Commiserate — March, 2015 — Ross Sutherland

February 26, 2015

You Like the Sports?

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


Inspired by  SJ Fowler‘s  ‘Camarade’ project which pairs poets 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 & 2014 poems here.


Colin Herd — Commiserate, Feb. 2015

January 29, 2015

It Feels As If

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’



Inspired by  SJ Fowler‘s  ‘Camarade’ project which pairs poets 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 & 2014 poems here.

Commiserate Three Way 2015

December 29, 2014

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.


Commiserate is a monthly experiment in poetic collaboration.

Inspired by  SJ Fowler‘s  ‘Camarade’ project which pairs poets 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

‘Translations for Weather’ Published in Colony Literary Magazine

December 1, 2014

My poem ‘Translation for Weather’ has been published in Colony Literary Magazine

Commiserate March – JO Morgan

March 18, 2014

jomorganRyan and JO Morgan will be performing this poem along-side some mind-bending music and visuals as part of Decagram at the Hidden Door Festival. They’ll be playing with Lipsync for Lullaby & Hiva Oa. The whole event is going to be in the key of Major. More details here. Thursday 3 April, 7pm.

Ryan says: I am an unabashed fan of JO Morgan‘s work. His beautiful books from CB Editions are amongst my favourites and his ability to write a long poem remains inspiring. If you haven’t yet read his poetic biography of boyhood on the Isle of Skye (Natural Mechanical) than you are in for a treat and I recommend you treat yourself soon. By far this is the most ambitious collaboration I’ve undertaken partly due to JO’s penchant for the sustained and partly because I didn’t quite realise how many signs there are in the zodiac until it was too late. Enjoy! x




Today is a good day to think about Rome. Ancient footprints. Worn leather sandals. Blood and bile sluiced out into the streets. If you were born in the morning, ask yourself: what have you managed to build? If you were born at night, consider how even a paper boat may cut quickly forgotten paths along the gutter.

(Every country has its Rome: the pinnacle, or else
the pit, towards which every tributary flows,
and with that flowing: all the effluence that wants
for higher life. Although the gold, hammered out
to near translucence, does eventually flake off;
scratches are too easily made, exposing all that rot
so long ignored beneath; while those others who
live any great way from the core have lost all care
in such postures; have lost much care in themselves;
they gather together, form insular groups; they turn
circles, watch for the lone interloper; are astonished
when one of their number breaks ranks, and how
he departs with such abject abandon, to scatter
confetties of cranes, of lilies, about him as he goes.)


You’ll find yourself wanting to pay more attention to the hefted silver sickle of the moon, but it’s the shifting of the earth you should be mindful of. If you have forever lived looking out over the circle sea, you should try sleeping tucked in a doorway, once in a while. Otherwise, lower your head, shoulder the construct you never intended to build, and sharpen what horns you have left; now is the time to see red. There are rewards for breaking all the china.

(The question of piercings is paramount: some prefer
to linger in painful reminder of how we may never
maintain true liberty; that though some may dance
unadorned, their picture of freedom is no more
than mere fiction. For we all know it’s the gelding
who runs the longest race; that to hold yourself intact
is to lie apart, heavy with underused muscle, alone
within your pig-ploughed field; that sometimes there
are benefits in permitting yourself to be led by the nose.)


You feel inclined to admit you can only get rich by taking from other people. It’s best to abort all efforts to give new names to every visible star, to muse on what awaits you in heaven. It’s okay sometimes to think only of your own troubles. Before, you were an empty bucket; now you need filling with strong clear liquor, with wet smoke, music, fried chicken. Imagine yourself as a neat set of tracks in the dust, tracks that will soon disappear beneath the lightest push of air.

(Most are separated when still in infancy, and so
grow up never knowing of their doubles or that
they are themselves not whole, except for a niggling
suspicion, felt first at the onset of puberty, that
some where there is some one, some other who
may fully comprehend them, inside and out, and
who, with a mere glance sees through their everything,
and knows they too have likewise been examined, that,
for a moment, their similar souls have co-mingled,
spun, and again come apart – yet weightier than before.
These all-too-brief connections occur just as readily
between two shoppers in a hardware store reaching
both for blue methanol, as between two outcasts
combing through the warm red ash for rice grains
spilt from a corner-torn sack. The separation
is always worse this second time around. Most
are able to suppress their new yearning while others
may create a semblance of sanity only by repeating
to themselves in times of anguish: she is there
and I am here, she is there and I am here, she
is there and I am here – till balance is restored.)


