The Conversational Nature of Reality: David Whyte
His Irish accent was what initially grabbed my attention about poet David Whyte when I first heard him speak, years ago. As the guest on a radio program, he was discussing the poems featured on his audio CD Close to Home (Sounds True, 1992).
As he described his thoughts in writing the opening poem, a short but powerful piece called “Faith,” I became riveted by much more than the melodic lilt of his speech. His insights on the experience of going through times of transition and personal evolution seemed unusually deep—so much so that I wrote some of them down to include in a journal of quotes I find particularly powerful. (For the details, see our discussion in this issue’s “Listening in With …”)
Whyte is fascinated by (and fascinates others with) what he calls “the conversational nature of reality.” His discourse with the world around him—and with his own inner self—is on a soul level, and make no mistake: When David Whyte talks to the soul of a thing, it talks back. Maybe not in dialogue, but in rich metaphor, poignant perceptions, and simple but profound truths.
I was lucky enough to steep myself in both Whyte’s presence and his poetry almost two years ago when I attended a daylong presentation he gave at the Sophia Institute in Charleston, South Carolina. What particularly motivated me to sign up for the presentation was the subject of his talk: liminal space and navigating thresholds.
The Space Between
Whyte discussed the experience of being between one phase of your life and another—both how unsettling this experience can be as well as how powerful the potential of the unknown is. He also treated us to several poems from The Bell and the Blackbird (Many Rivers Press, 2018), a volume of poetry that would not be published for another five months.
Whyte didn’t just read his poems, giving each a brief introduction. It felt as though he was taking us into the poems with him—first sharing stories about the places or the people each was about, sharing the significance of a certain stone or a bird or an Irish word he’d used. When he then read, he would immediately reread sections, sometimes reading the same bit three times (a style he’s known for). It’s the way most of us read poems we find moving—we linger over some lines, dipping back into them to savor them fully before moving on. It was both personal and poignant.
At day’s end, Whyte had not only let us in on his own explorations (both literally and metaphorically) but he also led us to new ground within ourselves. Isn’t that what the best poetry does, after all?
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