When I say I’ve been with him, went to hear him, or admire his work, most people look quizzical, make the remark, “I don’t understand modern poetry.” Another variation is, “Poets today are too obscure.” I’m eager to make my next film and recently proposed to the two men who have sponsored past films, one at PBS and other at Channel 4 in London, that I go on a long canoe trip with David Whyte…..that the conversation would be worthwhile, make an interesting film. We sat together at the same London cafe Table. They didn’t know David, and asked who he was. When I said, a poet, they spoke simultaneously, almost in alarm: “A Poet?” I felt small. They said, “Look, Rob, if you want to take Michelle Obama, or a Kardashian, we’d be interested.”
I’d like to prove them wrong.
David Whyte is a successful poet. He self-publishes through Many Rivers Press. He travels constantly. He makes his living by poetry. He takes poetry into corporations. He can charm an audience of three, three hundred, or eighteen hundred. He is a master at creating intimacy. He receives little attention form the academic community, where most poets find positions, and where poetry critics live. David works in the world. Occasionally, he exudes an irritating self-confidence, but hearing him read, talk and enquire, you forgive him.Traveling as he does between this world and wherever it is he goes to bring back the honey of his enquiry, I’d forgive him a lot more. It takes effort to delve so deeply into one’s own self. He’s good at it. Recently, he posted on his face book a passage he wrote about hiding, being shy, and received 500,000 hits.
We don’t live in a contemplative age. We don't live in an age of poetry, as we once did. Much contemporary poetry follows suit; attempting to abandon metaphor and beautiful language, for….for what? I’m not sure. An earlier 20th century poet, William Carlos Williams, in his late poem Asphodel, explained why poetry matters this way:
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
Here, a current poem from David Whyte…...
The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else