Archive for January, 2009

Writing and reading can be difficult tasks. We are busy people. Between work, laundry, dentist appointments, rush hour traffic, food shopping, etc., it can be hard to take time to sit under a light and read, let alone process the words and respond to the text.


By including a poem in his inaugural ceremonies, Obama praised poetry and its importance in our private and public lives. The crowd on the Mall was quiet and thoughtful while Elizabeth Alexander read.


There is a long history of poems being written for particular occasions (and wedding poetry falls into this category of “Occasional Poetry.”  Poet Elizabeth Alexander joined this history as the fourth inaugural poet when she read a poem to and for the nation after Barack Obama was sworn into office. The text of the poem can be found here.


I imagine that this poem has been praised and criticized more than any other contemporary American poem. The poem, above all, was heard and became a part of our national dialogue. A poem. A mere collection of words became a part of conversation.


Elizabeth Alexander wrote a serious, thoughtful poem, but she also had a sense of humor about it. She even agreed to be interviewed by Colbert. Watch her segment here. National moments like this help to make poetry more accessible.


Poetry rarely enters into the public sphere in America. There are segments of the population who read regularly read literary journals, go to festivals, submit their work, read poetry blogs, etc. There are also segments of the population who ignore the literary culture and couldn’t name the current poet laureate, let alone recite a favorite poem.


I tell my students that writing and reading are two sides of a dialogue. I encourage them to enter into the dialogue.


In this new year, under a new administration that values art, let poetry be a part of your life, private and public. Write. Read. Write some more. Edit. Read. And share your work to allow someone else to respond to it. Keep the dialogue going.

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When I saw a picture of Bethany and Josh’s Obama cake, I knew I had to ask her about her wedding. In her post below, read about everything from their first married fist-bump to a reading from the Massachusetts Supreme Court case, Goodridge vs. Department of Health.


Obama cake

Partisans can be like sports fans and perhaps there’s no better example of this than Obama supporters. Maybe the sports fan analogy explains how the Obama cake came about. We were half-heartedly leafing through pictures of cakes, when we came across a particularly elaborate groom’s cake devoted to UT’s football team. Josh and I are currently living in Texas and I’m guessing that football themed wedding cakes are pretty typical here. I laughed at the cake, but then I joked that we should have an Obama cake. Josh’s face lit up and there was no going back. We opted for a chocolate zucchini cake, because if a cake is going to be liberal, it should have some veggies. We explained the design to our wedding coordinator Abby: the sun, the blue background and the red and white stripes underneath. We know she’s heard crazier requests before, but Abby informed us that the red was not possible. Our wedding location only works with organic products and there’s no way to get a decent red. It may have been the most politically sensitive cake ever.

There was never a self-conscious, let’s tie our politics into the wedding discussion, but the wedding was planned during a year of when our normal obsession with politics became extreme. We took trips to Iowa and Pennsylvania for canvassing, made phone calls from home, and were beyond excited to see our candidate go the distance. Politics just seeped into the wedding: we followed our first kiss as a married couple with our first married fist bump. Ever since a commentator speculated about the “terrorist fist jab,” we just can’t help ourselves. Our first dance was to “Stay with You,” by John Legend, who also did lead vocals for “Yes We Can”. “Yes We Can” was not a part of our wedding, but now that I think about it, what a fantastic motto for marriage. We also danced to “Sign, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” and of course we served what my friend Andrew dubbed “cake you can believe in.”
These were light-hearted touches that we loved. The more serious political matter was gay marriage. This was pre-passage of Prop 8, but we didn’t kid ourselves that the government’s conception of marriage was becoming consistent with our ideals. I’ve learned that the history of rights in the United States is not one of simple expansion- we inch forward and jump back, again and again. We wanted to acknowledge the current political context and our own beliefs about marriage.

We tried to do this through a reading from a Massachusetts Supreme Court case, Goodridge vs. Department of Health, in which the Court found that the legal implications of marriage should not depend on whether a couple is heterosexual or gay. The portion read at our wedding was about the special privileges and responsibilities of marriage, and there was no specific mention of the legality of gay marriage. The pro-gay marriage message in the reading was for us. We made this decision because our friends and family are politically diverse and they were there to celebrate our wedding. Some guests did get the political implications of the reading, but most just thought it was an odd choice that was in keeping with our quirky ceremony. My friend who did the reading first mentioned the decision and noticed some puzzled looks in the crowd. She looked at us and shrugged while she said, “hopeless romantics,” and everyone laughed. I think she’s right, though since we’re Obama supporters and it’s Inauguration Day, I prefer to say that we’re hopeful romantics.

Bethany and Josh on Caucus Night in Iowa

Bethany and Josh on Caucus Night in Iowa

Bethany Albertson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington.







In the news: I hope you’ll read Ann Keeler Evan’s January ’09 article entitled Election Year Wedding: cake you can believe in.

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I first met Alli at Sarah Lawrence College, where we were studying poetry.  A year or two later, I ran into her and her boyfriend at a poetry reading in New York City. I remember looking at their smiles, seeing how they were holding hands and thinking, “these two happy lovebirds are going to get married one day!” And they did.

