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Poker Poetry: Three Memorable Pieces of Work

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Poets can draw inspiration from just about anywhere – from epic stories to things that touch the heart.For example, The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare told the story of an ancient Roman
named Lucretia and how she was raped by the king’s son. It’s a tragic story rich in metaphors and poetic images. A poker game might not seem very poetic, with gaudy lights, big stakes, and opponents trying to bluff each other, but it actually is! Especially for poker enthusiasts, since the game is loved by many all over the world. If it’s hard to imagine, don’t take my word for it! It’s already been demonstrated in these three pieces of poetry prose.

1. Paul Farley’s Poker

Paul Farley is a famous British poet known for his works that are full of wit, humor and warmth. His openness to normal daily life and living itself has grown him the reputation of being a cross-cultural poet, with a cinematic feel running through many of his poems. He’s also been known to select personal childhood memories to describe and draw inspiration from. In his poem, Poker, he wrote:

and it might be a pack of lies
or it might be a sleight of hand,
and you can’t tell which is a bluff
because words are a good disguise
for holding nothing. I’ve found
that nothing is more than enough.

From these lines, it might be safe to assume that Farley is a poker player as he does a fine job using
the deck of cards to describe the uncertainties of life and how bluffing one’s way through things and getting away with it is actually a big part of real life. Or, perhaps these were just snapshots of Farley’s younger years when he was mastering how to bluff with absolutely nothing in hand, but is able to take everything, as “nothing is more than enough.”

2. Philip Larkin’s Continuing to Live

Philip Larkin, commonly referred to as “England’s other Poet Laureate,” is one of England’s most
famous poets of the 20th Century. His work has been described as combining “ordinary people doing ordinary things,” in a colloquial style with a “reflective tone.” In his poem, Continuing to Live, he wrote:

This loss of interest, hair, and enterprise —
Ah, if the game were poker, yes,
You might discard them, draw a full house!
But it’s chess.

Larkin cleverly uses poker, which is an ordinary thing ordinary people do, as a metaphor for life and death. A full house in poker is considered to be a very powerful hand and outranks many hands, thus often results in taking the pot. Larkin suggests “discarding them,” or trading them in for a chance to improve their hand; just as discarding something in life for a chance that something better will come along.

3. Robert William Service’s While the Bannock Bakes

Robert William Service, also known as “the Bard of the Yukon,” is a British-Canadian poet who
became famous through his writings about the frontier life of Western Canada. He must have come
across many poker games with cowboys, outlaws and miners during his travels in the 19th Century. His poems often described scenes of the West, and poker was a regular part of life back then. In his poem, While The Bannock Bakes, he wrote:

It doesn’t matter, does it, pal? We’re of that breed of men
With whom the world of wine and cards and women disagree;
Your trouble was a roofless game of poker now and then,
And “raising up my elbow”, that’s what got away with me.

Every poker game is not a happy win, and Service describes a man’s “trouble was a roofless game of poker.” Life was tough back then, especially frontier life. Saloons, mining camps and poker all went hand-in-hand and Service became famous for the way he captured and composed his dramatic poems.

The source of inspiration for poetry can come from the most ordinary things, even poker. Poetry,
sonnets and even haikus can be inspired from anything one can imagine. As proven by these great
poets, writing is an art that knows no boundaries.

This post is written in collaboration with Daphne Stone.

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