Omitting lines, changing tense from a reading (poem) etiquette

posted 2 years ago in Etiquette
Post # 2
597 posts
Busy bee

Don’t change the title. In my experience, authors prefer their work to be read in the words they actually wrote down. As a writer/creator myself I always try to respect that but personally wouldn’t be mad if someone tweaked one or two words from something I wrote for something like a wedding ceremony. But again, don’t change the actual title. If you mention that the poem had some slight revisions to make it line up better with your love story I think it still gives the author the appropriate credit. 

Post # 3
10450 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2016

I had the same question about the reading we used at one wedding (I just wanted to cut like 2 words though) but ultimately decided that I didn’t think it was okay to alter someone’s work and yet still present it as thiers because there’s not really a way to let the guests know that you changed it without a probably clunky explanation beforehand.

So no, I would not change it. It doesn’t need to fit your story exactly and it. Nobody is listening, thinking it 100% fits your story. If you want it to then maybe you should write your own poem or whatever but I don’t think it’s okay to change someone’s work but still present it as what they created because it’s not anymore.

Post # 4
91 posts
Worker bee

As a writer myself, I think it would be better to read the poem as is. Personally, removing the lines about weeping and drying tears would do the work a disservice. It may not fit specifically with the moment you met, but in the context of the poem it is a significant sentiment, I feel. 

Additionally, I feel changing the tense from ‘went’ to ‘go’ is a little unneccesary, and ultimately changes the tone of the poem. While removing the weeping lines can kind of be excused, changing the tense creeps into the territory of editing writer’s work, which becomes rocky terrain.


That being said, I don’t think it would be the end of the world if you changed the poem as you wished for your ceremony! I’m just thinking about this from a writer’s perspective, and how I would feel if someone presented a slightly different version of my work (I imagine it would be just as tricky as painting over parts of a painting to make it fit better to what you want – a bit iffy!) 

Post # 5
9076 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: December 2012

It’s not okay to alter someone’s art to fit your uses, IMO.

Post # 6
4963 posts
Honey bee

People understand that a poem a woman (wonderful woman – Nikki Giovanni is my favorite poet so I say this in general and just as a huge admirer of her work) wrote over four decades ago is not a literal depiction of your relationship.  So I would read the poem as is or craft your own personal reading.  I personally would not bastardize someone else’s work just because you met at a party and didn’t literally cry.

Post # 7
1189 posts
Bumble bee

Well, the point about going to the crowd to weep isn’t literal, so it doesn’t need to be taken out anyway. We all go into “crowds” in order to feel and live and be known and become a part of something or someone else; that includes weeping and loving and hurting and being inspired and building and destroying. 

I would consider the meaning of the poem a bit more abstractly before deciding that parts of it don’t fit. 

Post # 8
3353 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: June 2017

View original reply
jocelynxw :  typically, there’s a big line drawn between omission and alteration. As long as it doesn’t change the meaning, it’s acceptable to make minor omissions edits (i.e. cutting out bits). It’s not acceptable, however, to make alterations – substitute some words for other or add text. 

With that in mind, I’d keep the poem as-is. It’s debatable whether omitting he lines you wish to change the meaning – personally, i think that that bit kinda “makes” the poem as it really speaks to the range of human emotion and leaving it out just makes the poem feel very flat. And you should not change “went” to “go”. 

ETA: should you choose to alter the poem in the manner you’ve described (and everyone here has advised you against), your celebrant can introduce it as a “poem inspired by Author”

Post # 9
9144 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper

View original reply
jocelynxw :  No, it is not ok to change someone else’s work. I’m not sure why you think it would be snarky to suggest that you find another reading. If the issues are as minor as you say, then use the work as is. If you’re not willing to do that, the options are either choose something else or write something yourself. That’s not snarky.

Post # 10
983 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: March 2015

I think it’s fine to leave out some parts, and that doesn’t require making a big fuss—you would just say “so-and-so will now recite part of…” or “will now read from….” People read partial works at weddings all the time.

I don’t think it’s appropriate, necessary, or even an improvement to change the tense. If the poem is supposed to describe the party where you met, why would you want it in the present tense anyway?

Post # 11
9388 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: July 2016

First of all, there are no poetry police who will show up at your ceremony and take you away for changing the poem. So given the fact literally nothing will happen if you ignore the opinions of the posters here I don’t see the issue with anyone telling you their honest opinion.

Personally I read “weep” as in weep with (positive) emotion.. since the next line is literally to laugh. Removing the lines would mess with the flow of the poem, imo.. and I agree with pps that changing from went to go would be disrespectful to the work. I’d say leave it as is, personally.. 

You could always write your own poem, if you really want something super customized to your exact story.

Post # 12
13951 posts
Honey Beekeeper
  • Wedding: November 1999

I think it’s inappropriate to change the author’s words of a reading.  I don’t think changing a tense here and there is the end of the world, but omitting lines isn’t fair to the author.

Post # 13
852 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: July 2012

I also think it’s inappropriate to change the author’s work. Nothing will ‘happen’ if you do, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Post # 14
7803 posts
Bumble Beekeeper
  • Wedding: February 1997

Copyright. Either use it as written or don’t use it at all. You are not allowed to change another artist’s work without permission. 

Post # 15
822 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2014

View original reply
jocelynxw :  I write poetry myself and the author chose those words according to meaning of course, but also flow and delivery. If you edit or omit, you will spoil the rhythm and poignancy of the poem you love.

When we chose readings for our church wedding, they meant a lot to us but they didn’t need to represent our actual experiences to the letter. Our loved ones understood the symbolism. Same goes for this poem. No need for it to be 100% literal.

I would never edit an author’s work myself whatever the occasion. Too much hard work goes into the creation of a poem let alone its publication…

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