Poetry in emotion: a wedding celebration in a swamp

view out the observation deck, London Wetlands Centre

This past Saturday, Rachel and I celebrated our recent wedding with some 75 friends and family at the London Wetlands Centre, a green oasis beside the Thames.

Samuel Pepys was here (close-up of informational placard)

Of course, as with most places in and around London, Samuel Pepys had been here (click image to enlarge).

As at the wedding itself, poetry played a prominent role, along with other creative contributions from our guests: yards and yards of home-made (mostly knitted or crocheted) bunting, music playlists,

homemade puzzle by a child: "CONGRATULATIONS on your Wedding day BE HAPPY forever lots of LOVE Hanley"

a hand-made puzzle,

three cakes and two plates of brownies, covered with edible leaves

a great-looking (and great-tasting!) display of woodland-themed cakes (including a little bench on top, in reference to our wedding video, and edible leaves) by our friends Pat and Amy Brickhill,

Rachel in her dress

and Rachel’s amazing dress, designed and sewn by the artist Flan Flanagan.

The bunting and playlists were contributed at our suggestion — having requested no gifts, we wanted to provide other ways for people to express themselves if they chose to. We also suggested that the literary-minded could find or write wedding-themed poems, AKA epithalamiums, and a few did, to very good effect. Audio and video of the readings probably exists, but I don’t have it yet.

Rachel and Joseph (photo by TC)
Rachel and Joseph (photo by TC)

Rachel’s oldest son Joseph, whom readers of her former blog Frizzy Logic will remember as the lovingly nicknamed First Spawn, was the emcee, and also gave the most moving speech of the day.

Jean Morris and Ernesto Priego (photo by Natalie d’Arbeloff)

Jean Morris, a long-time blogging friend whose poetry, photos and translations should be familiar to regular Via Negativa readers, read an amusing epithalamium by Nick Laird which set the tone for the readings and speeches. And another fellow blogger from back in the day, Ernesto Priego, collaborated with his partner Lucy Morris (no relation to Jean) on a poetry comic, which referenced the first photo Lucy ever submitted to qarrtsiluni, which had been at Ernesto’s instigation:

poetry comic

I was even more blown away by a poem from our friend Polly Blackley, an old school chum of Rachel’s who’s also a sometime poetry blogger and former qarrtsiluni contributor (under a couple of aliases):

Wedding Poem

for Rachel and Dave

Marry everything! Couple with hawthorn
with dry stone walls with water
eat drink everything,
let it all in – be intimate with beech and ash
with otters, with the noise of buses
the smell of city streets.

No more waiting, let it be now dearly beloved –
marry the graffiti on the wall
marry London Kings Cross,
commit for life to each footstep, each stone’s throw
each empty bottle, each snake, each church
to love and to cherish from this time forth
floorboards and headboards and barking dogs,
dancing and darkness and the lost sock
behind the radiator, and the curlew circling the moor.

Marry the stars, marry the sky
all the faces, all the places
marry fire, marry war, marry hope.
It’s forever – nothing left out.
What a catch! A whirling planet
with Dave and Rachel on it.

Polly Blackley
June 2018

Dick Jones (photo by Natalie)

Poet and blogger Dick Jones read his wonderful poem “Credo” at our request:


I believe at the root
in breath as a first
principle. Breath –

the intake, the giving
out – is our signature
onto the air.

Next I believe
in the business
of seeing and hearing,

the processes of light
and sound whereby
we inhabit the cracks

and corners of the earth –
the guarded scrutiny
of strangers, the ear

cocked in a waiting room.
Incidental revelations,
accidental wisdoms.

As for mortality,
the cricket ticking
in the long grass

is timepiece enough
for me. Wound up
by the sun,

his spring uncoils
at night and
he dreams in black.

But, as a final article
of faith, I believe in
the heartbeat certainty

of two adjacent hands
on the parapet of
a bridge somewhere

touching, finger to finger,
and breath quickening
to mingle, and this

causing the sun to rise
and the moon to wax
and all the tides to run.

