How do you incorporate poetry into your ceremony (without it feeling cheesy or weird)

It's WORLD POETRY DAY today! You all knew right? I've probably caught you in the midst of your celebrations, with the champagne and sonnets flowing! Of course, it's one of those made-up hashtag days that us small biz peeps can hook our #content onto - and would you look at that! I've only gone and got a blog post all about choosing the poetry for your wedding ceremony. 

This time I've asked an EXPERT to share their pearls of wisdom! Joe Hedinger is a bookseller at The Book Hive, a wonderful independent bookshop, in Norwich, (so he knows his shit). You should definitely go follow The Book Hive on Instagram. It's really obvious that the team there love what they do AND they have a glorious Black Books vibe about them, which is right up my street! 

So, you’re looking for that perfect reading for your wedding. Something fun, a bit alternative, personal to you and your partner.

But where the hell to start?

Already, you’ve thought back to a few books you both like but just can’t seem to find the right passage. You’ve searched online, of course, but the results are just too cheesy or obvious (not another segment of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, please…) And now, despite the fact it's something you rarely read, you’re thinking of… poetry.

The mere mention of it causes unwelcome flashbacks to your impenetrable GSCE AKQA Anthology.

But you do remember that poem at your friend's wedding. It was precise, precious, perfect. You'd love something like that as part of your service. But without a degree in English Literature, how do you go about finding a suitable piece that fits you and your partner's personality? Aren't poems all a bit lovey-dovey and heavy? The 'classics' seem a bit dull (or full of words no one uses any more).

Well, here’s my biggest bit of advice to get you started: shake off all your old assumptions.

Contrary to commonly held beliefs, poets aren’t all beardy bards in stockings with lutes, poems aren’t just for snobby literary types, and love poetry isn’t all roses are red...

Like the best stand-up comedy, well-written poetry draws our attention to the little truths in life and relationships, then expresses these moments in surprising and delightful ways. Poetry can be light, deep, intimate, funny, fascinating or all of the above. Once you discover that, the ways in which poetry can feature in your wedding service really opens up and becomes truly exciting.

 

5 poems to get you started...

Here are just five poems plucked from the shelves of the Book Hive. Each one is unique, both in tone and form. I’ve gone for a range of poets, both classic and contemporary, and have tried to choose stuff you might not have come across before (avoiding any ‘thees’ and ‘thys’ for good measure).

 

‘Not Anyone Who Says’ by Mary Oliver

(This short piece really captures the rapture of love. That overwhelming, mysterious, fate-like feeling of meeting someone impossibly perfect for you. What makes this poem extra special is how it embraces something that could be tired or cliche - falling head-over-heels for someone - but manages to talk about it proudly, without even a smidge of naffness).

Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be

careful and smart in matters of love,”

who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”

but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all

but were, as it were, chosen

by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable

and beautiful and possibly even

unsuitable —

only those know what I’m talking about

in this talking about love.

[From ‘Felicity: Poems’]


 

‘The Orange’ by Wendy Cope

(I actually read this recently at a friend’s wedding. To me, it perfectly encapsulates the simple joy of being with someone who makes you happy. It’s perfect for couples who are always giggling - for the silly, happy pairs who only need each other to make even the most everyday thing wonderful. Like the Mary Oliver piece, it is quite short, but needs to be read at a leisurely pace for full smile impact!)

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave -
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do

Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

 

[From ‘Serious Concerns’]


 

‘Let me put it this way’ by Simon Armitage

(A slightly ‘edgier’ poem, I suppose, but the strong imagery is what makes it. It holds up an incredibly intimate, but normal, moment between a couple and turns this into something timeless and vast in its expression of adoration. Better yetm this poem is from a little run of pieces written by Armitage about his own wedding! So it really couldn’t be any more appropriate).

Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam


than make a scene
or bring you round.

There,
how does that sound?

 

[From: ‘Book of Matches’]
 

‘Invisible Kisses’ by Lemn Sissay

(An incredible piece about the balance of love, this one takes the form of promises between lovers. A bit longer, but it builds and builds and some of the lines are stunningly beautiful. If you haven’t heard of Lemn Sissay, be sure to Google him. He started writing in his teens, using unemployment benefit money to self-publish his first poetry pamphlet, which he then sold to striking miners in Lancashire).
 

If there was ever one
Whom when you were sleeping
Would wipe your tears
When in dreams you were weeping;
Who would offer you time
When others demand;
Whose love lay more infinite
Than grains of sand.

If there was ever one
To whom you could cry;
Who would gather each tear
And blow it dry;
Who would offer help
On the mountains of time;
Who would stop to let each sunset
Soothe the jaded mind.

If there was ever one
To whom when you run
Will push back the clouds
So you are bathed in sun;
Who would open arms
If you would fall;
Who would show you everything
If you lost it all.

If there was ever one
Who when you achieve
Was there before the dream
And even then believed;
Who would clear the air
When it’s full of loss;
Who would count love
Before the cost.

If there was ever one
Who when you are cold
Will summon warm air
For your hands to hold;
Who would make peace
In pouring pain,
Make laughter fall
In falling rain.

If there was ever one
Who can offer you this and more;
Who in keyless rooms
Can open doors;
Who in open doors
Can see open fields
And in open fields
See harvests yield.

Then see only my face
In
reflection of these tides
Through the clear water
Beyond the
river side.
All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

 

‘Scaffolding’ by Seamus Heaney

(I know what you’re thinking, he makes a joke about the GCSE Anthology, then picks a poem by Simon Armitage, and now one by Seamus Heaney. But this one is just too brilliant not to mention. It’s not one of Heaney’s well-known poems, but deserves to be. If you’re after something that speaks to the enduring nature of true love, look no further than this piece, which uses such an accessible but ingenious metaphor. It’s confident, uplifting, defiant. It’s basically perfect.)

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

 


So there you have - a small selection of the vast riches poetry has to offer for your wedding. Shake off your previous assumptions and jump right in!

If you’re in need of more inspiration, why not pop along to your local bookshop? Ask for the poetry section, and have a mooch. See if you can find the modern stuff, along with the old. Get physical with the books. Pick them off the shelves and flick through (they want you to!)

And don’t be afraid to ask for more help. Most booksellers will be able to point you in the direction of their favourite poets, and many will jump at the chance to share the poems closest to their heart.

However you go about it, enjoy it. Just give it time and sit with the words. The right poem will most likely choose you.

Katie Matthews