Commiserate is a monthly experiment in poetic collaboration.

Inspired by  SJ Fowler‘s  ‘Camarade’ project which pairs poets together to create new work, I’ve stolen the notion and begun to collaborate with friends and writers of interest. You can read about the project and see 2013’s poems here, and 2014’s poems here.


You Like the Sports? — March 2015

Ross Sutherland & Ryan Van Winkle


ross arcadeross arcadeROSS SAYS: Ryan and I had a brief conversation at Hidden Door festival, about how little we both knew about sport. Sport, as it happens, is our conversational weak-spot. We hate sport, in all it’s myriad forms. When sport comes up in conversation, we have absolutely nothing to say. We decided immediately that “sport” should be the subject of a collaborative poem. Sport was neutral territory- neither writer had the upper hand. Also, we could attempt to out-do each other with increasingly bombastic platitudes. That’s how it went, back and forth, with each of us piling on the enthusiasm for a thing we cared very little about! By the end I think we nearly convinced ourself.


You Like the Sports?

Hey Ryan, did you catch the sports

Are you a fan of the games that were on? Will be on?

The games series. What do you think will happen

in the today sports? What team clothes are you

sporting? What game is that? Who do you support?

Fair enough but who do you support again?

Ross, I follow the pride & the haemorrhoid. I follow

the thrust & pivot & the spectacular slam.

I wear the green and white and yellow paint.

I pant. I pant so hard when we get close.

The ones with azure sashes and lego eyes? The ones with the deer teleport motif?

The ones with majority control over four lucrative heavy oil projects?

The microscopic team discovered in certain vessels of beech and maple, causing blindness?

Etc we cd go on

All the mud, all the pretty horses, all the aimed elbows, all the fluids

pouring into the ring, soaking the fields, more spit than a thousand slide

trombones, look out the marching band, and look out the widow, look out

for the hurtle, the grief, the inexplicable urge to die on the fall.

Ryan, you will experience disappointment

when the team from my local sporting area

defeats the team from your local sporting area.

We will ride mountains all the way to the goal.

We are a basket, wrapped in a goal, hidden in a hole-in-one.

We have already painted a watercolour

of us, holding aloft the Victory Cup, and it is

incredibly realistic!!

We are the Kim Jong Il of sports, Ryan. Your pitch

is our green screen

Ross, your team is a monied polyp on the anus of sport.

Our boys play for the love – not the gold, nor the cup.

Our boys run for justice, truth, the fair handed shake

and if there is a god and if he sits with Jesus at his side

they’re both cheering for us on Monday night, rain or shine.

Yes, they have been playing excellently

this season. They’ve been clinking zepplins in the top end.

They’ve been malleting horses match-after-match.

They’ve done a very very good job indeed.

But compare their record to the attic bedroom

where I’ve been crying for the last four years

and you’ll see there’s little hope- little hope

of happiness for this clan of tanned fictitious characters.

No sex at crunch time, not this Sunday.

No, they’ve been chumps and bums, crutches

and chokers all ankle biters pockets full of posies.

Take the skirt off Carl and stick the landing!

They were headless chickens, it was a bloodbath,

it was fucking Roman, it was Wednesday all over again

it was the safest bet and so, so close

A bomb went off in Sport, Ryan. Your team just happened to be

shopping for perfume in the wrong part of the mega-mall.

But let’s not mistake it for luck, noble brother. There’s no such thing as luck.

I’d rather gamble my kids inheritance on a wheelbarrow of severed limbs

than admit the possibility of chance. Blood rains from the fingers of the Gods, Ryan.

We goal by divine right of the supreme architect of sport.

But have you seen the ratings, Ross? Ever since

that sportscaster bit her, ever since the ear

incident, ever since the racist old mole,

ever since the shaving, the fixing, the gifting,

the knee smash and grab the gold, ever since

the dogs went roaring at each other’s throats,

ever since the hormones, the transfusion, the alleged fire

the collusion, the paper bags for the ring

check your papers & push your chits

my boys are doing fine.

Ryan, your sports team keeps swapping out older players

and replacing them with younger players! Did you think I wouldn’t… notice?

That somehow the football players of Nottingham Forest could still be 25 years old,

despite the fact that the team was founded in 1865?

Clearly substitutions have been made! You charlatans!

You think that sports teams can’t die? All teams die in the end!

And we will take you with us, Ryan! Screaming into the abyss,

as insects feast upon the calve muscles of a thousand hoofed open-goals!

Let the fog of death rise from the stands!

