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|Breaking Through - Page 7|
If writing poetry requires the ability to focus intently on the world, to pay attention, then the foray to the Galapagos was, as Whyte says, "part of my apprenticeship into the adult epoch of my life." But before getting back to poetry, there were still years of detours—other travels, other jobs, other places, including the sojourn at the nonprofit on the island in Puget Sound. Part of the reason for delay was fear. As he's written, "Poetry tugged and beckoned to me to move in its direction, but I hadn't the faith for the final step of making myself visible. How was I to make a living at it, for God's sake? The question seemed to stop everything in its tracks. If you want to meet terrifying silence, tell the world you are going full-time as a poet."
Despite the pronounced lack of enthusiasm from the outside world, it does seem to have been Whyte's own mythic destiny to write poetry, but more specifically to share it with large audiences, in the way that bullfighting was for Manolete. As a young boy looking out over the Yorkshire countryside, Whyte had often had the recurrent, odd fantasy of himself on stage speaking to a large group of people for a long period of time. "I was really fascinated by this image as a child, and I used to ask myself, what would I be talking about that would interest people enough to give me the time to talk about it?"
In a sense, Whyte seems a throwback to the poets and storytellers of ancient, preliterate societies, who not only transmitted culture from generation to generation, but knitted people together in a particular time and place by giving them a shared history and sense of identity. In our atomized, flattened, often anonymous culture, populated by isolated little monads sitting alone in front of computer screens typing mostly crude messages to other isolated little monads in front of their computer screens, Whyte does seem to have something of that same bardic talent for joining people together. Poetry spoken aloud seems to draw on a wellspring of deep, almost indefinable, feelings, perceptions, and meanings that flow through both poet and audience. "Every poet needs a listening ear," he's said. "You're not just speaking to yourself: you're speaking to another person—a spouse, a lover, a child, a society, to future populations."