Moustaches vs beards, and other questions… Ryan Van Winkle’s virtual book tour!

November 14, 2010

We’re delighted to be one of the pitstops on Ryan Van Winkle’s virtual, world-wide book tour!

Here are all excellent blogs Ryan will be stopping by:

Stops Tour Date Blog

1 12 November 2010 leesmithwriter
2 14 November 2010 Our sweet old etcetera…
3 16 November 2010 G.P.S. Global Poetry System
4 18 November 2010 Surroundings – Rob A. Mackenzie’s blog
5 20 November 2010 Robin Grey
6 24 November 2010 Scottish Book Trust
7 26 November 2010 Flotsam
8 28 November 2010 Molossus
9 30 November 2010 Dan Meth

Our Ryan in Residence has been with us for two and a half years, splitting his time between bringing poetry and people all over the city (and beyond) together, and working on his own writing. We couldn’t be more chuffed for him that he won the Crashaw Prize, resulting in having his first collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here,  published by Salt. You can buy the book here. Ryan also programmes and hosts the excellent Golden Hour at the Forest Cafe here in Edinburgh, and presents our weekly podcast. Having interviewed a whole host of folk for that, we took more than usual glee in turning the spotlight on him with a few questions…

What’s your favorite food?

I chose my best friend and my favorite food when I was 11 and young enough to make pronouncements like that. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become wary of saying anything is my favourite, and I’m distrustful of anyone who would have an answer like that. Life, to me, is far more complicated. I don’t have a favourite city, a favourite colour, a favourite drink, and I reckon this is why I really want but can’t yet allow myself to get a tattoo.

So, in solidarity with my 11-year-old self, I’ll call my favorite food pizza. I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut which is famous for having, what some say, is the best pizza in America. New Yorkers always disagree. But New Yorkers don’t know anything.

And, I’m happy to say my best friend is still Mike Sanzone. A very fine artist indeed and someone I hope will occupy that ‘Best Friend’ throne for a long time to come.

Moustaches vs beards?

Now, for those of you who don’t know, I have recently shaved after a 15 year love-affair with the beard. When Magda at Snip and Sip cleaned me up I couldn’t imagine myself clean shaven so I asked her to leave the mustache. Anyway, I went on a blind date just after this and and the woman was slagging off a bearded guy nearby. I was utterly offended and said, “I’ll have you know, you are talking to a Beard.” Like that scene in The Jerk. So, I’d say – beard-core 4 lyfe!

Favourite hirsute poet?

Allen Ginsberg. Though, I’m not so familiar with the hairstyles of poets.

What turned you onto poetry?

I’m so freaking cliché! Like a lot of young, male, writers, my first poetic crush was on Charles Bukowski. He was honest and full of blood and spoke to me in a genuine way. That stuff made me think maybe I could do this, maybe I had something to say which could be said through poetry. It changed my opinion of what a poem was.

Of course, the problems with Bukowski are many. He’s a rubbish role-model and I’ve seen many young poets go too far into the gutter trying to emulate his life style. Second, he’s a d**k. There’s that poem where someone asks who his three favorite poets are and he replies “Charles Bukowski, Charles Bukowski and Charles Bukowski.” He really seems to have felt that there were no good poets around (read Raymond Carver’s poem about him, ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’). This is just wrong. And lazy. From the standpoint of trying to promote and encourage readers of poetry – he’s a real double edged sword and I think it is very unfortunate. Because he does turn people on to poetry, he’s great. However, because of his insulting, posturing, egocentric views, a lot of potential readers don’t read beyond him. Like with music — one poet leads to another and so you listen to, say, The Gaslight Anthem and that leads you back towards Bruce Springsteen, which leads you back to Bob Dylan which goes back to Woody Guthrie. Bukowski, annoyingly, only leads you to more Bukowski. And John Fante – who wasn’t a poet.

Luckily, I was curious enough and went to a book shop where I found Hayden Carruth’s Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey which I loved immediately for its title and later for its incomparable grace. This book, I think sealed the deal between myself and poetry and got me out of Bukowski’s dangerous, self-perpetuating, poetic orbit. It convinced me to read more.

How would you describe the Scottish Poetry Library to a stranger?

Tea and biscuits.

If you could invite any poets living or dead to a dinner party, which would you invite and why?

I think I’ll stick with the dead. If I open it up to the living – I’d probably just invite poets I already know and love and I’d sound all sycophantic.

So, let’s see – my dinner parties usually take 8 (though I’ve only got enough wine glasses for one and enough forks for six…)

I’d like to get Carver and Bukowski back together to live out Carver’s poem ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (An Evening With Charles Bukowski)‘. I’d keep Bukowski away from the ‘hard stuff’ though.

And I’d like to see Emily Dickinson in the mix as I’ve gotten a new found respect for her since visiting her house in Amherst last month. (Look out for the podcast – coming soon.) Basically, I always thought of her as kind of a reclusive weirdo but now I think she was just born ahead of her time, I think she was strong and determined and knew how she wanted her writing to be presented and how she wanted to exist in society and society and the literary world were not really ready for her. I think she’d be awesome.

