From time to time I like read poetry. Lately it has been the poetry of Billy Collins, a neighbor and famous friend. (He was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003.) I have been reading his latest book recently, The Rain in Portugal. Billy’s comedic touches balance the heavy parts. Brilliant poet. I selected one poem from this book to write about here, The Five Spot, 1964. It has a couple of obvious e-discovery parallels. It also mentions a musician I had never heard of before, Roland Kirk, who was a genius at musical multi-tasking. Enjoy the poem and videos that follow. There is even a lesson here on e-discovery.
There’s always a lesson to be learned
whether in a hotel bar
or over tea in a teahouse,
no matter which way it goes,
for you or against,
what you want to hear or what you don’t.
Seeing Roland Kirk, for example,
with two then three saxophones
in his mouth at once
and a kazoo, no less,
hanging from his neck at the ready.
Even in my youth I saw this
not as a lesson in keeping busy
with one thing or another,
but as a joyous impossible lesson
in how to do it all at once,
pleasing and displeasing yourself
with harmony here and discord there.
But what else did I know
as the waitress lit the candle
on my round table in the dark?
What did I know about anything?
The famous musician in this poem is Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977). Kirk was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist who played tenor saxophone, flute, and many other instruments. He was renowned for his onstage vitality, during which virtuoso improvisation was accompanied by comic banter, political ranting, and, as mentioned, the astounding ability to simultaneously play several musical instruments.
Here is a video of Roland Kirk with his intense multimodal approach to music.
One more Kirk video. What a character.
There are a few statements in Billy Collins’ Five Spot poem that have obvious applications to legal discovery, such as “There’s always a lesson to be learned … no matter which way it goes, for you or against, what you want to hear or what you don’t.” We are all trained to follow the facts, the trails, wherever they may lead, pro or con.
I do not say either pro or con “my case” because it is not. It is my client’s case. Clients pay lawyers for their knowledge, skill and independent advice. Although lawyers like to hear evidence that supports their client’s positions and recollections, after all it makes their job easier, they also want to hear evidence that goes against their client. They want to hear all sides of a story and understand what it means. They look at everything to craft a reasonable story for judge and jury.
Almost all cases have good and bad evidence on both sides. There is usually some merit to each side’s positions. Experienced lawyers look for the truth and present it in the best light favorable for their client. The Rules of Procedure and duties to the court and client require this too.
Bottom line for all e-discovery professionals is that you learn the lessons taught by the parties notes and documents, all of the lessons, good and bad.
The poem calls this a “… joyous impossible lesson in how to do it all at once, pleasing and displeasing yourself with harmony here and discord there.” All lawyers know this place, this joyless lesson of discovering the holes in your client’s case. As far as the “doing it all at once ” phrase, this too is very familiar to any e-discovery professional. If it is done right, at the beginning of a case, the activity is fast and furious. Kind of like a Roland Kirk solo, but without Roland’s exuberance.
Everybody knows that the many tasks of e-discovery must be done quickly and pretty much all at once at the beginning of a case: preservation notices, witness interviews, ESI collection, processing and review. The list goes on and on. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, most everyone still treats e-discovery as if they had bags of time to do it. Which brings me to another Billy Collins poem that I like:
BAGS OF TIME
When the keeper of the inn
where we stayed in the Outer Hebrides
said we had bags of time to catch the ferry,
which we would reach by traversing the causeway
between this island and the one to the north,
I started wondering what a bag of time
might look like and how much one could hold.
Apparently, more than enough time for me
to wonder about such things,
I heard someone shouting from the back of my head.
Then the ferry arrived, silent across the water,
at the Lochmaddy Ferry Terminal,
and I was still thinking about the bags of time
as I inched the car clanging onto the slipway
then down into the hold for the vehicles.
Yet it wasn’t until I stood at the railing
of the upper deck with a view of the harbor
that I decided that a bag of time
should be the same color as the pale blue
hull of the lone sailboat anchored there.
And then we were in motion, drawing back
from the pier and turning toward the sea
as ferries had done for many bags of time,
I gathered from talking to an old deckhand,
who was decked out in a neon yellow safety vest,
and usually on schedule, he added,
unless the weather has something to say about it.
Take time out to relax and let yourself ponder the works of a poet. We have bags of time in our life for that. Poetry is liable to make you a better person and a better lawyer.
I leave you with two videos of poetry readings by Billy Collins, the first at the Obama White House. He is by far my favorite contemporary poet. Look for some of his poems on dogs and cats. They are especially good for any pet lovers like me.
One More Billy Collins video.