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Resource of the Month: November/December 2018

With December 20th being Poet Laureate Day, let us briefly visit the article “The Most Famous Legal Poem.” The author mentions the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case Porreco v. Porreco (2002), in which Judge J. Michael Eakin unorthodoxly included couplets in his dissent—such as “A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium/When his spouse finds he’s given her cubic zirconium.” His poetic dexterity did not impress some of his colleagues, as Chief Justice Stephen Zappala believed that expressing an opinion in rhyme reflected poorly on the Supreme Court.

Given that the poet laureates mentioned in this posting are typically appointed by a government or an institution to compose poems for special occasions, perhaps they had better success in conveying their poetical vision than Judge Eakin. Some of the poets have even worked in the fields of librarianship and law. Did you know that Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928), a relative of religious leader Joseph Smith, was a Bay Area librarian who became the first California Poet Laureate and the first poet laureate in any state? Or that John S. McGroarty (1862-1944), California’s third Poet Laureate, was a Pennsylvanian lawyer before he became a journalist and a California congressman? Solano County even has a place in the state’s poet laureate history. Dr. Henry Meade Bland (1863-1931), the second California Poet Laureate, was born in Fairfield, California and earned his doctorate at Stanford University.

In Solano County alone, the late Joel Fallon (1931-2016), a military intelligence retiree, became Benicia’s first Poet Laureate in 2006. In 2010, author Juanita J. Martin became Fairfield’s first Poet Laureate. She also has the distinction of being the first African-American to become a poet laureate in Solano County. In 2015, public speaker and author Genea Brice became Vallejo’s first Poet Laureate and she was succeeded in 2017 by author Diana “D.L.” Lang.

The current United States Poet Laureate also has ties to Solano County. Tracy K. Smith, an educator, was raised in Fairfield, California and is a Fairfield High School alumnus. There are other historical ties between California and the United States Poet Laureate:

  • Robert Frost (1874-1963), a San Francisco native who was renowned for poems such as “The Road Not Taken,” served in the position from 1958-1959.
  • Philip Levine (1928-2015), who taught at Fresno State University and famously composed works about the blue-collar experience (e.g. “What Work Is”), served as the Poet Laureate from 2011-2012.
  • Juan Felipe Herrera, Smith’s predecessor, is a Fresno County native whose distinguished career has included a professorship at UC Riverside. He was the first Latino to serve as the Poet Laureate in California (2012-2014) and for the nation (2015-2017). His works touch upon California life and indigenous cultures (e.g. “Half-Mexican”).

As a fun project for the winter season, if you are viewing this posting from outside of Solano County, I encourage you to check and see if you have any poet laureates in your vicinity.  Although I am not a poet laureate, I would like to conclude this posting with a poem of mine published in 2006 (before I became a librarian): “Nomad.” I wish everyone a safe and wonderful holiday!

Any materials shared by Solano County Law Library is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues.

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