I’d like to get Richard Brautigan over too because I’ve always had such a massive crush on his writing, his voice is lovely and I think he was great at hanging out. Here’s a favourite anecdote recounted by Keith Abbott:

“Just before dinner was served, Richard made a big show of putting on a Grateful Dead record. He said that he had been saving the record as a surprise for (Robert) Creeley. Bob nodded his thanks. When the first cut started Creeley brought his head up abruptly “This is my favourite cut on that record” he announced. Richard beamed happily. As Creeley listened to the song Richard told a story of all the obstacles that he had encountered during the day in his attempt to find this particular record for Bob. Content that he had made Creeley happy, Richard went back to the kitchen to attend to dinner. When the song was over, Creeley got up, went over to the stereo and, trying to play the cut again, raked the needle across the record, ruining it. “Uh-oh” he said …. At the sound of the record’s being ruined, Richard came rushing out of the kitchen and … going over to the stereo he brought out a second copy of the album from the stack alongside it …. “I’m, ready for Bob this time” he boasted. Then he went on to relate how Creeley had wrecked the very same album on a previous visit.” The song Creeley wanted to hear again – ‘Ripple’ by Robert Hunter. Anyway, let’s put Creeley at the dinner party too. It would be nice to see those guys hanging out again. I still get sad thinking about Brautigan’s suicide. I wish he didn’t.

And let’s have UA Fanthorpe over – because her poem ‘Atlas’ is masterful and I have a lot of questions to ask her about Love. Oh, oh – and can we invite H.D. ? I love her poems and, again, I think she was ahead of her time and I think it would be interesting to chat with her about how she got pigeon-holed as an ‘Imagist’ even after she outgrew that movement.

Lastly, I would love to have Etheridge Knight over. I’d cook a hell of a meal just to say thanks for his poem – ‘Feeling F**ked Up.’ I owe that man about a thousand good meals. Plus, based on his poems and performances, I think he’d be a wonderful person to speak to. Maybe he and Bukowski could trade tales about prison. I think he was funny and sensitive and sweet and incredibly talented. I couldn’t imagine anyone not getting along with him.

What do you miss most about Edinburgh when you’re gallivanting around the world?

What I miss the most, what always makes me happy to come home, are my friends and family at the Forest specifically and my friends in general. You get kind of used to walking around Edinburgh and saying hello and having chats with people on the street and I do miss that when I become a stranger.

Why leave when you can live in a place you can understand and that understands you?

Good question. For those who don’t know – that is a quote from Bill McKibbon and it opens up my collection Tomorrow, We Will Live Here (available at all fine book stores and petrol stations) and I guess the book itself is my answer.

But maybe that is me just trying to sound clever. The book can’t really answer that question because I can’t really answer that question though I think about it a lot and my work is focused on that problem. I often wonder why I left America which I did understand, which did understand me, where my family was, where everything I knew and was comfortable with was. I think I left because I didn’t like being comfortable, it seemed too easy and I probably wanted to challenge myself. And I think I thought an artist shouldn’t get too familiar, too at home in any one place.

And now, I’m perpetually talking about leaving Edinburgh. A city which, for all my criticisms of it, I understand and which understands me, where my friends and work, etc are. Where I feel utterly comfortable most of the time. In fact, I was just talking with Mikey Krumins today (in London) about moving here. He’d just moved to London from sunny New Zealand and neither of us could explain what it is inside of us that makes us want to depart someplace cosy for someplace harder, more difficult, more unforgiving, more ‘real’. I know the poet Kevin MacNeil has been dealing with this conundrum too — why leave? Read the book – tell me if you have the answer.

In your mind/ maybe you are…?

No fair – you’re quoting me! In my mind, I’m still 16 years old – and not in a good way.

Describe yourself as a superhero; a beverage; a town in America…? And why?

Spider-Man / Peter Parker – I feel more like Parker than Spider-Man. I mean, Parker’s life is always a mess. He’s perpetually distracted, exhausted, getting interrupted, ruining good relationships. Yeah, I can identify with that. And if and when I ever get any responsibility, no matter how small, I will say “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Thanks Stan Lee.

White wine, of course. – Because it doesn’t stain. And it makes me very, very happy.

Branford, CT — Because it is home. And when I think of the sea, it is Branford’s coast. And when I think of woods, I think of the woooded trails I ran in High School. And when think of houses – I think of the houses I grew up in, the attics and basements where I became myself.

What to your ear and eye is the finest poem ever written?

That is a totally insane question. The finest poem ever written is probably something I probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate if I saw it.

However, the first two poems I thought of – one right after the other – were:

EE Cummings – ‘Buffalo Bill’ — I love that “Jesus / he was a handsome man”, I love the shape, the space, the ‘onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat’


Ezra Pound’s ‘Station of the Metro’ – I really dislike most of Pound’s work but that brevity, that hint of of darkness, I like that.

But these are probably more influential than ‘finest poem ever written’. I think I object to the word ‘fine’. I don’t think I like ‘fine’ poetry. Boring people are ‘fine’. Your girlfriend, when she is angry with you, is ‘fine’. A pair of Cartier earrings are ‘fine’. Poetry should be more than fine.

What’s next for Ryan Van Winkle?

Let’s just get through this year, ok?

2 Responses to “Moustaches vs beards, and other questions… Ryan Van Winkle’s virtual book tour!”

  1. Marsha Howard Says:

    Bravo, Ryan, especially for your Emperor’s New Clothes piece on Bukowski! It would be lovely to have you back in America but if I were you (and this is jealousy speaking) I’d stay in Edinburgh.

    That said, if you do come back to America, the borders of NY are closed to you, bad boy. “New Yorkers always disagree. But New Yorkers don’t know anything.”

    Indeed! Thought we wouldn’t be reading this, eh?

    Cheers, Ryan. Happy journeys.

  2. RVW Says:

    Thanks Marsha. I meant about Pizza. New Yorkers don’t know anything about pizza! Of course, that might have been how you took it. 🙂

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