Historians will tell you that the valiant are remembered, even loved. Hearts

must be in the game. Bodies must be flung, cities razed, wave

after wave of attack. And if you can stand, arms raised in a V

and feel the warmth of your country’s flag. You will be immortal.

Sounds like loser talk to me Ryan. A profound loss. A billion year losing streak.

Townships burning in the last light of a sick century. Death threats sung like hymns.

Thank God we are sportsmen, Ryan. Thank god we are blessed with the handshake

that says “good game”. We can pretend that none of this is real.



Ross Sutherland was born in Edinburgh in 1979. Sutherland currently works as a writer and tutor in Cambridgeshire. His last collection, Emergency Window, was published by Penned in the Margins in 2012. Ross also makes work for the stage, including Comedian Dies In The Middle Of Joke (2012) and Standby For Tape Back-Up (2014). Ross is also one of the hosts of Homework, a literary scratch night in East London.


Ross Sutherland & Ryan Van Winkle read ‘You Like the Sports?’

commissioned by SJ Fowler for the Auld Enemies Project, 2014

It Feels As If — February, 2015

Colin Herd & Ryan Van Winkle


colinCOLIN SAYS: It was fun writing thickly (and less thickly) veiled love poems/letters to you Ryan! I love writing that strains impossibly trying not to say something that it is in fact saying, like when you get someone going round the houses to explain why their argument isn’t this thing but in fact this other thing and you can barely tell the difference between them other than this tiny semantic nuance, if even that. This exchange was kind of the opposite of that, where there is an enormous effort to couch what you are saying behind a whole sequence of smoke and mirrors. Speaking of which, when we were about to read this in the pub in Aberdeen, and I was making a brief introduction that these were based on the homoerotic love letters of King James VI, the poet nick-e melville piped up and said: “I thought you were going to say Kim Jong Il”…. that might be something to try next time. (And I hope there will be tons of next times.)


It Feels as If

Dear Ryan,

You ceilidh so woolly that I do not enquire after your heat and ask if you maintain the stay-at-home. Of you. Be in no doubt. In a tinge, a tinkle. A horsewhip.

Dear Colin

I must beg to differ. I blew that stallion off my back and now there are wrinkles around my eyes, even when there is no bright white sun. Perhaps I misunderstand your query.

Dear Ryan

When it is your will, perhaps I will be accustomed to your actuaries more intimately. Hearty then for myself, and flattering my falcons for wont that I will know from all the assertions of your benchmark the discretions and vindications I seek. The aqualung as always requires no epicure and the surname no sun.

Dear Colin

It is a flexible instrument us men have inherited. It is amazing how much punishment we can take, almost without protest. They say I cough blood only because I laugh too much. And yet, I am neither victim, nor survivor – I have not suffered and this will not cease with a foot in the mouth nor a mere finger in the pie. I am too tired to look for another hole in the ground. Play the piano for me, play the one about the rolling heather.

Dear Ryan

I am conscious that these are early eunuchs. Perhaps our collision will always occupy only the earliest but in precedent perhaps more rather than less endeavour of our mutual prophecies is required. I want it to be known that in all mazes except of heaving hearts I am profoundly easily swayed and that only in one ratcheted nozzle do I dissuade myself, uncompromised. Make that one ratcheted novelette. It feels as if.

Dear Colin

The brains of my brothers are as empty as the underpants of a eunuch. I put my hands in but I always feel like I’m rummaging around for something that isn’t quite there. Did I tell you that I’ve seen the sea again. The sea was impersonal and didn’t care. Maybe it was a dream, I don’t know, everything happens so much. One feels as if, indeed.

Dear Ryan

Your agreement on such matters makes my bosom swell. I think there may have been a mnemonic but no matter now, attention shifts like sands. Are we listened to yet? And if not by the sea by some other force. I am afraid to tell anyone of my dessert.

Dear Colin

My ears are yours, should the postboy take them. Mine eyes as well, should I manage to find that runcible spoon. Last I remember, we were having a picnic. Youngberries, cherries, currants. And my confession – I am no picnic myself.

Dear Ryan

He has seized now an orange shroud and nudges his resin towards me. My tobacco remains deaf-mute but the walls can make something or other out. It’s churlish to avoid unreeling this particular cassette: on a purplish roster, he bade me thank his chasm! I swore, I’d never appear in any such anthology and, fizzling to consult, I can earnestly say that prevented him. But for how long?

