Writing Lessons: Sandy Pool

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Sandy Pool, a student in the Ph.D. Creative Writing program at the University of Calgary. You can follow her on Twitter @sandypools—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

Do you find poems impenetrable? Do you cry easily? Are you overcome with grief at inopportune moments? Do not despair.  I have borrowed from my good friend and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, to illustrate how easy it is to confront the difficult poem, and move on with your rich and fulfilling life!*

Confronting the difficult poem can be easily broken down into five distinct stages, as illustrated below:


“This can’t be happening to me.  I can’t be forced to read this crappy Yeats guy.”

Student uses denial as a temporary defense. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to read poem. Student may insist on ice cream, or Chuck Palahniuk. Denial is a defense mechanism and some students can become locked in this stage.**


“Why me? It’s not fair! How can this poem happen to me? Who is to blame?”

Student recognizes that he/she must read poem. Otherwise student will flunk out, take a job at Wholefoods and/or work in university administration. This will also force student to live with “the parentals,” which will stunt student’s burgeoning individuation. Because of this anger, student is difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage. Student can be angry with themselves, or with others and especially those who are in close proximity to him/her.

It is important to remain detached with a student who is experiencing anger from a difficult poem, or else they might punch you in your stupid, poetry-loving face.


“I’ll do anything to avoid reading this. I will stop watching Netflix if…”

This third stage involves the hope that the student can somehow postpone or delay confronting the poem. Usually the negotiation for avoiding the poem is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Specifically the God of Grand Theft Auto 5.

Psychologically, the student is saying “ I understand I will have to read this crappy poem, but if I could just play Candy Crush Saga for 8 hours instead…” Students facing less serious poems can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. However bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution.


“I’m so sad… Why bother going on? I’m going to die. What’s the point?”

During this stage the depressed student begins to realize the certainty of having to encounter the poem. Because of this, the student may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. It is not recommended to cheer up a student who is in this stage; this outpouring of emotion shows that the student has begun to accept the fact that they will have to confront the poem and may still end up working in university administration.***  It is not a happy stage, but surely a necessary one.


“It’s going to be ok. I can’t fight it; I might as well read the stupid poem. I’ve already seen all three seasons of BBQ Pitmasters.”

In this last stage, the student has come to terms with having to confront the poem. They read the poem with an open mind and an open heart. They do not weep, or beg for the incredible simplicity of Jewel, or Billy Collins. Instead, each student passes through his or her own individual stages of dealing with the poem on his/her own terms.****

*The definition of a ‘rich and fulfilling life’ varies greatly between English and Non-English majors.

**Do not, under any circumstances, offer student ice cream, or a novel narrated by a charismatic child.

***This statement may only be relevant to English Majors.

****The terms may include Wikipedia and/or Sparknotes but not organizing Facebook photo albums into smaller and even more specific albums.

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