I was a kid other kids’
parents gossiped about.
They told their children
what I was: too negative.
I get it. Fair to fear
contagion of bad attitudes,
to think naming a thing
can be an inoculation.
Of course my friends
filled me in. Of course
I took my diagnosis
lying down on mostly
frozen sand. Loose
grains made their way
to my scalp. Stayed there
for a few thousand years.
“Too Negative” from THE THING IS by Suzannah Showler. Copyright © 2017 Suzannah Showler. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved.
Any third party use of this poem, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply to Penguin Random House Canada Limited for permission.
The title of the poem appears again in the fourth line. What’s the effect of that repetition?
What words or phrases suggest the gossiping parents’ attitude toward the speaker?
Does the speaker accept this label? What words or phrases suggest how the speaker feels?
There’s only one strong image in this poem—that of the speaker “lying down” on the “mostly/ frozen sand” with grains of it sticking to their scalp. What feeling does that image leave you with? Brainstorm your associations to this image.
The poem is short, has a conversational tone, and the diction is mostly simple. How might you prevent it from falling flat in performance? Where would you pause? What would you emphasize?
- Writing Activity: Write a poem about a label someone has applied to you. You might have heard it directly from a parent or neighbour or friend. Or maybe you learned about it indirectly: e.g. “So and so says you talk too much.” Is the label false, exaggerated, discriminatory, unkind, unfair? Is it overly flattering and complimentary? Or is it accurate? How do you feel about it? If you like, you can copy the form of “Too Negative,” with unrhymed couplets.