Small group teaching

It is best to work in small groups of 10-12 students. The learning objectives should be explicit and include: a) privileging language; b) understanding the roles of literature in clinical education; c) understanding the emotional life of sick people; and d) why clinicians write and what they write about.

The texts to be used should be available in advance of the sessions so that students can prepare for the session by reading and reflecting on the content of the poems.

Reading out loud

It can be helpful for students to take it in turn to read the relevant poems out loud.

The teacher can model this by starting the group off and getting the students to volunteer as the session progresses. There is something about poetry that enriches the sessions by the act of reading aloud. The best poems are written for the human voice.


The students should be encouraged to contribute to the sessions with their own understanding and perspectives on the poems. This teaches the students that alternative interpretations are equally valid, that interpretations are tentative, and that literary texts are open to fresh meaning. The sessions gain in value if they are supported by real examples from clinical practice or from the life experience of the participants. Thus, the poems should serve as the basis of a discussion that points outwards, aiming at subjective, individual or collective experiences of the participants.

Link to other literary texts

It is useful for the students to see how poetry relates to other literary texts. This can be accomplished by drawing the students' attention to how the themes exemplified by the poems are handled in fiction, autobiography, letters or journals. The poems that deal with melancholia can be complemented by readings from books such as William Styron's Darkness Visible or Tim Lott's The Scent of Dried Roses.26,27 In much the same way, the poems on life and death can be further elaborated by Ulla-Carin Lindquist's Rowing Without Oars (25) or John Diamond's C: because cowards get cancer too . . .25,28

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