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I’ve been playing quite a lot of chess over the last 1½ years, both online and over the board. I played quite a bit as a kid, but other interests, not least poetry, elbowed their way into the foreground. What started me off again was writing this sonnet:

Chess with Monsieur Joffroy

In memory of Frédérique Joffroy (1962-1980)

Losing to me wasn’t the badge of shame
your father thought it was. He couldn’t stop
the stronger player coming out on top.
It came as quite a shock to hear him claim
my proletarian tactics were to blame.
It’s standard stuff to snatch a pawn, then swap
off all the pieces; suicide to drop
the basic principle behind the game.
To think that he was meant to be the host!
We were thirteen, your father forty-four.
Five years later I was told, by post,
that you, my friend, had hanged yourself. Your ghost
jolted my memory. Outplayed once more,
your father kicked the table to the floor.

It was published in CHESS Magazine in January. At my suggestion, I was given a year’s subscription instead of payment.

Chess has now elbowed poetry into the background. Until last month I hadn’t written anything for half a year. Then I wrote this. A friend of mine, Nigel Stuart, has added two more stanzas, which he has given me permission to post here:

Though they might seem distinct, as the white and the black,
xxxchiaroscuro best lights each endeavour –
while the whitest of knights treads a devious track,
xxxpawns transgendered as queens render pleasure,
and a sinuous line, in conception divine,
xxxoften issues in muddles of meaning,
and an image whose shine, past attempts to refine
xxxits expression, turns out overweening.

Though some poetry seems by illumining dreams
xxxto rival the light of the cinema,
neo-realist themes and their verismo gleams,
xxxshow illusory scenes, not dissimilar.
Every struggling art, when considered apart,
xxxseems a separate route to redemption,
yet one finds at its heart there’s inscribed from the start,
xxxfrom exposure – there’s never exemption.

 

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