20 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY march 21-27, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com ple. Then he started to get invited here and there. He noticed the enormous effects his poetry had on people, that his voice was getting poetry across. “It happened very naturally, even though that was never my plan,” he says about his readings growing bigger and bigger. “It’s larger than me.” Whyte kept publishing volumes of poetry—Where Many Rivers Meet (1990), Fire in the Earth (1992), The House of Belonging (1996). With time, he got invited by corporations, not only to provide poetry to corporate employees, who needed it badly, but also to learn that they are humans and have a human response to poetry like everybody else. It put him on a track to reach larger audiences. “I was a very serious young poet so I didn’t want to be compromised by the corporate world,” he says. “When I actually responded to many invitations, I found out that I didn’t have to compromise my work at all.” The result of that experience was Whyte’s first book of prose, The Heart Aroused: Poetry & the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America (1997). “I was invited against my will to the corporate world,” he says with laughter. “Then I got bullied into writing a book about the corporate world. Bribed and bullied by publishers.” The basic point is that people in all walks of life get overwhelmed within the system they exist in. It can be a corporation or it can be a small village in Northern Ireland. “Sometimes an English Department can be more Machiavellian than any corporation,” Whyte adds. According to Whyte, hierarchy is not inherently bad. It can be pernicious or it can be good, but it is pervasive. “If I met Seamus Heaney [an acclaimed Irish poet who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature], it would be natural that I would look up to him. It’s a healthy hierarchy,” Whyte says. “But if we went sailing, maybe he would look up to me as a better sailor. Hierarchy changes, the nature of conversation between the two changes.” When it comes to peers, his partner in poetry and best friend was another Irish poet and Hegelian philosopher, John O’Donohue, who died in 2008. “Part of me died,” Whyte said in a 2022 interview with Krista Tippett of The On Being Project podcast: “We were like two bookends.” Since the dawn of social media, Whyte went viral, becoming a celebrity poet, but still— Asilomar is the place of his annual pilgrimage. That’s because his breakthrough, as Whyte says, took place exactly there. Monterey Bay shares a lot of the qualities of North Ireland, according to Whyte, even if it’s very different culturally. “The ancient conversation between the sea and Earth and the sky,” he says. Whyte loves the wooden buildings of the Asilomar Conference Grounds, the Monterey pine forests, Asilomar State Beach. He loves that the Arts & Crafts style conference center was designed by a pioneer female architect, Julia Morgan, the same person who conceived of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. It was 1988, between the publication of his first and second volumes of poetry. A conference took place in Asilomar. The organizers invited Whyte as a speaker. “I was so incredibly nervous, afraid that I would fail as a poet on stage,” he says. “Six-hundred people. When I got on the stage, my memory was flawless. It was a traumatic experience, I was ill for days. But I also knew that this is what I was supposed to do in life.” Now, he gives dozens of public talks a year, from weekend in-person meetings to regular online events. His 2017 TED Talk, titled “A lyrical bridge between past, present and future,” has been viewed over a million times. Whyte is a more experienced public speaker now. Is he a better poet too? Whyte says it’s easier and easier to quickly write something decent. There’s also his inner cycle. When he starts on a new book, he at first takes 10-minute, 20-minute-long stabs that day after day get longer and longer. “Now I’m in the middle of a book [a second volume of Consolations, not yet published], and I’m starting to write longer and longer. In the end, I will write all day.” It took time to accept that there’s a cyclical year in between books, when Whyte is not writing. It used to frighten him, but not anymore, he says, this feeling of exile from poetry. “The difference between writer and non-writer is that the writer just writes,” he says. “When you are not writing, you know you are not a writer. You stop asking yourself if you are a writer the moment you start to write again.” And then there are those poems and those volumes that couldn’t have been written any other time than they were written, such as The House of Belonging (1996), forever associated with a certain threshold in Whyte’s life. Sometimes they contain closeness to the ocean or the mountains, or the cliffs, maybe a particular place in North Wales. Geology of their place of origin matters, too. Whyte emphasizes that not all of his work is equally important to him. He makes a big distinction between prose (storytelling as a tool, he says) and his poetry and essays. Essays are important, he admits, because to him they are close to poetry. (You can find three of Whyte’s poems republished in this issue of the Weekly, including “Everything is Waiting For You,” one of the most iconic among his fans. It brings an almost meditative sense of awareness to the mundane—the soap dish, the window latch.) Another function of writing and reading poetry is keeping innocence and youthfulness. “We tend to think about innocence as a commodity that we will exchange for experience,” Whyte says. “But innocence is important for the world to find you.” According to Whyte, there’s youthfulness that is available to a person in their 20s or 30s. But there’s also youthfulness of the 70s or 80s. Whyte’s Everything is Waiting For You By David Whyte After Derek Mahon Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom. Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come, the doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you, and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity. Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you. Republished from David Whyte: Essentials © 2020 Many Rivers Press. For The Road To Santiago By David Whyte For the road to Santiago, don’t make new declarations about what to bring and what to leave behind. Bring what you have. You were always going that way anyway, you were always going there all along. Republished from Still Possible © 2022 Many Rivers Press Whyte had his breakthrough as a public speaker at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove. Since then, he has spoken and recited poetry many times, including on return trips to Asilomar, and many larger stages, including a TED Talk. Courtesy of David Whyte