Of rainbows and butterflies

I saw a rainbow this morning as I was driving to work.  The first thing I thought was Wow, I haven’t seen a rainbow in a long time.  The second thing I thought was How can I get this image into a poem?

Well, as you all know, I probably won’t ever put this image into a poem — a rainbow is one of the dangerous, melodramatic, sentimental image that writers try to avoid.  It ranks up there with butterflies and sunsets.  And another image that I have added to my Do Not Use list for students: the full moon (inspired in part, probably, from the Twilight series).  These are words you want to avoid in your poetry, I tell my students.

Still, a few years ago, when I presented said list to my students, I had a young woman prove me wrong. She wrote a stunning poem about a butterfly collection, complete with thin tissue-like wings, stickpins, and cigar boxes.  Graphic and detailed, the poem reflected her relationship with her brother who had died at a young age. 

It was a beautiful poem.  And I was proved wrong.

As a teacher (and it seems that teachers get slammed in so many different ways today), I love it when my students break the rules of writing and it works.  (so many times, of course, it doesn’t exactly work)  Rules are supposed to be broken, my students sometimes tell me.  I respond that Yes, but you need to understand the rules before you break them.

This young woman understood the rules.  She understood the cliché of the beautiful butterfly.  And she turned the cliché upside down.

That is what I wish for my students: the strength to turn the world upside down, and the knowledge to understand when it is appropriate to do so.


  1. What a great reminder for all writers…you should definitely try a rainbow poem…and maybe I’ll try my hand at a full moon poem!

  2. M.J.Iuppa Said:

    Yep, Pound’s make it new rule. Or Gunn’s make it work.

    Speaking of moons, did you see the full moon last night?

    So gorgeous as it rose up over the lake. It’s feeling a bit like Fall here.

    We start back next week. (Need to switch gears) Have a great semester, Karen!


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