National Poetry Month, a celebration created by the Academy of American Poets and co-sponsored by organizations such as the American Library Association. If the words “Law Library” bring to mind shelves of Federal Reporter volumes (à la Law and Order), Walter Brown Hall might not be your first stop for poetry. But in fact, the Law Library maintains a collection of popular reading materials—including poetry—and serves as an access point for all sorts of books held by other UVA libraries.

And besides, who’s to say that lawyers can’t also be poets? To illustrate the poetry resources available to UVA Law students, this post highlights five lawyer-poets whose work you can read this month.

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Before she became a full-time poet, Monica Youn litigated election law issues and directed the Campaign Finance Reform Project at the Brennan Center for Justice. Property law students will appreciate the title of her 2016 collection, Blackacre, which Youn used “in a poetical sense to talk about questions of legacy, landscape and particularly the term ‘devise.’” Her most recent collection, From From: Poems, made numerous “best of 2023lists, including the National Book Award longlist for poetry.

Both Blackacre and From From: Poems are held by libraries on UVA’s main grounds, but law students can have them delivered to the Law Library. Just find the relevant record in Virgo, click on “Request item,” and select “Law Library” as your preferred pick-up location. We’ll send you an email when your item arrives.

Requesting an item in Virgo.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and legal scholar who recently published Redaction, a stunning book collaboration with visual artist Titus Kaphar. Redaction uses the eponymous legal technique to create poems out of legal documents. It also includes etched portraits of incarcerated individuals.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 2016, Betts worked in the New Haven public defender’s office. He has written “numerous articles and essays on topics of mass incarceration and the perils of youth behind bars,” including his experiences representing young clients and serving time in prison. (For example, the poem For a Bail Denied is told from the perspective of a public defender.) Betts is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Law at Yale, where his interests include administrative law, criminal law, empirical legal studies, and law and literature.

You can find Redaction, as well as Betts’s collection Felon: Poems in the Klaus Reading Room (just to the left of the circulation desk) with our other popular reading materials. Or use Virgo to request the collection Shaheed Reads His Own Palm from Shannon Library.

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Annie Kim

We can’t let National Poetry Month pass without mentioning that the Law School’s own Annie Kim is an extensively published and prize-winning poet. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and is collected in two volumes, Into the Cyclorama and Eros, Unbroken; Eros, Unbroken won the 2021 Library of Virginia Literary Award in Poetry. Kim directs the Law School’s program in Law and Public Service and practiced for 12 years representing Virginia school districts and local governments.

As of this writing, Into the Cyclorama is available in the the Klaus Reading Room, and Eros, Unbroken is on the way. Looking at the catalog records, you may notice that we also hold copies in Law Special Collections—that’s because we maintain a special archive of UVA Law faculty publications. Learn more about accessing Special Collections materials here.

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Former tenant lawyer Martín Espada won the 2021 National Book Award for poetry for his book Floaters, which, according to its Virgo catalog summary, “bears witness to [Espada’s] confrontation with anti-immigrant bigotry as a tenant lawyer years ago, and now sings the praises of Central American adolescents playing soccer in an internment camp founded on that same bigotry.” (The name of the title poem refers to offensive language used to describe migrants who drowned crossing the Rio Grande.)

Espada is the author of more than twenty books, many of which you can find using the Virgo catalog record for Floaters. Just navigate to the record and scroll down to the “Shelf Browse” section to find out what books would be near it on the shelf. Since literature is shelved by the author’s last name, you’ll see several other collections by Espada.

The Shelf Browse section of a Virgo record.

Lawrence Joseph is an acclaimed poet and retired St. John’s School of Law professor. The breadth of his work is exceptional—Joseph has written a number of poetry collections, as well as publishing extensively on topics such as labor, employment, tort and compensation law, jurisprudence, law and literature, and legal theory; his prose work Lawyerland distills conversations with lawyer acquaintances into a collection of stories. His poem And That Language was published last month in the journal Poetry.

Joseph’s work is available from UVA Library in print and e-book versions. The e-books allow for especially quick access. For example, to read Joseph’s Curriculum Vitae, simply find its Virgo catalog entry and click on the blue button labeled “Library Catalog (Access Online).”  

Accessing an e-book through Virgo.

We hope you’ll enjoy these resources during National Poetry Month!

Written by

Kate Boudouris

Kate Boudouris

Kate is the Research, Instruction & Outreach Librarian at Arthur J. Morris Law Library.

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