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About this poem of inverted idioms

The Cat Killed Curiosity


To make a short story

long, invention is


the mother of necessity

and too many


broths can spoil

the cook—want not


waste not

Manner your minds.


Contempt breeds



Birds of a flock feather

together and if you lie


down with fleas

you’ll wake up


with dogs. Let lying

cats sleep.


There’s a madness

in the method. Every


silver lining

has a cloud


and sometimes words

speak louder


than actions.

Now look


what dragged in

the cat.

The Cat Killed Curiosity

Curiosity Killed the Cat


To make a long story

short, necessity is

the mother of invention

and too many

cooks can spoil

the broth–waste not

want not.

Mind your manners.

Familiarity breeds


Birds of a feather flock

together and if you lie

down with dogs

 you'll wake up

with fleas. Let sleeping

cats lie.

There's a method

to the madness. Every

cloud has a

silver lining

and sometimes actions

speak louder

than words. 

Now look

what the cat

dragged in.

Analysis of the poem


levelheaded: The Cat Killed Curiosity


Barbara Campbell’s “The Cat Killed Curiosity” is a series of inverted idioms. The poem’s last sentence, “Now look // what dragged in / the cat” serves as an instruction for readers to consider the weight of each rephrasing that precedes it. Doing so is a lot of fun. It also offers some deeply felt insight into the human experience. Let’s look at some examples.


invention is // the mother of necessity
We’ve all heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention,” meaning when you need something, you’re more likely to create it. What Campbell’s lines tell us though is that what we create breeds our need. How many of us needed an iPhone in 1998? How many feel we need one now that the thing exists?

too many // broths can spoil / the cook
Campbell’s soup idiom (sorry—we couldn’t resist) challenges the idea that too many experts can ruin something by suggesting that the more knowledge or experience we gain, the less expert we become. Studied art can stop feeling like art. Think about the time you discovered an amazing restaurant and raved about how good everything was. Now think about the time you went back. The bread was a bit staler, the entree a tad under-seasoned. Which perception was the better one? Which one was unspoiled? If the only restaurant you ever went to was the diner around the corner, and you only went once, we bet you’d five star YELP the hell out of that place (if you only had an iPhone).


Every // silver lining / has a cloud
The optimists like to say “Every cloud has a a silver lining,” but isn’t there some truth in the reverse too? For all the good things that happen in the world, aren’t there some pretty shitty things going on?


sometimes words / speak louder // than actions
Each of the above examples challenges us to consider the meaning of every word. Weighing each word highlights how infrequently we actually do so in our daily lives. The repercussions of our carelessness with language can, of course, be tragic. People die because of the way words are spun.


Now look // what dragged in / the cat
With the turn of a phrase, the hunter becomes the hunted.



– The Leveler Editors

"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words." - Robert Frost

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” - Leonardo da Vinci


Poet Barbara Campbell

A Berkeley resident, Barbara Campbell's poetry has appeared in Breakwater Review, Poetry Now, Tule Review and elsewhere. 

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