The Power of Words: Playlist for the Apocalypse


As a law firm, we are ever focused on our words and speech. Through words, lawyers strive to communicate complexity in simple terms, craft winning arguments through persuasive speech, and document business arrangements with precise language. The legal writing process is different from creative writing, certainly, but it requires effort and original thinking. Well-crafted legal language leaves a lasting impact for years to come. Only consider some of the most powerful legal words in our country’s history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Prose and poetry, though, leave a different kind of impact. They can express joy, gratitude, fear, and trauma. Think about Amanda Gorman’s stirring words in The Hill We Climb, recited at President Biden’s inauguration:

“When day comes,

we ask ourselves,

where can we find light

in this never-ending

shade? The loss

we carry. A sea we

must wade.”

Although we all have our own personal never-ending shade, our world was steeped in loss and about to wade into the second year of a global pandemic. The words found common ground, regardless of our political beliefs.

Each year at Jayaram Law, the partners pick a book to give to each member of the team on their birthday. We strive to choose one with wide-ranging appeal and one that will leave a lasting impact. This year’s book is Playlist for the Apocalypse: Poems by Rita Dove. A creative writing professor at the University of Virginia, Ms. Dove is a former United States Poet Laureate and the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She is known for her lyricism and beauty, and her ability to convey complex emotion in written word.

She opens her latest collection narrating how words, “too many to fall into rank and file,” have the power to make us imagine the scent of daffodils, even though daffodils don’t smell. She reminds us that poetry is dream-like, and the white space among the words is musical. She proves it line by line, stanza by stanza, as she brings music to everyday life; moments that may feel as raucous as a family reunion or quiet like simply waiting for a flight. She helps us dream through a series of poems from the perspective of a cricket. She asks us to confront our personal and collective history, meanwhile teaching us that anger can be righteous, and that chronic illness is a trauma of its own both physical and spiritual.

By sending a book to our team each year, we hope to convey that we are more than our profession: that creativity matters and that we are complex humans and deep thinkers. Our words reflect a moment in time but will be interpreted for years to come. One of my favorite poems in Playlist for the Apocalypse ends with this message:

He lives in his words. 

You wrestle,

enraptured, with yours.

What time does with them

next, or ever after,

is someone else’s rodeo.

“Shakespeare Doesn’t Care” by Rita Dove