Childhood was a school of self-disgust and insecurity. You need to reach out and scratch those you love into some kind of wakefulness; things may grow beyond the point where you have any lasting influence if you delay. You have become an easy target for oblivion, sat alone on a raft of rot-wood, adrift on an ocean that’s set to expand exponentially.

(When the crisis, long expected, hits,
there’s no recourse to the coping devices
built up for your protection; despite best intentions
of being the last one standing, of beating back
whatever you’ve been forced to bear, still,
without warning, the carapace cracks
and squeezes your too-soft body out,
now fully exposed to what you know
you cannot hope to endure; all that remains
is to hide away your rawness under stones
till in the dark somehow you find the means
by which to re-harden your skin.)


Late at night you’ll wake turgid and sheetless, will understand that kindness is as scarce, as priceless, as the milk of queens. Because there is no moon, and no one will see, you’ll find yourself, rising, going outside, shrugging your robe to the lawn as you look for the deepest black between the spinning stars. Here is where you draw the draught of milk that asks you for no second gulp. Your friends think you ferocious, in your cravings, in your guile; even they don’t know of your timidity, the bleat of fear you muffle with your cloak.

(Out of strength came sweetness, though the bees
didn’t grow nor burst from rotting bones, they chose
instead to structure their house amidst the brittle ribs
of the golden corpse – there to manufacture living food;
food which, as milk, need not be killed to be consumed,
both juices freely flowing; though unequal in viscosity.
Now mixed and tinned for your convenience, take care
not to wrap your tongue too tight to the pleasure
of a dunked then swiftly twisted spoon, as you sit
cross-leggéd beneath the lonely spread of tamarisk,
while some scrawny thing, with hunger glowing,
stalks you from within the long dry grass.)


The sky and all its circles tell us that the ones we love must some day take their final leave. This is no shortcoming of the stars, nor is it laziness to remind us of the things we struggle daily to ignore. Simply, you must accustom yourself to the disagreeable taste and texture of another’s bread – how bitter it can be, how stringy, how dry. As soon as it feels right to do so: share a long-kept secret with a lover while they sleep; memorise the underlying blueprint of their bones; trace and trace again the soft green highways of their veins. For one day, understand, you will be driving, just driving; you will not be lost, you’ll merely realise how, today, you have nowhere to go.

(In the same way it can be hard to differentiate
between the melting sensation stirred in your gut
as your lover passes close and the nausea welled
as your driver feathers the clutch, so is it hard
to be sure that what you feel in interconnecting
your self with that one other self is in any way different
to how you’d feel with another such self so inclined.
Is that ignored uncertainty the best way for any new life
to be begun? If only there were a way to take out
what lies in you and mix it with what lies in her;
a curious magic that operates far beyond touch
while you both stand, calmly, before one another,
unmoving but for the shivers that ripple across
your naked skin, that could be mere coolness:
a night breeze slipping in from the balcony; or
some other sensation, growing, as yet unnamed.)


You might spend the day full-ensconced in your bed watching TV in nothing but knickers and vest dunking chocolate digestives in coffee kept hot in the vacuum flask that you stole when you were still in your teens. This is fine for the world beyond your world is too full of airheads demanding your participation in social engagements they only indulge in because it allows them to feel more connected to people as clueless as they are regarding their need to be seen taking part. Or you might spend all day outdoors, just walking, hands in pockets, while your shadow shrinks to meet you, creeps again outwards behind, to cover up the fallen leaves your restless feet have kicked aside. This too is good for you as you’ve been feeling very heavy, and you do not wish to give in to the weaknesses built up through lethargy, defeating dizziness by making sure your feet stay active, closer to the ground.

(The shelves may be lined with book after book
on the rules for proper living, written by men
who knew no more nor less than any other men;
while, outside the land is full of beasts, who,
being free, have no recourse to wrongfulness,
are free to fuck or rip each other limb from limb,
who look up with bloodied muzzle for the reproach
that never comes, nor even the shake of a head. But
man feels safe within the houses man alone has built;
can cast out other men who disagree with how
this house is run. And it is right to live this way.
Nonetheless, when the door stands open, be it
into frost or mud or sun-hot sands, and you
without your shoes stand on the doorstep looking out,
it is no less right to hitch up your skirts and go.)


