Michigan State law professor publishes third poetry book

 by Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Brian Gilmore is a poet and writer who practices law and teaches, not a lawyer with a hobby of writing poetry. 

“I take both very seriously, and look at poetry as my profession as well as the law,” he says.

An associate clinical professor and Director of the Housing Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law, Gilmore recently released his third book of poetry, “We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters” (Cherry Castle, 2014).

“The poetry book is autobiographical in nature, trying to tear down assumptions about African-American life, as one thing in particular,” Gilmore says. “I grew up in D.C., and it was quite a magical experience to grow up in my community even though we all made mistakes and as a young boy coming up I did all sorts of crazy things, none of which were that bad looking back.  The book tries to show growth and maturity and various experiences I had and how they affected me including things like the Rodney King verdict and going to a small, mostly white, school in Maryland.  

“Other parts of the book are about my parents. They were government workers in D.C., and they served for about 30 years each. They worked tirelessly to give us – me and my brothers and sister – a chance in life.” 
The book joins Gilmore’s previous poetry collections, “elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlem” (Third World Press, 1993), and “Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags” (Karibu Books, 2001).

According to Gilmore, clinical law allows him to be constantly in touch with ordinary people. 

“That is what’s most important to me – trying to connect with ordinary people, who are trying to make a living,” he explains. “My Housing Clinic at MSU does that each week – tries to help ordinary people. My poetry is written with these people in mind, as well as people I grew up with in D.C., people like my parents who were hard working civil servants, and the many other poets, writers, and artists I know and have gotten to know over the years.”

Like fellow poet/writer/attorney Lawrence Joseph, a Detroit native and professor of law at St John’s Law in New York City, Gilmore successfully blends his twin passions.
“My law work and teaching work are the same – basically one thing, that just manifests itself in different ways each day,” he says. “My clients and my work inform my poetry and writings, and vice versa, although there are obvious language issues at times.”

When Gilmore first considered post-grad studies, he mulled getting a master’s degree in English then becoming a teacher; but decided to study law. 

“I knew I could always write, but I also wanted to do public interest work – to be an advocate for poor people in some way,” he says. “The only way of doing that was to become a lawyer, or at least, get a law degree, and that would provide me with a professional career.”

After earning his law degree from the David A. Clarke School of Law in D.C., where he was a contributing writer for The Side Bar student newspaper, Gilmore handled housing cases with the local Neighborhood Legal Services Program. 

“I wasn’t making much money but the work was thrilling, very satisfying to stand up for the little guy, the person everyone wants to toss aside like they are nothing,” he explains. 

In 2000, he represented a mentally disabled/alcoholic black woman in what became one of the most important housing discrimination cases in D.C.’s history. 

“I enjoyed it, and from then on, I’ve been drawn to fair housing, as well as all kinds of other cases involving the poor,” he says.

Previously a professor at Howard University School of Law, Gilmore has about 40 published works to his credit, including law review articles, legal articles, commentary, reviews, and contributions to books, essays, anthologies, and encyclopedias. A columnist with the Progressive Media Project, he has published in The Progressive, The Nation, American Songwriter Magazine, Book Forum, The Utne Reader, and Callalloo as well as The Washington Post, ABA Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, and The Baltimore Sun, and has been a contributing writer for Ebony-Jet.com, and JazzTimes Magazine.

“I’ve not yet written much poetry about being in Michigan, though I have written some essays – The Great Lakes Review is going to publish one of them next year,” he says.

A Literature Fellow for the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, his honors include: Pushcart Prize nominations, Maryland State Arts Council Individual Arts Awards, Cave Canem and Kumbilio Fellowships. He also taught a GED course for the nonprofit DC WritersCorps at Lorton Reformatory in Virginia.

Although Gilmore is working on another book of poems, his next project is a book on social policy and the social contract, slated for publication by MSU Press. 

“It’s not a book of philosophy but contains some of that in it,” he explains.

“It’s mostly about the daily ideological battle of ideas that makes policy in this country.”

For Gilmore, poetry is a way to connect with others and to try to understand the lives of ordinary people.  

“I can’t imagine not writing, and I don’t think I’d have much to write about if I lost touch with people,” he says. “Literature and the law drive me.”