Gary Stein: How A Trial Lawyer and Poet Speaks His Truth

Contributed by Mike Clark, Publisher Emeritus

Poetry with a spirit of its own tends to find varying human forms of expression.

Emily Dickinson, a recluse, wrote her metaphorical, magical poems in an upstairs Amherst bedroom. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive who had “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. Walt Whitman, a news reporter, nursed the Civil War wounded and proclaimed a “barbaric yawp” that gave a new vision to American poetry. And William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician, let his poetry speak in everyday language.

So it is not too farfetched for Gary Stein, a 68-year-old plaintiffs’ civil trial attorney, to speak his own poetic truths as well as advocating for his personal injury and divorce clients.

Gary Stein

The Rockville, MD-based lawyer says he finds “poetry to be a process of looking for connections just like the law. Neither law nor poetry exist without language—one analytic and the other intuitive.”

Gary Stein came out of the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop with a master’s degree and an unpublished novel, a penchant for short stories, and a yearning to write poetry. He later got his legal training from Georgetown Law School and is a member of both the Washington D. C. and Maryland bar.

Besides the practice of law and his preoccupation with writing poetry, Gary Stein says his spiritual life also defines him.

Raised as a Catholic, Gary Stein has spent the last 30 years of his life as a Quaker. “I tried Unitarianism. I studied Judaism and Buddhism. But I have come to like the Quakers with their emphasis on a personal relationship with the divine or the Spirit without an intermediary. It encourages questioning and seeking truth and does not discourage it. It is not dogmatic, but inclusive because if you accept that of God in each person, you are likely to respect diversity.”

His first published poem, “Dark Room,” turned up In Prairie Schooner in 1975. Since then his poems have been published in Poetry, Folio, Wordwrights! and

The Sow’s Ear with more than a dozen of his poems finding their way in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s(JAMA) Poetry and Medicine section.

“I represent injured people as an attorney, so I learn about medical things,” he observed. “JAMA has the widest circulation of any magazine in which I’ve been published, and I have received a lot of fan letters from doctors over the years.”

A compilation of his poetry appeared in a chapbook entitled Between Worlds published by The Finishing Line Press, when he was a finalist in the small press’s national poetry contest. He currently is seeking publication of a 70-page manuscript called Touring the Shadow Factory.

“Many of my poems start with a factual event, and a lot of my poems become a compressed narrative,“ Gary Stein noted. He has written about the loss of his father, who before dying in his old age had been his sailing and fishing companion, and even poetry that touched on the strange, unanticipated death of his mother-in law by a bee sting.

Other poems are less personal, and some take a satirical bent, he added.

“I get a reward when I say something that is fresh and that has not been read before,” he said. “A friend of mine had a wonderful quote: ‘I write to find out what I have to say.’ When I write a poem, I never know where it is going. Like a reader, I want to be moved, jolted or amused. If the poem does not teach me something, why did I bother?”

He has a penchant for reading his poetry to groups. The mild mannered attorney said he actually accepts all requests to read his poetry, which allows his poetic side the platform of “a performer.” He has read at a Library of Congress poetry event, at book stores, retirement communities, book groups, churches, colleges, and even in natural settings.

Gary Stein says: “A poem should sound right so people hear its rhythm and rhyme. It cannot only be effective on the page, but poems also must be heard.”

Here are two of Gary Stein’s poems. Enjoy!

DARKROOM

You float up beneath my fingers.
I rub old sun into your hair,
hear bees bother our meal beyond the lens.
In the dust free air it is grass again;
it is years ago not this small night.
Your image whispers itself in silver,
the echo so perfect I leave the room.

Prairie Schooner, 1975

JUST A TRIM

The Vietnamese woman
who snips my hair
in Andre’s Salon
was just a child when
our planes flamed
her village.

Now she calls herself
“Ann,” the ghost
of a name. Eight
thousand miles from
home her busy blades
whirl over
my small head.
For twenty bucks
she tries to tame
the thin forest
of time’s gentle
defoliation.

Poet Lore, 2015

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