Concessional Structure

The concessional structure is a two-part structure that turns from making concessions (that is, admitting the problems or difficulties in the argument one wants to make) to then, in fact, making the argument.  Mary Szybist discusses the concessional structure more fully in Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns.  Below are supplemental poems and discussion.

“Sunshine.  We know about that.  Light keeps,” by Joshua Corey (Under “Excerpts”)

“Yet Do I Marvel,” by Countee Cullen

“Song for Baby-O, Unborn,” by Diane Di Prima

“Uncredited,” by Boris Dralyuk

“Time I’m Not Here,” by Graham Foust

“Well Water,” by Randall Jarrell

“Chicago,” by Carl Sandburg

“Good Bones,” by Maggie Smith

“Try To Change the Mutilated World,” by Mike Theune

“The Ivy Crown,” by William Carlos Williams

Generally, the concessions in the following poems are the repeated claims that it seems so much of what is good is gone, or about to go away.  Creating and employing this sense of being at the end of things, these poets then represent–sometimes encouraging, sometimes just relaying–a new encounter with what is or might be present, or possible.  The motto for this kind of concessional poem might be the first two and the final line of Wallace Stevens’s “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard”: “After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends….It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.”

“The Eternal City,” by A.R. Ammons

“Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold

“Relax,” by Ellen Bass

“The New Experience,” by Suzanne Buffam

Idea LXI (“Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.”), by Michael Drayton

“Only This Morning,” by Dan Gerber

“A Brief for the Defense,” by Jack Gilbert

“Some Joy for Morning,” by Peter Gizzi (in Now It’s Dark (Wesleyan, 2020), p. 50). 

“Embodies,” by Jorie Graham

“Becoming,” by Jim Harrison

“Disaster Movie,” by Tony Hoagland (in Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2010), pp. 66-7).

“The Blizzard,” by Phillis Levin

“The Conditional,” by Ada Limón

“The Leash,” by Ada Limón

“in the valley of its making,” by Nate Marshall

“The Plumbing,” by W. S. Merwin (in The Carrier of Ladders, collected in The Second Four Books of Poems, pp. 186-7).

“Small Comfort,” by Katha Pollitt

“And the days are not full enough…,” by Ezra Pound

Sonnet 65 (“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea…”), by William Shakespeare

“Building, Dwelling,” by Michael Theune (in American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets 32 (2007): 14).  This ending is also a bit ironic.


Here’s an interesting poem that feels like it’s going to have a concessional turn, but instead of turning from critique to something positive, it just gets darker and more despairing:

“Ordinance on Arrival,” by Naomi Lazard


“Whatever Else,” by Jim Moore

This poem largely is a list of concessional maneuvers.

8 responses

18 02 2009
Fishy Structure « Structure & Surprise

[…] Check out Structure & Surprise contributor D. A. Powell’s manifesto on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog.  Then scroll down through the comments to read the poem written by one “A Sardine.”  A hilarious concessional poem! […]

5 05 2009
OKD and the DMS « Structure & Surprise

[…] such a gesture is not totally unfamiliar.  It is, in its own way, a kind of concessionary gesture, one that acknowledges, I know what I should be doing, but I cannot, and/or will […]

19 02 2012
Six Approaches to Structuring a Poem « Structure & Surprise

[…] the concessional structure, I had students use the same “First Lines” handout, but this time they were to choose one line, […]

29 09 2015
Lucinda Williams’s Concessional Turns | Structure & Surprise

[…] Concessional Structure […]

26 03 2017
and the virgin’s name was mary | life between breaths

[…] of my own. They borne out of a fascination with the women of Scripture, an assignment to write a concessional poem and a most beautiful icon that my church gave out during their series on gender and theology. I […]

25 03 2018
“Beauty”–Full of Turns | Structure & Surprise

[…] Concessional Structure […]

30 05 2018
The Ink Dark Moon | Structure & Surprise

[…] Concessional Structure […]

1 05 2020
Kathryn Kerr’s “Ecphratic Ecphrasis” | Structure & Surprise

[…] Concessional Structure […]

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