The Devil’s In the Detail

A male orange tip

A male orange tip

I go to a poetry group that meets once a month.

I don’t make it to every meeting but I try to go as often as I can because it’s good for me to mix with some excellent poets. Their comments are really useful and I can learn from them.

It’s also a way of making myself write some new poetry – because the idea is that we all bring one or two of our poems to read out to the group. Sometimes though, like yesterday, I just run out of time (and inspiration!) and have to take a couple of old poems with me. It’s still good to revisit them though. They can always be tightened up and improved.

One of my verses yesterday included the lines:

“…where pairs of white butterflies,
their wings dipped in carrot juice,
danced over nettles.”

A member of the group pointed out – very nicely – that ‘orange tips’ (as those butterflies are apparently called!) differ according to their sex. The males have the orange tips and the females don’t (typical! male birds get the best plumage too). Also, someone else asked, do they lay their eggs on nettles?

I needed to check my facts.

Turned out, they were both right. So I changed that line to read ‘where white butterflies…’ (instead of ‘pairs of white butterflies’). And no, they don’t feed on nettles. According to the trusty internet, the caterpillars hatch and feed on ‘garlic mustard and lady’s smock, sometimes also sweet rocket and honesty in gardens’. So, I may need to rethink that line too.

Perhaps you think that’s all a bit pedantic but in poetry, perhaps more than in any other written form (flash fiction too, I’d say), every word counts and has to earn its place. You can’t afford to get your facts wrong because for every 100 people who read that poem (I wish!), there are bound to be one or two (maybe more) who know their butterflies and the poem would be spoiled for them.

And talking of getting the words just right, we had a new baby boy born in the family yesterday so while I was out at the shops today, I grabbed a congratulations card to send.

I was in a rush. I usually take a little more care – and I didn’t even have my glasses on – but when I got home and looked at the card properly.. well, what do you think?

Baby boy 001

Just in case you can’t see it on the photo very clearly, the rhyme says,’A new born baby, so full of charm.. a tiny bundle, to keep safe from harm.’

Aaagh. It’s wrong, isn’t it? That word – ‘harm’ – you don’t send that to two new, potentially-anxious parents, do you?! So I’m going to have to either buy another card or put a sticker over that ‘poem’ and write something a little more tasteful.

Note to self: do not buy cards in a rush, without being able to see properly, ever again.

PS: I am collating all 32 entries to the 100 word competition and I will be drawing up a long-list and then a shortlist very soon!

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4 Responses to The Devil’s In the Detail

  1. Julia says:

    Well, in a way ‘harm’ is the right word. New mums see harm everywhere. When my son was born, I didn’t even dare turn the light off at night because I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to see anything ‘harmful’ during the night. As a consequence of course I couldn’t sleep properly but it still took a lot of persuasion from the health visitor that it was perfectly safe for babies and mothers to sleep with the lights off at night!
    BTW, I liked your line about the butterflies’ wings being dipped in carrot juice.

  2. Patsy says:

    One of our wedding cards reads ‘to Mr & Mr’ on the front. I assume that one was bought in a rush.

  3. Kate Hogan says:

    How thoughtful of you, Helen. I too would steer clear of words that might have a negative effect. Maybe it’s something to do with being writers. Good wishes Kate Hogan

  4. juliathorley says:

    T’other Julia is right; new mums see harm everywhere; but I see what you mean. It’s tempting fate.

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