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Utterly Salt: Ryan Van Winkle

09/08/2010

Ryan Van Winkle is reader in residence at the Scottish Poetry Library and runs the monthly literary cabaret The Golden Hour at the Forest Cafe. His Crashaw Prize-winning first collection Tomorrow, We Will Live Here will be published this autumn. Catch Ryan and seven other Salt poets on Monday 23 August at 6.30 pm in the Banshee Labyrinth as part of the Free Fringe.

Cassella: The Pastor’s Son

The team did not like Cassella’s methods but
Jesus, he could run. Made it look like floating.
He was born to it: his calves like loaves, thighs
thick sides of beef. First, we’d run the lake loop,
then attack the steep hills. He’d take us on the rise,
our captain patting our shoulders, our butts.
After the runs, legs stammering, arms scratched,
we’d find him waiting in his father’s van.
The fastest could sit up front, choose the tape.

When his name made the news mom kissed her cross
said, Jesus. He was always such a good boy.

He kept his stash in the glove box, let us boys
draw and glow in back, legs burnt from the run.
We’d drive to his house, listen to The Dead.
Cassella said this was our time to commune,
pray, talk sport, speak our blessings, repent
before the “cool down” in his dad’s basement.
We are a team, he’d say then have us close our eyes,
let him gently clean our spirits, maybe our souls.
In the way that his father taught him, they said.

On Sunday Mom doubled her donation,
dyed her hair red in the sink. Jesus,
the pastor said, offered St. Sebastian’s prayer.

from Tomorrow, We Will Live Here

Who or what is the greatest influence on your writing?

photo by Ericka Duffy

This changes regularly. As I’ve been trying to put the finishing touches on my first book (out in November) I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from poets like Mario Petrucci and John Glenday whose collections have provided excellent guidence while I’ve been editing my own. Their books are so concise, dense and flowing that I keep looking to them like text books. Please, buy their books. They are spectacular works of art.

However, purely in writing terms, my most long-lasting influence has been my old professor at Syracuse University — Michael Burkard. I love his writing to the point where I worry I have some kind of Burkard disease. There is a gut-punching honesty mixed in with a dream-like surrealness. Burkard knows what it means to ‘push it’ and I am constantly in awe whenever I open one of his collections. I always finish a poem of his thinking: “Really, how did he do that?” Like magic.

Plus he gave me some of the best writing advice 1) Read like a writer and 2) Write about the table. The second bit might need some explanation: At university I was mostly writing about getting drunk and the impossibility of trying to make a woman. I guess he got sick of this stuff. Hence the command “Write about something else, write about the table.” It was sound advice and now, whenever I’ve feeling trapped in my own repetative circle, I write a poem about a table.

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is important to me because, when it is good, it gives me another way to comprehend and interpret my world both physically and emotionally. I would not enjoy strawberries as much if I had never read the Edwin Morgan poem about strawberries. I’m not sure that answer makes sense outside of my own head.

Why is Salt important?

Because they are publishing my book! Which is the selfish answer but, seriously, publishing is a risky, soul-destroying, blood-sucking, savage business and, as writers and readers, I think we have an obligation to support smaller publishers who are taking a chance by promoting new writers. If not us, who?

What is your favourite Salt book and why?

Tom Pow’s Dear Alice.

I mean — A story-poem based in a nineteenth-century lunatic asylum — c’mon — that is awesome! This book combines Pow’s incredible sensitivity and with a straight-forward lyricism that is deeply compelling. Further, it is a great showcase of Pow’s ability to translate meticulous and compassionate research into poetry. For this book Pow mined to archive of The Crichton Lunatic Asylum. There is some truly stunning work in here and well worth any one’s time.

Any other projects you’d like to tell us about?

I have a lot on during the Fringe in Edinburgh — but the thing I’m most excited about is my show at The Forest Fringe — Red Like Our Room Used to Feel. It is a one-on-one poetry experience with artwork and a beautiful soundscape by the Edinburgh-based musician Ragland. It will be on from the 19 – the 21st so don’t miss it. (But if you do, you can download the CD FREE from my website) See the Forest Fringe site for exact times and dates. Or just be around The Forest.

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