Dear Colin

Your mementos will turn to dust, the picture postcards, your spanish braids shall untagle and what will you be left with? Your flaxen locks? Your silver coin eyes? We must hold true north and remain vulnerable to everything. Who is not temporal, flesh?

Dear Ryan

I regret that cruisy tone. But what meteorites are contained in even the simplest struck match?! Your reward for keeping my conscience is something I cannot sufficiently commend. Let me at least say this: indeed I do not think the tongue at all creditable either to mandrills or woodpeckers, and (though you will not believe me) I very often feel ashamed of it myself.

Good Colin

I cannot live any longer not knowing what will happen tomorrow. Pray tell, look into your tea leaves. I can toy with this eye-wrecking lace work no longer. Tell me the fate of Atlantis, tell me of Troy and the horse. What was it like inside the dark body – all those swords, those torsos next to torsos, those chosen men breathing quiet as they could?

Dear Ryan,

I have had it with my femur! What may seem to some an interactive irrelevancy is in fact to me an irritant. A flea-pit felony if you really want know. But I will pick myself up and narrow the scope. You’re asking about tomorrow? It’s surely dominated by the smallest of sunbathers quivering from the warmth of. You know what warmth and you know how irrepressible its draw. Those tiny bathers. A nappy banquet. It’s not too tragi-comic.

Dear Colin

It is impossible to stop wanting to repeat ourselves. And yet we make each word anew. As if no man had ever spoken it before. This is the hard part.

Dear Ryan,

Hard as in rocky? Solid? Iron-hearted? Impenetrable? Packed? So I understand. To avoid a debacle, embrace summings-up. Perhaps we should betray our fitter selfishisms and motley underpinnings, but can I speak from the heart? thus?, desires. I believe my words will no longer hold and as it stands: you hang a fish from a hook, it will untangle itself, depending on the brainpower of the fish. It’s a stroll in the park for me.

Dear Colin

Sometimes the vein runs so dry, I don’t have a word to say. If there was a line between my mind and your ear, I would trespass it. Perhaps, as always, the best answer is: ‘it depends’. Perhaps I will have a full dream tonight and there will be more to say in the morning.


Colin Herd was born in Stirling in 1985 and now lives in Edinburgh. He is a poet, fiction writer and critic. His first collection of poems “too ok” was published by BlazeVOX in 2011. A pamphlet, “like”, was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2011 and a second full-length collection ‘Glovebox’, was published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2013. He has published over 60 reviews and articles on art and literature in publications including Aesthetica Magazine, 3:AM Magazine, PN:Review and The Independent. He has read and performed his work widely, including at Rich Mix Arts Centre, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Gay’s the Word Bookshop, Edinburgh University, Lancaster University and The Edinburgh International Book Festival. In 2014, ‘Glovebox’ was highly commended in the Forward Prizes.


Colin Herd & Ryan Van Winkle read ‘I Feel As If’




Matt Hetherington & David Stavanger — Commiserate, January 2015

It is a pleasure to be back this month with our first ever three-way collaboration between myself and two Australian poet friends – Matt Hetherington & David Stavanger. So below you will find four poems all based on source material we wrote together in the sweaty Brisbane summer. Taps off, y’all. 

Matt Hetherington by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Matt Hetherington by Nicholas Walton-Healey

The process: we sat around a table and in round-robin style created a very large poem. Each of us took the source material and re-worked it. Below are the results from the three of us.

Matt says: the best bit was the start…sitting around drinking beer, throwing lines out like sighs…the editing was more like real sighs…or sights of sides…i like mine best! You can quote me on that!


Fill Your Stump
by Matt Hetherington
w/ Ryan Van Winkle & David Stavanger


baby says something
she says the word ‘bovine’
she says you’re like a duck, you’ve got no tread
but winter is when you need the fur
skin is where we find get off
stumbling into the wild man


those men who file tax returns sleep with animals
and keep their umbrellas by the door
size determines technique
or the future
well, everybody has one
if they keep their teeth straight
it’s elegant


when you need to say sorry, feel lucky
you can scratch a way through your head
when your toe is sore you need to remember
keep an axe in the sound
when the song goes wrong
or short or ironed out or shirty
it’s a shit, innit?


