Ryan Van Winkle, part of a blogtour to promote his excellent debut collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, published by Salt today! The launch is at Blackwell's Bookshop, South Bridge, Edinburgh, tonight at 6.30pm, followed by a party afterwards from 8pm at the Forest Cafe - to which all are invited.
1. The poet Katherine Gallagher said in an interview: “Certainly, in the post-modern world, there’s a lot of joking going on. Often tongue-in-cheek. I think I tend towards ‘seriousness’ in poetry somewhat as per Theodore Roethke’s idea, ‘Poem: one more triumph over chaos’. But I like jokiness too” – any thoughts on this?
I probably have too many thoughts on this. Comedy is hard to get right and I'm super critical of people / poems / performers which try too hard to be funny. I find that earnestness isn't funny, trying to make someone laugh is painful.
Yet, I strongly believe poems should represent life and, certainly, life is funny. Funny to me means – awkward, uncomfortable, honest and maybe a little dark. When I saw Tom Waits he said he likes his songs to have some weather, a map in case you get lost, and something to eat in case you get hungry. I'd add humor to that list – “a joke, in case you need to laugh.”
However, because I think trying to be funny is not funny – I also tend towards seriousness in my work. I'm told some poems are funny. To that, all I have to say is: I've never set out to write a 'funny' poem. I think some poems have humorous moments but they all started deadly serious. Which, if you know some of my funnier work, is kind of funny.
2. ‘I’ and ‘we’ feature in many of your poems. Would you class yourself as a confessional poet? Or at least in the general line of Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds?
No, I don't think I would though I at times I'd like to be. If my narrators or characters feel like an authentic 'me' that is great and amazing and I'd be really proud. However – and I'm not trying to hedge my bets here – they are and they aren't. Everything is a little or a lot made up. What is real, is how each narrator contains a genuine part of me and that allows me to understand the character.
While characters or situations may be fiction, I hope the emotion seems real. If I separated out the fact from fiction in the poems (I've never been on death row, experienced 9/11, had a son find a dead body – I have masturbated in hotels, cut my knee, run cross country in High School) it would probably be 50/50.
But, maybe Lowell, Plath and Olds would say the same?
3. I suspect they would! Anyway, who is your ideal reader? And would you be anxious if that person actually existed?
My friends. I am always anxious when they read anything. I desperately want them to like me.
You have a spectacular moustache. Have you sensed any kind of bond developing between yourself and other moustached poets?
Yes. Though, I support all the varieties of facial hair. I give them a little nod when we pass on the street. I say, “Hello, brother. Solidarity.”
Someday, I hope to appear on an all mustache / all beard poetry night. Get me in!
That's a great idea, Ryan! What I might organise is a Moustaches/Beards vs Clean-Shavens event, in which poets are commissioned to write poems which include reference to facial hair or lack of. And the audience could then vote a winning team...
Ryan will be continuing his tour on 20 November at Robin Grey's blog and then on 24 November as guest of the Scottish Book Trust