Here, a woman stands at a seat between Rilke and Heaney, across from Whyte, and wonders if she can sit down.
These are the words I wrote while listening to poet David Whyte speak earlier this month.
I'm a big fan of David Whyte's work in the world and his poetry. If you've been at one of my retreats, I've probably read you a few of his poems. Kelly Barton has a great story about me reading his poetry to her while a storm pounded down outside the house we were staying in in Manzanita, Oregon. His words opened her up to poetry in a new way; little did she know I was reading to keep myself centered because the storm was pretty much freaking me out as we were on the ocean with floor to ceiling windows as the sea and sky raged all around us.
Over the last nine years, David Whyte's words have become talismans I carry with me to remind me that I'm not alone.
But while listening to him speak for two days, my friend Bridget and I noticed one glaring omission: the poetry of women.
Whyte is a storyteller and philosopher who uses his own poetry and the poetry of others to share what he believes about this awesome, sometimes heartaching, gorgeous life we all live. And I love this approach. Sharing a story and the poem born from that story. The audience hopefully spends some time reflecting on their own lives and how it all connects. Alternatively he shares a poem by someone else who connects to his story or a poem by another that prompted a response of his own poem. There is a rhythm to his storytelling that often feels like home to me.
I use a somewhat similar approach when I teach at retreats. I love to share a story that will hopefully invite the women I'm teaching to open their hearts up just a bit more and then I invite them to share their own stories and put pen to the page. I also love using the poetry of others as an entrypoint to our own writing; I want my students to be able to nod along as I read poetry and see themselves inside the stories, even if they've never had the experience the poet is sharing.
While listening to Whyte this time, I struggled to find a way to see myself in the stories and poems he shared. Women made appearances in the typical forms of daughter, mother, lover, but they weren't seen as hero, deep thinker, person who might change the world, or even person struggling with life's big "stuff."
And this has me pausing over here. I'm actually not in deep judgement of Whyte's work. The reality is that I'm a big fan and at the two other events I attended with him over the years, I didn't have this reaction. Most observations are more about how his omission brought up some "beautiful questions" as he calls them that have me asking: What tables do I want to join? What stories do I need to tell? What poems are waiting to be born inside me? What female poets should the world know more about?
As I dive deep into gathering stories and beautiful questions as I work on a new offering I want to share with you next year, I'm heading to my bookshelves and starting with Sharon Olds, Madeleine L'Engle, and Diane Ackerman. They feel like old friends who have a seat just waiting for me.
Today, think about the tables you want to sit at and the stories you want to help tell in the world.
And tomorrow come back as I've decided to make this a week all about poetry on my blog, and I'll be sharing some of my favorite female poets and few other fun things this week!
As I think about the need for female voices at tables around the world, it feels pretty awesome to share that my ecourse Poem It Out is now available as an ongoing offering. This means you can sign up at anytime and you'll have access to the full course so you can dive into the world of poetry. This course includes four weeks of poetry and creativity prompts taught with both written material and more than two hours of video. To learn more about it and read testimonials from those who've already poemed it out, head over here.