Voices: Legal Laureates

On the evening of Oct. 28, poets Brian Gilmore and Karl Carter read and discussed their poetry. Despite such similarities as some of their poems being based on their experiences as both practicing lawyers and prolific poets in Washington, D.C., Gilmore and Carter had different styles that nonetheless complemented each other.

Gilmore presented his poetry first; the poems he chose to read touched on various points from his early teenage years through his years in law school.

His poem “Revolution” described living under and rebelling against the teachings of his father until “The will of the monarch [Gimore’s father] became our will.” This was a fitting poem to start with because it described Gilmore’s growth in maturity.

The following poems described this gradual progression of maturity as he traveled through school, learning through relationships with roommates, trials such as his family being accused of being Communist sympathizers, and drugs, like “…malt liquor, that magical elixir.”

Gilmore’s poetry was infused with humor, often eliciting chuckles from the audience. The works Gilmore read suggested a lifetime of growth and optimism as he struggled against the vicissitudes of life.
When the poets switched and Carter stepped up to podium and began reading, the audience was exposed to a much different experience.

While it was clear that both poets were influenced by the environments and times they were living in, Carter’s poetry much more directly struggled with and attempted to understand the historical and cultural influences in his life.

His poems were personal in a different manner from Gilmore’s poetry. In his poem “Heroes” he approaches the subject of the civil rights movement and African-American leaders through history. Reflecting on their influence he said, “I am somewhere between battles/…I sit lost, weeping.”

The Black Panthers, various musicians such as Langston Hughes, and sharecroppers all made appearances in Gilmore’s poetry. Carter’s poetry, in contrast, was self-reflective, as he attempted to connect to his personal as well as his cultural history. Images of the South, of “barren fields” and “empty plantation houses” are redolent of Carter’s search for meaning in his travels.

Audience members enjoyed the performance as well as the variation in the poetry. Senior Carla Bacon said, “All their poems were very culturally relevant to them. They all had stories within the poems.”
Sophomore Emily Burdeshaw said, “I liked the informal feel to [Gilmore’s] poetry.” Carter’s poems “were short. You didn’t expect [the poem] to end, but you absorbed the images that were given.”

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