Bluffs and bets,
With zero regrets.
Betting chips with plenty of raises,
Hopefully, the next hand is a pair of Aces.

Obviously, that’s a pretty bad attempt at poetry. But some thought-provoking rhymes exist using poker as a central theme or at least an element. Creating verses that resonate with readers isn’t easy. But a few poker-related poems stand out from the pack.

Whether you’re familiar with and connect with greats like Shakespeare, Frost, Whitman, or Poe, these poems will hopefully resonate with cards lovers. Poker may not always be the main focus. But they place poker in a historical context from the poet’s point of view.

Table of Contents

1 – Poker – Matthew Sweeney

Many players have had to deal with losing a poker buddy or perhaps a relative who taught them how to play. Sweeney seems to have had the same experience or may have at least been inspired by this type of life-changing event.

Poker

Sweeney wrote this poker poem in 2017, a year before the Irish poet passed away himself. He produced numerous books of poetry and served as a teacher for much of his life. He described his work as “imagistic narrative”. Perhaps that comes through in this poem in which friends/relatives share one last poker night with Uncle Charlie after his passing.

It’s a sweet poem about sending a loved one and poker player off to the afterlife.

There were five of us playing that night,
Padge, Kieran, Neal and me -
and, stretched out in his coffin, Uncle Charlie.
We dealt him a hand each time
and took it in turns to bet for him,
waiving his losses, pooling his wins,
for what good were coins to him?
What could he win but his life?
Still, five of us played that night
and when we stopped it was daylight.
We left the cards with him
to remind him, forever, of that game
and Padge, Kieran, Neal and me
went up the road to our beds
and slept until we buried him,
then played until we had to agree
the good hands had gone with Uncle Charlie.

2 – Poker – Paul Farley

Even the literary publication The New Yorker has featured a poem involving poker. This piece of verse appeared in the magazine in 2015. The title is simple enough and gets straight to the point. Farley is an award-winning poet and broadcaster from Liverpool, England.

He has released several books of poetry and quite likely might be a poker player as well, considering the topic of the New Yorker poem. This example focuses on a deck of cards and its varied locations throughout its poker life. 

Here’s an excerpt from the ending, in this case:

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.

 

PokerListen to Paul Farley’s “Poker”

3 – Continuing To Live – Philip Larkin

This English poet, and novelist, tackles a man’s life and its meaning in this short composition. Larkin published several books of poetry and also worked as a jazz critic. He was once described as writing his poems with "a very English, glum accuracy". His prose centred itself around emotions, places, and relationships.

He is remembered as one of the 20th Century’s best-loved British poets. Larkin ‘s work focused on “ordinary people doing ordinary things,” as a critic once described. “Continuing to Live” uses poker as a metaphor for  life and death.

It affirms the idea of people doing ordinary things – playing poker in this instance.

The author spoke of his fear of death at times. Here’s a look at the section focusing on poker with the hopes of even drawing a full house in life.

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.

4 – The Ballad Of Touch-The-Button Nell – Robert William Service

This famous British-Canadian poet and writer is often referred to as “the Bard of the Yukon.” He captured the wild Canadian frontier in verse and spent long periods of the early 20th Century travelling into the western United States and Canada.

He may be best known for "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee".  But this poem focuses on women of the west and the harsh realities many faced in the 1800s and early 1900s. 

There’s not a lot of poker, but a quick reference shows how poker was thought of at the time:

Now like all others of her ilk, the lady had a friend,
And what she made my way of trade, she gave to him to spend;
To stake him in a poker game, or pay his bar-room score;
He was a pimp from Paris.
and his name was Lew Lamore.

5 – While The Bannock Bakes – Robert William Service

Poker

As a student of the Canadian and American West, Service must have experienced some poker in his travels. The game expanded greatly into the American West in the 19th Century, with miners, cowboys, and outlaws all enjoying the game.

Poker was a common sight whether at a saloon, mining camp, ranch bunkhouse or Civil War battlefield. Men looked to pass the time and win a few bucks, and Service reflected that scenario on occasion in his poetry.

His poems often told a story of the West. “While The Bannock Bakes” focuses on a mining camp and the men who work there. Poker appears to be a regular part of life, but apparently not always with positive results.

Here’s an excerpt where poker plays a role:

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.

We're merely "Undesirables", artistic more or less;
My horny hands are Chopin-wise; you quote your Browning well;
And yet we're fooling round for gold in this damned wilderness:
The joke is, if we found it, we would both go straight to hell.

*****

There hasn’t been nearly as much poker in poetry as in fiction and non-fiction writing. But these poems offer insight into how poker fits into differing poets’ imaginations and historical contexts. 

Perhaps you’ll be the next reader to take up the mantle as poker’s next great poet.

About the Author
By
Sean Chaffin is a poker writer who appears in numerous websites and publications. He is also the host of the True Gambling Stories podcast
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