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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

December 2, 2006

lawyers sentenced to haiku purgatory, without appeal

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 11:00 pm

update (Dec. 6, 2006): Motion to Reconsider received – see below Alamo

Early this afternoon, I discovered that Colin Samuels, of the Infamy or Praise weblog, would be hosting Monday’s edition of Blawg ReviewBR is a traveling compilation of the (purported) best offerings from law/lawyer-oriented weblogs over the past week; such weblogs have been damnably dubbed “blawgs”.  In his preview of Blawg Review #86, Colin warned us that “This edition will be based upon the second cantica of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatorio.

Frankly, your Editor does not particularly like theme-based Blawg Reviews, and doesn’t believe in Purgatory, but he does indeed believe in both serendipity and duty.  It seems, therefore, that fate has condemned me to write this lengthy weblog piece on a Saturday night (instead of reading my advanced copy of Robert North Patterson’s very interesting novel Exile).  And, as an avid advocate of “real” haiku, I must make righteous judgment — as explained below — about the Texas Bar’s so-called “Appellate Haiku Contest,” consigning its perpetrators to the appropriate ring of Dante’s Purgatorio.

devilG As you probably know, purgatory is, according to Roman Catholic teaching, “the condition of souls of the dead who die with some punishment (though not damnation) due them for their sins. Purgatory is conceived as a condition of suffering and purification that leads to union with God in heaven.” (American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, 2005)

Although written in prose, rather than epic poetry, this posting tells of my own journey into the dark realm of Haiku Purgatory.

Immediately after reading about the upcoming BR#86 (and based on a pointer from Robert Ambrogi), I found myself scrolling down the 78-page pdf. version of the The Appellate Advocate (Summer 2006), which is a publication of the Texas Bar Appellate Section.   However, I never got to the intended article, “Legalese in the Age of IM,” by Roger W. Hughes.  Instead, my progress was stopped dead in its tracks on page 2, which was captioned, in large bold print, “Calling All Appellate Haiku Poets!” and which began with the words:

“The Appellate Section is pleased to announce its second Appellate Haiku Contest. A haiku is a Japanese poem of three lines, containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively.”

The announcement then gave a number of [so-called] sample haiku, which were “winners” from their First Appellate Haiku Contest in 2004.   Here are two of the “haiku” winners:

No reason no word
like a migratory bird
your case is transferred

Tarzan, J., concurs:  devilR
Result good; reasoning bad

Barely avoiding a heart attack or stroke, I continued reading, and encountered the Contest Rules, the first of which was: “All entries must comply with the structural requirements of a Haiku (3 lines, 5-7-5 syllables), and the content must relate in some loose fashion to appellate law, appellate courts, or the appellate community.” (Although you can find the results of the 2006 contest here, I must strongly caution against the viewing of them by the highly impressionable or the lover of genuine haiku.)

Fans of this weblog know two things about its Editor and his many alter egos: 1) we believe that “Lawyers and Haikushould go together very well; and 2) we are staunch champions of “genuine haiku,” and loathe the pseudo-haiku that is so rampant throughout the internet, and much of American society.

As confessed last year in the posting is it or ain’t it haiku?, “I’m always in anguish when I see the term “haiku” misused/abused by applying it to verse that don’t fit even the broadest definitions of the genre.” . . . [Here are two relevant Definitions:]

podium Quick Definition of Haiku:  Haiku is an unrhymed “one-breath” poem (no more than 17 syllables) that relates nature to human nature, and usually compares or contrasts a pair of images, which are separated by a pause.  At its best, haiku lets the reader share in the poet’s “haiku moment” — a moment of insight or awe.

Quick Definition of Senryu:  Senryu is a short poem similar in structure to haiku but featuring ironic, humorous and/or coarse observations on human nature.

That same piece, goes on to explain to another weblogger, who was about to hold a “haiku contest”: Not only is it untrue that haiku must be 17 syllables (in English-language haiku, shorter is better, and many of the best are 10 to 14 syllables), but it is especially untrue that any poem/verse set forth in the 5 – 7 -5-syllable format is haiku. [See dagosan’s haiku primer.] Most of what we see on the internet — even if quite funny and imaginative — is really very light verse, or doggerel.  It would be great if you could help correct the misconceptions by calling your next “haiku” contest by another name.  Maybe “lowku” or “hipKu” or “hypeKu.” (”ku” means verse or poem in Japanese.)  What we see at most internet sites are (at their best) “senryu.”

