An Ode to Sore Losers

I hate losing.

I’m sure I’ve said elsewhere in this blog that I don’t care about winning or losing as long as I play well. That sounds good, and it has some truthiness to it. A loss certainly stings less when I’ve done my best to win.

But I still hate losing, and losing when I haven’t played well just plain sucks.

I suffered a loss like that on Thursday. Now it’s Saturday, and here I am still moping about it.

Does that make me a sore loser?

I’m not sure. I didn’t throw my racquet. I didn’t tell the opponents their winners were lucky shots. I said “good match” when we all clinked racquets at the end.

But after the match, we played a little longer for fun. And suddenly I was playing great, hitting shots that I’d been missing only minutes before. My partner and I were up an easy 4-1 before we had to leave the court.

Why am I telling you this? Because, deep down, I need you, anonymous reader, to know I could have won. Just like I needed the opponents to know. “Where was this shot during the match?” I repeatedly exclaimed with a faux laugh.

Isn’t that just a subtle way of saying they got lucky to have caught me on an “off” day? I think so. And I think that makes me a bit of a sore loser.

But while I may still feel bad about losing, I can stop feeling ashamed about the sore part. I’ve found absolution in this amusing poem by Deborah Bennett, a pretty incredible writer and a pretty great person, too. Those of you who have taken American Poetry 101 will recognize this villanelle as a playful take on Elizabeth Bishop’s classic, “One Art.”

(If you’re reading on your cell phone, use landscape orientation to preserve line breaks.)

(Also, “integument” means a protective layer, which of course I knew without having to look it up.)

The Art of Being a Graceful Loser
(with apologies to Elizabeth Bishop)

They try to teach you this ridiculous sentiment.
I own the loser, but am nothing if not graceless.
Being a graceful loser is surely an impediment

to teaching my daughter to own her temperament.
Why play if not to win? I must profess
I see no value in teaching this ridiculous sentiment.

Civility and tact serve as no integument
to the pain of losing at hockey or tennis.
Why shackle your feet, accept impediment?

Break down in tears, unleash the lament.
Spit, throw chairs, kick in the fences.
Why teach us this ridiculous sentiment

if not to soothe the beast, get us to relent?
I have lost in sport and family, I confess.
Attempts at grace were surely an impediment

to living with loss. Let the bitter extract ferment
in your heart, there is no need to repress
the hungry dog. Let it lap up this sentiment.
Being a graceful loser is surely an impediment.


Thank you, Debb Bennett, for letting me republish your wonderful poem and for finally giving us sore losers the respect we deserve. Why play if not to win, indeed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ferment my bitter extract a little longer.


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