Here is the story of a “Jewish girl from Long Island” and a “British man with a Christian upbringing” getting married and discovering how differences can be similarities. I think you’ll particularly love the readings they chose and the vows they wrote themselves.

Thanks for sharing, Alli!


Alli & Ed at their wedding 

Ed and I are not two people who you’d say “stand on ceremony.” We are not terribly traditional. Our backgrounds could easily have pigeonholed us as such—me, a Jewish girl from Long Island, and he, a British man with a Christian upbringing—but put us together and we’re a pair of odd ducks. Take, for example, our engagement: he had no ring in hand and I had a mouth full of lox and bagel when we decided, at our dining table, one Saturday morning in late August 2007, to get hitched (not to mention I actually had gotten tipsy and proposed to him the night before!). We immediately decided that the person to officiate our ceremony would be a neutral, non-religious, justice-of-the-peace type. Heck, what about having one of our friends ordained for the occasion? Let’s throw in some henna, recite the whole thing in iambic pentameter, hire a flutist, and so on. (I’m actually joking about almost all of these things.)

About a week later, my whole family was helping my sister move into her first apartment, in Brooklyn. Sometime in between laps to her 3rd floor walkup apartment, my father said to me, “So, you’re going to have a rabbi.” Something in his voice made me realize that was not a question. “Uh…” I stammered, searching my fiancée’s face for help. My dad explained to me that there were no options in this situation; we would have a rabbi marry us. Strange, I thought, we’re not even a religious family. I believe his next words were, “He can be a Hare Krishna for all I care, but we will get someone who is called rabbi.”

And then Ed, god love him, piped in. “Well, then we’ll have to have someone to represent my side.”

Thus began our quest. Both of us, while atraditional, love our families completely. We wanted everybody to be happy (also remember, this was the beginning of our engagement), and my father rarely makes absolute requests like that.

We thought back to a wedding we went to in 2005, for our friends Sherrill and David. They were also an interfaith, international couple (Sherrill is a friend of mine from elementary school, David was born in Brazil and moved to New York when he was a teenager). Their rabbi, we remembered, gave a beautiful ceremony, blending religions and languages—he delivered his words in English, Spanish, and Hebrew. The sermon was not overly religious, and was careful to include both families, whatever their beliefs. I got his phone number and called right away. Rabbi Frank, I learned, was raised in an Italian interfaith family; his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish. He had decided, after learning much about both religions, to explore his Jewish side and become a rabbi. This was after teaching high school Spanish and Italian for over 30 years. He called himself a “humanistic rabbi.”

Rabbi Frank sounded like the one for us! I booked an appointment for us to meet him.  Our meeting went smoothly as he asked us questions about our relationship, what we wanted out of life and marriage, and how we envisioned our ceremony. He also made one of the most generous offers I’ve ever received: that he would not only be our rabbi for the wedding, but through life, as we would indeed have questions in the future about how to incorporate religion into our family.

We told him that we were looking for another officiant, one who could represent Ed’s upbringing, and asked if he worked with anyone regularly to provide this service. He said he didn’t, and actually told us a couple of horror stories about working with various priests and ministers who, let’s say, didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on his humanistic way of officiating weddings.

So our next order of business was to find a Catholic priest who a) would perform a wedding ceremony outside the church, and b) one who would perform an interfaith ceremony at all. I had awful visions of didactic priests who would malign me on my wedding day, or worse, reprimand Ed in front of our guests that he was committing a sin by marrying me. We did internet searches and wracked our brains for a few weeks. One afternoon, Ed was chatting on the phone with his mum about our dilemma when she asked him a question that should have been obvious to us: “Why don’t you just ask your cousin Michael, the vicar, to marry you?”


Cousin Michael is an Anglican Reverend in Sussex, England, and we should have thought of him right away, except for this: Ed was raised Catholic by his Irish mum and was only thinking he’d have to find a Catholic priest. Ed asked Michael if he would do us the honor, and he graciously accepted. Problem solved!

Or…was it?

There was the new problem of having a rabbi and a reverend who lived 3,000 miles apart try to coordinate the particulars of a complicated wedding ceremony. We spoke with both of them extensively about the traditions of both faiths, what was the usual order of events, which religion held which parts of the ceremony most dear, and many other things. Apparently, in the Jewish faith the rings are the most important part of a marriage ceremony, and in Christianity it’s the vows. We decided we’d definitely incorporate some traditional Jewish elements: we’d drink wine from the same glass, get married under a chuppah (canopy), and Ed would stomp on the glass (what Rabbi Frank stated was “the breaking down of barriers” and also symbolic of “happiness as abundant as the number of pieces of glass and problems that are as easily shattered.”). On Rev. Michael’s end, he’d deliver the all-important declarations and vows.

It was wonderful getting to know both clergymen through phone and email, especially Michael as he would soon be my cousin, too. This also gave us the freedom to work outside the boundaries of a typical Jewish or Christian wedding. We would get to have our wacky ceremony after all!