It is only an arbitrary conduit towards theoretical recapitulation; don’t let yourself get so heated by things beyond your control. People will spit the word phony right in your eye. Even those who live far away, babbling incomprehensively, understand that a foolish man is a man who hankers after childlike ignorance. Don’t worry about the scales that blinker your sight, most will acknowledge you aren’t the one to blame. Let yourself listen to songs nobody seems to like but you. Learn it’s possible to walk on water; how birds see air as just another fluid to be swum through. Don’t broadcast the link; not this time and never again; don’t send another positive word into the maw.

(I am the most at risk from my own violence.
A chance remark from you and down I plunge.
I wish to mark my mistakes yet can’t come close
in case the poison bubbled up in me somehow
seeps into you. Simple household tools transform
into potential weaponry. If the fruit-knife finds
a skin not fit to bite so its point will turn inward.
I dare not release the pressure built up in my heart.
All I can do to hold myself back is to race on
ahead of my thoughts, there to sever the cord
that connects them to action, whilst trying ever
to repair the faulty link. Don’t risk your sensibility
in securing my comfort. You needn’t endure this.
I am not fit to know you, nor be friend to anyone.)


All arrows; no target. You hold your head up, stretch the sinew, shoot, because – what else can you do? It might make more sense to close yourself into the basement; to synchronise the beat behind your eyes against the chugging of the pipes. If there is no basement: try the stairs. You are so full of points you can no longer move outside yourself with any honesty. You’d be far better off relinquishing your scattergun approach, to fix your aim on one green apple in an orchard as vast as the sea, as multifarious as stars.

(You may hunt to survive, or for sport, or as
a lonely act of war, though your technique
remains the same for each; your soft footfall,
your muscles taut, intent to kill, your greed
for being the only one left standing, till
on pushing aside dry leaves you see her
bathing in a oil-black pool, overhung by rock,
and as you lift your gun to line its notches
on the scoop of skin between her shoulders
so she turns and sets her creamy almond eyes
against your blue; she has you now; you’re hers;
but she is gentle in her wild possession, lets you
watch her wade yet closer; lets you see
the dark rim of her long lips tightening;
only then are you able to put down your gun
and back off, forgetting her – letting her be.)


What gets called new blood is so often no more than the same old red paint, just thickened and darkened with age. You need to make more of an effort. Delays on the subway will always require you to question your mortality. Make it look like you’re checking your watch, and for God’s sake don’t cry – it won’t get you anywhere near where you wanted to go. Push your shoulders back until you can be certain on the tension and length of your spine. Don’t fall for the trap of investing emotions in other people’s transitory problems. Being mostly water, through and through, remember you know how it feels to be caressed.

(Take two small goats, one fine, one average.
Keep the one of better breeding pure. Allow it
cream instead of milk so that its coat is glossy,
full, so that its softened skin is without spot.
Bring it indoors on cold nights. Sing it to sleep.
Put the lesser beast to the hill; strengthen its gut
with coarse dry grass; let its hair grow tangled,
thick as thorn; fill its belly with young; prolong
its pain in removing its pre-weaned kids, so that
each day it aches to contain such presses of milk.
And then, at the perfect moment, kill the other:
the coddled, virginal, hand-reared animal; let it
live on in the bound spines of books; as gloves,
fine knitwear; in casseroles, pâté, hors d’oeurves.
Let its sibling continue unknowingly, just as before:
more kids, more milk, its small neat hoofprints
divergent, repeated, for ever and ever, where
change favours only the fortunate, not the most fit.)


The things we do to try and keep our children good: milk always fresh in the fridge, but you never do know what may turn a child bad. A trip to the play-park ends in the dismemberment of a hitherto favoured plush toy. A bowl of warm apple purée for dessert begs a fire in the toolshed not long after the rains. Some mornings: an orgy of dresses, slapped over the front lawn, brittled by frost. Sometimes your only recourse is to leave them be; if you don’t you’ll soon find yourself flooded with exhaustion, unable to retaliate, unable to move.

(All light poured in is stripped out by degrees. Red
is the first to go, along with its associated warmth:
the blood drained, thinned to wishy-washy pinks
and peaches, juiceless oranges. Then yellow
gives up quick – as was ever to be expected;
its plasmic aide to the living condition, held back,
so that green is forced out too, can no longer breath.
Most try to hold position at these easier earlier levels
though some will push on to dwell within blue, peering
over its border into an ever continuing gloom. Even in
the midst of all that nothingness survival is still
possible, so long as the bright beam of your lifeline
remains intact; though you’ll need to compress
all of your wits not to fade away into the black,
which sucks as sharply as it penetrates, which can’t
be reasoned with, doesn’t love you, only hurts.)