It doesn’t take a hot-shot appellate lawyer to know that the definition provided by the Texas Bar Appellate Section does not jibe with my haikuEsq definition of haiku, or even senryu.  Of course, getting the definition right — whether based on statute, caselaw, rule, of common law — is at the core of good appellate practice.  Their very own Standards of Appellate Conduct state that “Counsel will advise the Court of controlling legal authorities, including those adverse to their position, and should not cite authority that has been reversed, overruled, or restricted without informing the court of those limitations.”

devilF Apparently, the Texas Haiku Chainsaw Gang vaguely remembered a definition of haiku given to them by their 3rd Grade teacher, and then forgot her insistence that nature be part of the poem. (As haiku poet and theorist Michael Dylan Welch has written at begin haiku: “My schoolteachers meant well, but often presented only a superficial and sometimes misguided notion of haiku.”)  They surely forgot to Shepardize, or use some other citator system, to assure that their Rules were up to date (for tips on avoiding stale law, go to the Gallagher Law Library’s Guide for Pro Se Litigants).

The Texas Appellate Section also failed to seek an authoritative source for their definition.  They shouldn’t merely take my word on what haiku is (nor even that of the other sources quoted in the above post).  They should, instead, check out the definition of haiku promulgated by the Haiku Society of America (in 2004), along with its treatment of senryu.  And, because haiku is an evolving artform, they might take into account the opinion of modern, English-language haiku experts and enthusiasts, and (perhaps most important) should take a look at the best modern haiku (e.g., at The Heron’s Nest or Simply Haiku, in the Collections of HSA contest winners, and throughout this weblog, written by our Honored Guest Poets).

Not having done that, it seems our Texas legal colleagues have failed, at the very least, to live up to their Professional Responsibility under the Model Rules of Haiku Conduct.  Beyond the general obligation to bring no disgrace or ill-repute to the haiku genre or community, they have clearly violated:

podium Rule 1.1 Competence: A lawyer-haijin shall provide competently-drafted haiku to all contests, journals, or other public forums.. Competent drafting requires the knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the creation of genuine haiku or senryu.

Their failure is particularly disappointing, in light of the optimism we voiced in the posting Yes,Lawyers and Haiku?.   What are we to do, then, with this group of Appellate Lawyers who have so misinterpreted and misused the haiku concept, producing haiku abominations aplenty?  Fundamentalist or fanatic lovers of “true” haiku might speak in terms of blasphemy and descecration.  Imbued with the poetic muse, the f/k/a Gang is, of course, forgiving of human frailities and willing to assume good faith and potential for growth.   So, we’re thinking that venial, not mortal, sins have been committed, meriting consignment to a ring of Haiku Purgatorio, and not the Inferno of Hell.

Colin Samuels is, naturally, our expert on Dantenian placement.  If we had to pick a level of Haiku Purgatory for our Texan Appellate friends, we might go with the Fifth Terrace — which, according to Wikipedia, is one of the levels for “those who sinned by loving good things, but loving them in a disordered way.”  More specifically, the Fifth Terrace is concerned with those who are guilty of prodigality, by not “liv[ing] up to the expectations of those who have launched him or her into a life or career.”

Can the Appellate Section of the State Bar of Texas hope to make it to Haiku Heaven any time soon?  To do so, they must seriously look not just within, but without, for the true meaning of haiku. [M.D. Welch’s Ten Tips for Writing Haiku, can be found, along with guidance from other haiku poets, in our prior post on recognizing haiku.] The Appellate Section’s haiku infidels might have to confess that genuine haiku can rarely — and probably only by accident — be based on appellate practice.  Perhaps, with diligence, a form of senryu could be crafted that would fit their needs.  As we noted in the post senryu is not a typo, senryu “can be particularly enjoyable for lawyers — who are frequently far more attuned to human foibles than to nature’s essence.”

update (Dec. 4, 2006): Our Purgatory Expert, Colin Samuels, has confirmed the above sentencing decision in today’s Blawg Review #86: “It shall be so! Welcome to the Fifth Terrace, my Texan Appellate friends! Perhaps you would have been happier in Inferno, where barbeque is more plentiful, but here y’all are and here y’all will stay until you’ve atoned for your sins against “one-breath” poetry.”  The f/k/a Gang is particularly relieved that this posting didn’t land ourselves in Terrace I (Pride) or Terrace III (Wrath).

Although two of the following senryu were posted just last week, they are as close as dagosan has come to Appellate Haiku/Senryu:

mid-argument –
opposing counsel crosses
her legs

sua sponte
madame justice
catches me staring

two-minute warning —
the senior partner has
a senior moment

. . .  by dagosan devilG

p.s. While the f/k/a Gang is serious about its haiku, we are just as serious about having fun, and have not intended to violate the Texan Standards for Appellate Conduct, which state, “Negative opinions of the court or opposing counsel shall not be expressed unless relevant to a client’s decision process.”  If we have, please note that The Devil Made Us Do It.

alamoN update (Dec. 6, 2006): Although not captioned as a Motion to Reconsider, or as a request for en banc review, and despite our “without appeal” consignment order, f/k/a has received an apologia from Kevin Dubose, of Alexander Dubose Jones & Townsend LLP (Houston), an organizer of the Texas State Bar’s Appellate Haiku Contest.  Here is the conclusion of Kevin’s Reply.  You can read his entire message in Comment 2 below.

