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Briefcase – contains legal documents and poems by John Adams

In a recent blog, Poetry Showcase – the hiatus explained and looking for a way forward, with a little help from friends, I mentioned my one-time writing group buddy and successful poet John Adams.

During the first year of our writing group he, myself and another fellow writer enrolled in Massey University’s Creative Writing paper, the first half of which was dedicated to poetry. Later that year John announced his intention to apply for the Masters of Creative Writing at University of Auckland. While not surprised, given by day John was a District Court and Family Court Judge, I was both shocked at the magnitude of this feat and inspired by his infectious joy at becoming immersed in a year of creativity. Briefcase is the outcome of that year, 2010.


I still recall an Tuesday evening writing group get-together; when sipping red wine and eating pizza, John read us a short story from the point-of-view of a stapler; it considered the legal ramifications of an inanimate object striking the side of Verity Button’s face and thus causing her death. Long after the meeting finished I continued to be both amused and puzzled. This story became John’s muse for the Briefcase.

Personally, I love how John has taken the precise, unemotional and authoritative language of the law and crafted a page turning poetry book / novella that at times challenges the reader while seeking to involve us by turning the reader into a member of the jury. The proclamation of this intent evident in the first poem If the language:

“If the language were of death,
would you better understand
the need for care-
ful measurement,”

John ventures beyond the traditional poetry forms and is experimental, using legal documents such as wills with faded out or whited out text to unfold a poem. The Caption Sheet on page 30, which concludes with, “An order is sought for the destruction of the stapler”, is bought humourist and thought provoking. John always one to capitalise on a particular thread uses this introspective moment to deliver Cold one : “a cold one you could / knock one cold one you / could knock me knock me’’.

These words bring me back to reality; this is or rather was the briefcase of a sitting Judge. His daily reality included domestic violence, girded by alcohol, on a daily basis. A few drinks, an argument, you think the person has left the room, desperate to be rid of the frustration you picked up an object; in the case of Jason Porstmouth Button a stapler; he throws it precisely at the time his wife Verity re-enters the room. Is this domestic violence? Did the stapler beckon to the frustrated husband? Did the wife come back to respond to her husbands ‘Fuck you’ as she closed the door? In the eyes of the law is a stapler a weapon?


As a juror we are asked these questions. We are given documents and poems, revealing the lives and turmoils of Jason and Verity Button. They challenge us to go Between the lines rather than in a Straight line. We are asked to consider deeply the meaning of language. To ponder on a piece of evidence, an inanimate object, which caused the injury – the staple, in Buttons and Staples of Law.

John Adams spoke with Kim Hill – Saturday 15 October 2011 about the Briefcase collection. During the interview he read the poem Provisions and together with Kim as Mrs Verity Button the Cross-Examination. I would urge you to take the time to listen ( recording 16:47); John’s delight in discovering poetry in the legal language is infectious. Warning you may want to rush out and buy a copy of the Briefcase.

I possess a vivid imagination and never gave words a thought until I started writing poems for the Creative Writing paper assessments. It lead me into what I term my literary apprenticeship. John with his love of language had a different experience, “you dip your toe in a stream and suddenly the current tears you away somewhere.” This somewhere was the discovery of a talent for poetry, the achievement of a Masters in Creative Writing (Auckland University), Briefcase and The Elbow Stories (NZ Short Stories).

The last words of this blog recall the Sudoku puzzles included in the Briefcase – LAWPOETRY and POETRYLAW a signifier for the witty and thought provoking poem, Justice: “It will always be difficult to get to / the heart of justice because it is girded / so that every approach meets a moat / of jus, …./”


Adams, John: Briefcase. Auckland University Press, Unversity of Auckland, 2011. First published 2011, reprinted 2012. ISBN 978-1-86940-49-8.

We have used our own photo’s of the front and back cover for featured and post images.

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