We also knew that we wanted secular readings, rather than religious ones. Since I am a poet, and Ed is also a fan of good literature, we asked our sisters to choose literary readings they would perform at the ceremony. They both chose gorgeous pieces, which almost made me cry when they read them on our wedding day.  Tami, my sister, read “Sonnet #17” from Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets. Lavinia, Ed’s sister, read “Marriage” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

So after several months of planning, and one very funny and delicious lunch meeting between our families and both clergymen the day before our wedding, we were all set. Oh! But I’m forgetting the most important thing: our vows.

We decided since we were floating in and out of the boundaries of tradition, we’d write our own vows based on the traditional ones and memorize them for our wedding day. I was a little reluctant to share them with all of you, since they’re very personal. But considering I already declared these words in front of almost 200 people, here they are:

Alli/Ed, I love you with all of my being, and I vow to respect you as my wife/husband, share with you as my equal, and honor our marriage.

I will be generous with my happiness and laughter, celebrate your accomplishments, and treasure our life together.

I pledge to honor your freedom and individuality.

I promise to protect, comfort, and support you. I will always be your friend.


Let us strive for excitement, adventure, and passion in everything we do.


After we said these words to each other with no trace of hesitation or faltering, we exchanged rings, shared wine from the same glass, received the final blessings, Ed smashed the glass into a thousand pieces, and we were pronounced Mr. Brydon and Mrs. Shaloum-Brydon…

…your typically atypical husband and wife.


Alli Shaloum-Brydon is a children’s book editor and poet. She meets fabulous, creative people all over the place, but thinks her new husband is the most interesting person she knows.



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From Anna's website
From Anna’s website

Anna Huckabee Tull, founder of Custom Crafted Songs shares her experiences writing custom songs for weddings and other occassions.


Anna is an artist, songwriter, singer, and psychologist with five national CD releases. To hear a sample of her music, visit her website. You can also sign up for a free “Song of the Month” here .She will email the song, along with the story behind it. You can also subscribe by emailing her: at tulljam@rcn.com.


I was fascinated reading the stories behind the songs and listening to how they transformed into music. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.




How did you come up with this original idea?


I had a couple of very autobiographical albums out and was performing my stuff at a club when someone who had been really moved by my music came up and asked me if I did songs on commission. “Oh, no,” I told her. “I really don’t.” She just looked at me and said, “I think you do.”  She was my first client, and it’s been full speed ahead ever since.


How do clients use your songs?


People commission me to write songs for things as straightforward as new baby lullabies, wedding first dance songs, and birthday or holiday gift surprises. But, because I am a psychologist, people often commission me to write songs in the name of their own healing–songs to help bridge the gap in family relationships that have become estranged, songs of good-bye from one who is dying, songs “in the voice of” one who has died and is sorely missed, songs to vent anger, songs to make light of a difficult situation. And then I have even been commissioned to write a song for a tribe in Africa!


Who owns the rights to the songs after you write them?


Most of the time, I retain the rights, which is what allows me to include songs on my albums (I have five national releases) or as the Song of the Month on my website. But sometimes folks choose to purchase not only the creation of the song but the copyright as well. I did a song for an amazing woman recently who is a motivational speaker. We created a song that encapsulates the message of her talks, and her book. She sings it live every time she gives a talk. And it brings the house down in tears darn near every time. She owns the copyright, so that she can sell CDs at the end of each talk.


How can clients best help you to design the most relevant song?


It’s really all about an open attitude. Some people prepare a lot (answer advance questions, gather photos) and some people do very little. In the end, it is their willingness to just open themselves up to the process, and to their own journey as we discover the depths of what is there to be expressed, that really makes the song.


What is the most creative song you’ve written?


The song that cracked me up the most–like, where did THAT come from??–was a humorous song I created on commission on the topic of inspiring yourself to clean up your office, instead of beating up on yourself. The song that came out of it is so much fun! It’s flamenco style, and it is just bursting with ways of taking something that is normally frustrating, and making it completely silly and fun. The song, “The Man of Action Theme Song” is the January 2009 “Song of the Month” feature on my website. Here is the link for that song.


But the song that came pouring out of me the most completely and creatively (it just showed up full blown) was a song I did last year for a mom whose 4 year old son had only a few months to live. She called asking for a song for his memorial, but her secret wish was the he might be able to hear it, and take comfort from it, before he died. Somehow, something in me just knew that he only had days, not months, to live. So I dropped everything and wrote and recorded this song in a record-breaking time-frame: one week. I emailed her the song as an mp3 and she was able to play it for

her son three or four times. It put a huge smile on his face. The “official” finished CD arrived at her house by messenger at 4:00 on a Thursday afternoon. She clutched it in one hand, walked into his bed and held his hand with her other hand, and told him, “Okay. It’s okay to go now.” He closed his eyes and died right there, at 4:05. Here is the Link for that song and story.


For more information, please see Anna’s website.

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