Dick Jones
via ink sweat and tears (2013)

Following the readings came the speeches: Rachel’s father David Rawlins, Joseph (as mentioned), me, and finally Rachel.

Rachel on the mic (photo by Natalie)

Instead of the amusing remarks I’d been planning, Jean and others had persuaded me to read from my 2013 chapbook of love poems, Twelve Simple Songs, instead. (I’d had a copy out on display.) Here’s how it begins:

The long A of your name
had sounded in my ear for years.
I looked for you in leaves
& found you among needles.
I looked for you on foot
& found you among the bees,
golden with the dust
of unseen blooms.

Rapt. Not glassy-eyed. Rapt! (photo by Natalie)

I was worried about going on too long and delaying supper to an intolerable degree, but the crowd was very kind. I felt it worth pointing out that not only had literary blogging first brought Rachel and I into the same circles, but poetry itself had everything to do with bringing me over to the UK for the first time, as part of a 2011 reading of poems written in response to paintings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. (My poems were for a series called The Temptations of Solitude, a subject into which I felt I had some insights.)

Benjamin Darvill deejays (photo by Natalie)
Benjamin Darvill deejays (photo by Natalie)

After supper, our deejay Benjamin Darvill (AKA Son of Dave) spun 45s from his large and extremely diverse collection. (He’d offered to perform his own music for us, but we felt it wasn’t fair to him as an artist to subject him to a talkative, distracted crowd.) He was, aside from Rachel, probably the best-dressed person there.

Dave with Alex Rawlins (photo by TC))
Dave with Alex Rawlins (photo by TC)

Of course, most guests expressed their creativity through their sartorial choices, some of us mainly via neckties. Because manliness.

David Rawlins says a few words (photo by Natalie)
David Rawlins says a few words (photo by Natalie)

I was especially moved by all the kind words and welcoming sentiments from Rachel’s extended family. Aching sincerity isn’t nearly as common in Britain as it is in America, so when it does surface, you know it’s heart-felt.

The two photographers whose snapshots I used in this post, beside my own: Mr. TC and Natalie d’Arbeloff, plus Dick Jones (selfie by TC)

And it was wonderful to see so many old blogger friends again. Not least because we could gossip about all you slackers who didn’t make the trip.

TC, Jean, Rachel and Dave (selfie by TC)
TC, Jean, Rachel and Dave (selfie by TC)

But seriously, here’s to friends and friendships new and old. We raised our glasses to all of you, our far-flung creative companions, and thought many fond thoughts. Once, that is, we figured out how to tap the keg.

three men studying a beer keg
Thanks to Jane and Huw for bringing the beer all the way from Stroud – an organic pale ale from Stroud Brewery.

6 Replies to “Poetry in emotion: a wedding celebration in a swamp”

  1. Many thanks for this visual/verbal resumé Dave. It’s great to have the wonderful poems in print as I couldn’t hear all of them properly (my hearing, you know, ain’t great, and the bloody hearing aids are a buisance so I leave them home) I’m so sorry to have missed the fabulous-looking cakes! Left before they were distributed.
    Did you and Rachel see the owl card I handed you?
    Thanks again for a beautiful day.

    1. Yes, we received many wonderful cards – I forgot to mention that. Also, we definitely should’ve cut the cakes a bit earlier. They were so good. There was a bit of a delay in getting plates from the caterer, so the first dozen or so pieces (including my own) had to be eaten out of the hands, with fingers. it felt properly primal. Anyway, thanks again for the great photos!

    1. You bet. As I said to my family via email, most weddings involve exposure to other people’s religious traditions, so it seemed fitting for this celebration to subject guests to our conservation ethos, whether they liked it or not! Fortunately, there was an adorable pair of otters for everyone to coo over.

  2. Hey, I did NOT mean to suggest that you curtail your speech, Dave, but that you read some poems as well – having been so moved and delighted by them when I read your book! But it was all so lovely – some rare events are blessed (following a massive amount of hard work, of course) and come together beautifully. x

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