Poetry Review: If We Had Dreamed Better We Might Not Be in Law School

Kevin Schoenfeldt (3L)

In If We Had Dreamed Better We Might Not Be in Law School, LegalArts Press presents a collection of poems from current and former law students across Canada. Edited by Emily Wallace, the collection offers, to varying degrees of success, poems on topics ranging from the mundane (“Writing the LSAT”) to the emotional (“Breakdown in a Bay St. Food Court”), while the worst of the collection is merely grade school-level rhyming couplets, like this pedestrian line from Christopher R. Malschrift’s “What the Law Student Saw”:

I frowned at the grade that I saw

On my exam on the criminal law

Other poems are more formally playful, as is the case with Mariev LaChef’s “Logic Game”:

A graduating law student must rank her choice of practice areas from the following: Business Law, Criminal Law, Family Law, Human Rights Law, and Immigration Law. Her ranking is subject to the following conditions:

She cannot afford to practice Criminal Law

She cannot afford to practice Family Law

She cannot afford to practice Human Rights Law

She cannot afford to practice Immigration Law

She does not want to practice Business Law

  1. Which, of the following, represents the law student’s correct number one choice?

(a) Business Law

(b) Do not practice law

LaChef’s poem also illustrates the undercurrent of disconcerting despair that runs beneath even the lightest of the poetry in the collection. A poem about a funny typo on a job application ends with a student crying in the bathroom. Another poem, about a squirrel on the loose in a school building, ends with a student crying in the bathroom. A poem about a student finally having a weekend off with no work to do somehowit’s not made clear why in the poem but this is trueends with the student crying in the bathroom. If this collection is accurate, the bathrooms of our nation’s law schools must be like salt mines, caked with the dried tears of law students.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that this is not a book that skews happy, given that the collection takes its title from the gargantuan, twenty-eight page stream-of-consciousness free verse at its centre, in which the author, Catherine Carthage, describes in detail all of her life’s dreams that she abandoned. Rare is the book of poetry that does not contain some sadness, but this book is enough to give one pause. Do our law students need help that they’re not getting? Carthage herself, in the title poem, asks:

Is it law school that makes us miserable or did we go to law school because we’re miserable?

I had a dream once. In the dream I was smiling.

In the dream I had accomplished something

That I was proud of.

In the dream I had made a choice to do something

That I loved.

In the dream I knew what that thing was

But when I woke up it was gone.

I no longer knew.

If only I had dreamed better.

Ms. Carthage, if you’re reading this, it’s not too late. If this book is, ultimately, an exercise in despair, let it also be a reminder: remember to dream, dear reader.

Dream, Ms. Carthage. Dream, law students of Canada. Whether you dream of making partner, whether you dream of being a Supreme Court Justice, whether you dream of becoming a freelance literary critic, do not give in to despair. Dream.

If We Had Dreamed Better We Might Not Be Law Students (LegalArts Press) is available wherever books are sold.