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COLLABORATIVE POETRY

The Duel
by Eugene Field

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
*    *    *    *    *    *    *
*    *    *    *    *    *    *
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!

​​​​Located in Cranberry Township, PA

Since 1983


 



Who won? Not the gingham dog. Not the calico cat, surely. Which do you represent? Does it matter in the end? Does the image of mutual self-destruction remind you of any of your litigation cases?


I considered other titles for this essay, each more turgid than its predecessor. Here’s just one: The Pedagogical Uses of Poetic Imagery and Metaphor in Collaborative Training. The notion is that people will often respond more favorably, or at least more openly, to the indirect presentation of an idea versus the unvarnished assertion of the same idea. Try telling a bunch of litigators that litigation is not a very sensible way for adults to resolve their problems.


I’ve tried, and I’m here to say

A bit of lubricant goes a long, long way.


Let’s face it, contrariety is a basic trait of many lawyers. Have you ever had this experience? A colleague starts a discussion with a demand that something occur. You accede immediately. Then, as if you hadn’t spoken, your colleague launches into a well prepared diatribe about why his/her point of view is obviously correct and just, and anyone who feel differently is stupid or venal or worse! When you point out that you already agreed with the demand, you do not get an apology for the lecture, instead, you get blamed for having a bad person for a client or you are treated to some other non sequitur. How do we introduce to this lawyer the notion that agreement = no disagreement (and that’s OK)? After all, as we have all heard in our collaborative training, sometimes as a way of diminishing the challenges posed by dyed-in-the-wool litigators to the need for a paradigm shift, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”1 


Maslow’s is truly a brilliant insight, but is our colleague prepared for such a direct demand for self-reflection? Maybe we can sneak up on him/her.


In his oft quoted poem Two Tramps in Mud Time, Robert Frost describes the ruminations of a man enjoying the outdoors in Spring. He is chopping firewood, enjoying the exercise, when two tramps emerge from a nearby wood. They linger, causing some slight resentment, because it is assumed the tramps want to chop the wood for him (for pay), which would also deprive the man of the task he so enjoys. He sees the tramps and imagines their back story, thus;


Out of the woods two hulking tramps

(From sleeping God knows where last night,

But not long since in the lumber camps.)

They thought all chopping was theirs of right.

Men of the woods and lumberjacks,

They judged me by their appropriate tool.

Except as a fellow handled an ax,

They had no way of knowing a fool.


And there it is. Insight without judgment. To me, the poet’s tone is not deprecating. He is stating a fact. “They judged me by their appropriate tool. Except as a fellow handled an ax, they had no way of knowing a fool.” The tramps skill in their own metier is acknowledged. And though their self-awareness is certainly viewed as limited, they are neither pitied nor condemned.


The wood chopper appears to eventually cede the job to the tramps, though with painful reluctance. The poem celebrates open-minded self-awareness, even when the result is disconcerting and painful.

Is there a difference between the insight offered by Frost from that of Maslow?  If not, which version is more palatable? If the insights are different, how do you distinguish them?


We need not confine our search for collaborative teaching tools to poetry. Think about poetry set to music. I have not yet conceived of a better way to illustrate the difference between an interest and a position, than to play a song from My Fair Lady. Most of you know the basic story. Arrogant, misogynistic elocution teacher (Henry Higgins) accepts a friendly challenge to transform a cockney guttersnipe’s (Eliza Dolittle) linguistic habits to an extent which will allow her to pass in society. The technique employed to effectuate this change is relentless, mind-numbing repetition of apparently challenging words and phrases. Eventually, Eliza begins to fantasize about her release from this torture. She imagines that the King of England is her personal friend, who wants to give her something special for her birthday. Whatever she wants she can have. Her response:


“All I want is ‘enry ‘iggins ‘ead.”


Position? Or interest? If you said position, what do you speculate is/are the underlying interest/s?


Caveat: I haven’t actually seen this use of music in collaborative training yet, but I am anxious to give it a try.


It would be easy to extend this discussion to an unacceptable length, with example upon example. Instead I will end with a longer poem, by Frost, my favorite collaborative poet, published in 1914. Mending Wall will be known to many of you, but rereading it now, as a collaborative professional, may bring you added joy and meaning. I am reminded when reading this poem and many before it, that collaborative concepts have always been around. It’s a shame that it took until 1990 for Stu Webb begin a movement coalescing around age old precepts. To me Mending Wall is an anthem of sorts for a movement which would not be formalized until more than 70 years after the poem’s release.


Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows?

But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."


It’s all there. Assumed or manufactured conflict. “Where there is we do not need a wall.” Appeal for an interest based analysis of the situation. “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.” Persistent ignorance. “Good fences make good neighbors.” Plea for deeper analysis. “Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: “Why do they make good neighbors?” And the extraordinary and sad idea that, against any rational analysis of the situation, some people will continue to erect barriers that separate them from one another, barriers they do not need and should not want.


This poem turns the notion of interpersonal conflict on its head. We normally think of two contestants rending and tearing at one another, destroying everything in their path. But Frost shows us that conflict is equally expressed by building walls that serve no useful purpose.


Does this poem speak to you, as a collaborative professional? Can you make use of it in your next collaborative training?


  1. Attributed most frequently to Abraham Maslow.


© 2014 Mark A. Criss. All rights reserved