David Whyte shares poetry, wisdom at annual Literary Festival

The first of three events for Mercyhurst’s ninth annual Literary Festival took place Sunday, when poet David Whyte not only recited poetry but also spoke words of wisdom to the audience.

Whyte described his childhood and how he became a poet. He began writing poetry at age seven.

Jill Barrile photo: Poet David Whyte spoke at Mercyhurst College on Sunday as part of the annual Literary Festival.Jill Barrile photo: Poet David Whyte spoke at Mercyhurst College on Sunday as part of the annual Literary Festival.

“I was searching for a way of trying to be equal to the world. I would stare at the stars until I got a headache,” Whyte said.

For 10 years, he studied marine life and spent two of those years doing research in the Galapagos Islands.

“When I got there, none of the animals had read any of my biology books,” Whyte said. “When an animal would do something that it was not supposed to, I found myself turning away.”

After spending time in the Galapagos Islands, Whyte had a desire to describe the things that he had seen, but “scientific language was not precise enough to describe the world” he had experienced, he said.

Freshman Tye Schreiber was impressed with the transition Whyte made.

“It was pretty cool how he went from a marine zoologist to poet,” Schreiber said.

At the event, Whyte recited his own works as well as works of other poets such as Dante and Shakespeare.

Freshman Aaron Gomes enjoyed the variety of poems Whyte recited.

“He was very good, and he had a lot to offer,” Gomes said.

Whyte’s writings were on various topics, but the poems he recited stressed the self. He discussed undergoing hard times in life and gave advice about dealing with these tough times.

“I could hear echoes of great writers in his work,” chair of the English department Jeffrey Roessner, Ph.D., said. “He had a terrific emphasis on delivering lines of poetry so that the audience caught every word. He intently focused on connecting with the audience.”

Whyte defined what being a poet means to him. He said a poet is someone who can see reality for how it truly is.

“One of the difficult arts of both life and writing is meeting reality,” Whyte said. “The way we learn is by going through periods of visitation and absence… Knowing and not knowing.”

At the end of the event, Whyte left his audience with a question.

“Will you turn your face back to the next great step in life?” he asked.

The next Literary Festival event takes place Thursday, April 7, when poet Gary Myers will read his works in Taylor Little Theatre at 8 p.m.