“[T]he point of this exercise was to create a comical juxtaposition of the somewhat dissimilar worlds of appellate law and haiku poetry.  We read the winners at our otherwise dry and boring annual meeting, and the audience was greatly amused.  We never intended for this to be a serious attempt at classical haiku, and we never envisioned this being disseminated on the internet where our abuse of the form would cause purists to be plunged into haiku purgatory.  If we offended you sensibilities we apologize, we were just trying to have fun, and we did.  Maybe we’re just easily amused in Texas.  At least it sounds as if you enjoyed your righteous indignation as much as we enjoyed our irreverent ignorance.”

Given his lucid writing style, persuasiveness, reputation for readibility, and apparent interest in the haiku genre, we can only repeat our earlier conclusion that the Fifth Terrace of Purgatory is the appropriate location for those who have not lived up to their expectations and abilities.   Of course, with sincere attempts at rehabilitation (and perhaps your prayers), Kevin and his co-conspirators may be able to greatly shorten their stay in Purgatory.

podiumF Meanwhile, Your Humble Editor has promised himself to try harder to make sure his attempts at satire, even when for an excellent cause, do not stray across the line into prolix and pontificating pedantry.   After all, I didn’t get into the haiku biz (nor weblogging) to give myself agita or to take myself too seriously.

afterthought (March 27, 2007): This morning, I was further scandalized by discovering that the 2nd result in the Google query /blog haiku and law/ was the post “We haiku. Do you?” at the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (Nov. 30, 2006), which was directly inspired by the Texas Appellate Haiku Contest.  Had we known that our Texan respondents had led so many other lawyers down the path of haiku-parody perdition, their sentence would surely have been more severe.  As for the folk at WSJLaw Blog, we’re feeling non-judgmental this morning and can only say, “they know not what they do.”


  1. Mount Purgatory Warm-up…

    See “lawyers sentenced to haiku purgatory, without appeal ” at f/k/a [formerly known as]. WAC? loves Dante, and serenely awaits guides Virgil and Colin Samuels at next Blawg Review, No. 86…….

    Comment by What About Clients? — December 4, 2006 @ 12:15 am

  2. From: Kevin Dubose 
     To: haikuEsq
    Sent: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 4:43 PM
    Subject: Appellate Haiku Contest


    Ben Mesches forwarded to me your e-mail and link to your blog about the Texas Appellate Haiku contest. As co-director of the contest, I felt obligated to respond.

    You are absolutely right that our definition of a haiku was steeped in ignorance and popular misconceptions. I have no doubt that the 5-7-5 definition is something we were taught years ago by misguided English teachers, but it is also something reflected in several contemporary websites. I regret that I did not stumble on your site in my perfunctory e-mail search. You are also correct that appellate lawyers are usually sticklers for thoroughly researching and following the applicable rules. At least that is true when they are writing appellate briefs with money, liberty, or professional reputations on the line — not so true when they are dashing off a quick verse for laughs.

    You are also correct in pointing out that our rules completely ignore that fact that the subject matter of haikus should invlove a poetic contemplation of the natural world. In the original Texas Appellate Haiku contest in 2004 (in which I was a frustrated entrant, and not a director or judge), I attempted to comply with this guideline and was frustrated that my efforts were not rewarded, while most of the winners made no such attempt. At least the first place winner compared a docket equalization order to “a migratory bird.” Nevertheless, by the time the 2006 contest rolled around (in 2005 we did an Appellate Limerick contest), I was persuaded that making a purist distinction between haiku and senryu was pointless, and that it was easier to dumb down for the masses rather than to try to educate the masses. Ultimately I guess it depends on how broad your definition of the natural world extends, and whether it includes body parts such as “tongue” and “cheek.”

    In short, the point of this exercise was to create a comical juxtaposition of the somewhat dissimilar worlds of appellate law and haiku poetry. We read the winners at our otherwise dry and boring annual meeting, and the audience was greatly amused. We never intended for this to be a serious attempt at classical haiku, and we never envisioned this being disseminated on the internet where our abuse of the form would cause purists to be plunged into haiku purgatory. If we offended you sensibilities we apologize, we were just trying to have fun, and we did. Maybe we’re just easily amused in Texas. At least it sounds as if you enjoyed your righteous indignation as much as we enjoyed our irreverent ignorance.

    Kevin Dubose
    Alexander Dubose Jones & Townsend LLP
    1844 Harvard Street
    Houston, Texas 77008

    Comment by Kevin Dubose — December 6, 2006 @ 11:21 pm

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