I used to find it hard to lose at chess.
I’d watch in disbelief the check and mate,
think through the game and curse to find too late—
I’d bought disaster with the bishop’s press.

In school, a “C” would cause the same malaise
that sick regret: “I should have studied more.”
And when a date would dump me at her door,
I’d wander home in second-guessing daze.

Some victories a job, a wife, three boys
have taught me not to just sit back and bask
in afterglows of trophies and old joys:
each one had just entrained some harder task.

It’s hard to lose with grace, but now I try
the stocks that bombed, the failed manuscript
my fault was cursing every time I slipped.
A win is just a loss postponed until you die.

 

Charles Joseph Albert works in a metallurgy shop in San Jose, California, where he lives with his wife and three boys. He has been interested in poetry ever since the third grade when he and his brother had to learn Frost’s “Runaway.” For the past twenty years he has participated in the formalist poetry workshop at eratosphere.com. His poems and fiction have appeared recently in Literary Nest, Quarterday, Chicago Literati, 300 Days of Sun, Abstract Jam, Literary Hatchet, and Here Comes Everyone.

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14 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Now, C.J., here we have here a perfectly good poem in iambic pentameter, but look at the very last line — you’ve slipped into hexameter. Perhaps the line should go:

    A win’s a loss postponed until you die.

    — CBA (hereafter known as the meter policeman)

    Reply
    • Charles

      Yes, I was pressed into expanding this final line into hexameter by some formalists who convinced me there was plenty of precedent for such a structure. It’s supposed to make it something of a “turn”, and as well add extra weight to the thought expressed.

      Reply
  2. Satyananda Sarangi

    Hello,

    A very thoughtful and beautiful poem, barring the last line’s flaw ( iambic hexameter instead of iambic pentameter).

    Regards

    Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    Either we have regularity or we don’t. Regularity being the touchstone of formal verse, we should expect a continuation of the established pattern. No? What precedent has provided justification of such an unexpected turn?

    CBA

    Reply
    • Charles

      It’s my understanding than an alexandrine line is actually required to end a Spenserian sonnet…?

      Reply
      • Charles

        Or, if not required, at least not considered “de trop.”

  4. Terence M.

    I’m not so sure “precedent” matters so much in this case, as CBA points out. As we might find all sorts of strange precedents all the way up to complete garbage. In my view, the potency of the beauty of the poem should ideally be self-evident. From this perspective, a simple contextual reading first with the original line and then CBA’s suggested line, in more perfect meter, demonstrates the suggested line’s superiority. It rolls off the tongue perfectly and communicates effectively the point. The form executed in each syllable and word creates a larger harmony and tampering with it detracts from the overall harmony or resonance. A poem in good meter forms a beautiful painting and if you start messing with it you have a sketch or an unfinished work that lacks potency.

    How do you measure something like that? Ideally we could leave each somewhere upon a wall next to each other in every English speaking country for let’s say twenty years and then collect comments upon them. Then collect comments for all those who have beheld them in that time and see what they have concluded. Inevitably they will like the more perfect line better and see it as an ascension of the other, something that can be referenced and taught. The people who’s minds have decided the reverse will not have been interested enough to participate in the survey, having originally taken their position only annoy the other party and having no interest in passing down something so coherent as a systematic poetic form to future generations anyway. To put it another way, the revised line has sticking power.

    Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Let me add my two cents here. Kip Anderson was quite correct to complain of the alexandrine at the poem’s end. It is jarring and out of place. It would be different as a fixed stanzaic ending in a longer poem, where it would be part of an accepted pattern. But here it sticks out like a boil. Anderson’s suggested fix is quite appropriate.

    I find it interesting that Mr. Albert was pressured into marring the poem by certain “formalists,” who gave him spurious reasons for doing so (making a “turn,” and emphasizing a thought.) I have had to deal with this abject surrender-monkey tendency in New Formalism ever since the movement got started. Young poets who write in meter are always being pushed and nudged and cajoled into spoiling their poems by fiddling around with the meter, and this is done NOT for any aesthetically justifiable reason, but solely to curry favor with free-verse partisans, and to disguise the uncomfortable and unfashionable reality that one is writing traditional verse. It’s a surreptitious way to suck up to Mainstream Mediocrity.

    Many persons attempting to write traditional verse have what Franz Fanon called “colonized minds.” What this means is that they are still enslaved by the presuppositions of modernism, and unconsciously try to make their traditional verse fit the unpatterned, aleatory, and imagistic style of our free-verse enemies. I don’t for a second suggest that Mr. Albert is in this category — after all, he only wrote that final alexandrine at the behest of others. But if you are going to have a genuine identity, you need to be loyal to it. And that means telling the surrender-monkeys in our movement to stop suggesting alterations in our work that make it palatable to free-verse partisans.

    Albert’s “Concession” is a praiseworthy poem. Apart from Kip’s fix, I’d only suggest one thing: in line 9, the words /a job, a wife, three boys/ should be placed within parentheses, since they separate the subject from the main verb.

    Reply
    • Charles

      Well, I do thank you all for the interest in the poem, and especially to CB for the suggested fix.

      Reply
  6. Reducible Awes

    I enjoyed the two opening enclosed-rhyme stanzas. Their terse presentations are remarkable. I wondered why you altered the third stanza’s rhyme scheme; and I wondered if the decomposition of grammar and meter in the last two stanzas were purposefully done to fit with your major theme.

    Why this thread is superior to most on this site is because it critiques, instead of displays a series of, what J. Vernon McGee, called “lovin’ cups” or ad-hominum attacks. Poetry becomes refined through the onslaught of criticism. Write what you want, but be prepared to argue for every single syllable, word, punctuation mark, accent, etc. you use. And then, brace yourself for comparison to the canon and your contemporaries.

    In English, Spenser is not the only one to use an hexameter after pentameters, Shakespeare ends “Sonnet 33” with “Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth.” (which I don’t like), or amidst pentameters, where Pope has fun with “Flies o’er th’ unbending corn, and skims along the main.” (which I find inspired).

    Mr. Anderson neatly jettisons “just” and puts “win” and “loss” in equilibrium. Mr. Salemi also notes missing punctuation in line nine, but where he would place parentheses, I would place commas. Also at the ends of lines 13 and 14, I would also place commas. So what. Do what you want to do, for the reasons you want, and the coddling and carping critics be ignored.

    Reply
    • Charles

      Yes, the punctuation clearly needs fixing in L9, 13 and 14.

      I find your final exhortation to be surprisingly convincing. Surprising, because I had always believed that a kind of objective perfection was achievable in a poem, and lately I’m not so sure that it’s even desirable, let alone possible. There’s craft and there’s heart, and until recently I gave little thought to the latter.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Objective perfection is certainly desirable and achievable in a poem, as in any serious work of art. Change a single phrase in Mozart, and the composition collapses into ruin. Change one brushstroke in Da Vinci, and the painting is spoiled. Why do we have no problem demanding perfection in all of the arts, but make an exception for poetry, where bad craft is frequently excused because of the poet’s good intentions? Would we excuse a rotten pianist on those grounds?

        Yes, there is craft and there is heart. But heart by itself won’t make a great poem.

  7. Charles

    Some poems’ greatness comes through craft–
    Some through heart.
    When meter’s ship-shape, fore and aft,
    then I admire the poet’s craft.
    But sometimes free verse can impart
    an arrow to my cynic core;–
    and that is when I like heart more,
    and call it “art.”

    Reply
  8. James Sale

    I enjoyed this poem thematically very much – coping with failures from our past is something that resonates I think with all minds that are honest.

    Reply

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