grandma’s throat gave birth to a tree
so growl about it, make tea and read
don’t flatter yourself
don’t take their cake
don’t ask white to turn off-white
earth keeps you talking about the girls
and girls love girth more than neil loves you


my father is a festival
he knows how to hurt her
take him out to the dire lands where the popcorn is cheap
close all the windows, you can’t squeeze through
my sister asks if I am a truck
(no, I am not a truck)


why is this happening?
not really


David Stavanger

David Stavanger

slip inside, jackets by the door
by David Stavanger
w/ Matt Hetherington & Ryan Van Winkle


when the weather is yellow, tops
off when the weather is white, fill your
with sure white stains, turn


the power off. when the pants fit, e
lephants talk birds talk, watch the p
float innocent and flam e


like dreams your teeeeeeeeeeth fell
the school bracelet donated twice


and you yelled like broken night
breakthewrist, breakthethumb
touching how you never ran till you raced


three of us horses, one for every type
of home. we sent grandma
she said she’d kidnap itches
her cats had no claws, pussies
in spring but winter is when you need the fur


slip inside, jackets by the door


fluff the sound, play the take
needle fills the song
clouds heard the honey sky out
when heavy goes wrong the song
baby, axe the needle
keep me in you

the word bovine 
 slow and wet
to ease
 she says you’re like a duck
you’ve got no tread the season gone brown
the colour of dad’s wallet
 which only opens for sharks
those men who file tax returns sleep with animals


Size determines


Animals who sleep with women
can never go home


Bark for forgiveness. Grandma’s throat gave birth to a tree


growl about it and keep your umbrella
by the door and put rain in the can every time she says
sugar. dung. mother trucker.


piss taker who knows when to pull out the fruit.
the groceries in Paris always seem brighter she says
the trains always like me, fruit lasts longer on the tree


close all the windows, you can’t squeeze through
when your toe is sore you need to remember


there’s only so much rice you can put in a bowl


Grandma Goes Three Ways
by Ryan Van Winkle
w/ Matt Hetherington & David Stavanger


when the weather is yellow, tops off
when the weather is white, fill your stump
with sure white stains, turn the power off


when the pants fit, make elephants talk
when the birds talk, watch the planes
float innocent and flame


like a bracelet of teeth donated
to the school of dreams
you chased till they fell


and yelled like a broken night – break
the wrist, break the thumb touching
how you never ran till you raced,


three of us horses, one for every type
of home. we sent grandma
when she said she’d kidnap itches


her cats had no claws, pussies
bloom in spring but winter is when you need
the fur. slip inside, jackets by the door


close all the windows, you can’t squeeze through.
when your toe is sore you need to remember
there’s only so much rice you can put in a bowl


fluff fills the clouds, the honey, the needle
till the needle gets heavy
keep an axe in the sound


play the song you heard in the song
when the song goes wrong
take me to the sky, take me out baby says


the word bovine
slow and wet to ease
she says you’re like a duck


you’ve got no tread because
the season has gone brown,
the colour of dad’s wallet


which only opened for the sharks,
those men who file tax returns,
sleep with animals. Size determines


technique. Animals who sleep with women
can never go home. Bark for forgiveness.
Grandma’s throat gave birth to a tree –


growl about it and keep your umbrella
by the door and put rain in the can every time
she says fuck. oh, sugar. dung. mother trucker.


piss taker who knows when to pull out the stops.
the groceries in paris always seem brighter, she says,
the trains always like me, fruit lasts longer on the tree


Three of Us Horses
by Matt Hetherington
w/ Ryan Van Winkle & David Stavanger


take me to the sky
because the season has gone
brown like a wallet


when the weather is yellow
turn the power off
when the birds talk, watch the planes


slip inside, jackets by the door
so soon so late so go
one for every type of home


too many farmers not enough grass
and the way to the well is worn thin
then play the song you heard in the song


couldn’t break it even like a bracelet of death
like thumbs touching
like how you never ran ’till you raced


you know you’ll leave it
hanging in the currents
there’s only so much rice you can put in a bowl


Matt Hetherington has performed and published his poems for over 20 years throughout Australia, Europe, and America, including in the anthologies The Best Australian Poetry [2007, UQP], and The Best Australian Poems [2004, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, Black Inc.] His fourth collection of poetry [and first collection of haiku] For Instance, will be published in January 2015 by Mulla Mulla Press, and he is also on the board of the Australian Haiku Society. Some current inspirations are: Miles Davis’ ‘electric period, his 7 year-old daughter Jess, and plain old sunshine.

David Stavanger won the 2013 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Award. He is also Green Room nominated spoken weird cabaret artist Ghostboy, known for his live shows with Richard Grantham (Deep Blue) and the band Golden Virtues, as well as having established the thriving QLD poetry slam scene. The Special (UQP) – his first full-length collection of poetry – has recently been released and is now in reprint.