The rain comes down so fast one can forgive that inarticulate homesickness for anything-that-matters. As the seas rise think fondly of the whale, easing its bulk with the currents, blowing out hard before each breath new-held. The whale has no great aim, seeks no golden ticket, is as much a part of the stars as the dust it ingests. For weeks the whale is content to hang in a column of water, to press its face to the sheen of kept-out air, to fill its cold cathedral with lament. But here, if it rains for more than you can bare, you will be forgiven if you write in your diary: stretch me no longer across this rough and presupposing world.

(It’s like wearing yourself inside out, allowing
the world to flow over you, through you, to filter
the mica from the muck, to let that thickness
in which each small good dwells, pass right on
and out. Though it is important to move, to stir
the world-stuff in travelling through it; so that
what gets taken in is always fresh, is balanced
by what is given to gain it. With no movement
the stagnant home-space is soon exhausted
of anything worth having, yet still you go on
drawing in, to grow fat on mere stuff, such
a bloat you become unrecognisable, till in you
but a few grains of goodness remain, no more
than microscopic morsels, adrift in the gloop
that once was you, as your border dissolves,
as you join with all that other gloop, drift off,
to be filtered by a more deserving passer-by.)


JO says: “Having not given the idea of collaboration much thought, there was a certain amount of reluctance to take part in this; but Ryan is a guy it’s hard not to like. It was left to him to choose the subject we would use as a launch-pad for the work, and it wouldn’t be true to say I was in any way pleased with what he settled on; but it wasn’t my place to make a fuss, so I kept quiet. I had little idea of how it would all work so when his first bit of text came through I merely responded to it in a way I felt might be of some interest as companion piece. The parentheses seemed wholly natural to the tone being created. After that had been done, and sent back, I started to see how the full work may look; I started to get the shape of it. I liked it; liked what it could become. I don’t know what process Ryan used to come up with his half-sections; I feel he had the harder task: to think of something fresh each time. I merely needed to respond to whatever he came up with; trying not to think about the up-coming sign till his new block of text came through; and trying then to respond to it as quickly as I could – apart from on one occasion, where I became impatient, and a thought came to me before I had a chance to block it, and I sent my half-section to him first. I suspect I’m not such a good person to collaborate with. But I like Ryan no less now than before – and I like too the new work we’ve come up with; even if it is a bit on the short side, overall.

New Classic Poem in the SPL Reading Room!

June 19, 2009

lerwick500Edinburgh-raised, future middle-aged librarian Anna Gibson discusses Scottishness and Norman MacCaig’s poem “Aunt Julia”. Read her mind here.

“Farmers honour the ploughman poet” — A Plug

January 23, 2009


Read To a Mouse on the SPL Website

Click to read Burn's To a Mouse on the SPL Website


On Saturday the 24th, I’ll be with the Scottish Poetry Library for a little while at the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market. Always a great place to hang out on a sharp, winter morning.

Here’s the little blurb the Edinburgh Evening News gave us:

“PIPERS and poets will be attending the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market tomorrow to help celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. The market will be filled with the sound of the bagpipes, courtesy of two pipers from George Watson’s School. The Scottish Poetry Library will have a stall with free postcards featuring enduring Burns poems such as A Man’s a Man and a range of books on display for visitors to browse. Edinburgh’s reader in residence, Ryan Van Winkle, will also be on hand, helping visitors to find poems they may enjoy. Slow Food Edinburgh will play its part in the festivities, with a Slow Food Taste Tour focusing on haggis, neeps and tatties. Richard Darke, events manager for market organisers Essential Edinburgh, said: “We are looking forward to an atmospheric Farmers’ Market on Saturday with music, poetry and some fantastic home-grown produce.”

And since we’re celebrating ol’ Mr. Haggis-Lover  — I suggest you go and read my favorite Burns’ poem:  “To a Mouse On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.” Our friend Ishbel McFarlane wrote about the poem for the Scottish Poetry Library saying: “This poem is wildly self-obsessed and much darker than its popularity in the classroom would suggest. Its proposed subject-matter might be cutesie, but its message ends up being almost as bitter and hopeless as any Burns ever expresses.” Go and read the poem and the rest of Ishbel’s commentary here.

My Poetry Pod-Cast for The Scottish Poetry Library

January 18, 2009

It Starts Here:

Billy Liar on the Scottish Poetry Library Podcast

Billy Liar on the Scottish Poetry Library Podcast

My first poetry pod-cast is now available from the Scottish Poetry Library.

You’ll hear:

Ryan talking to songwriter Billy Liar about Stevenson, recommending books by Sam Meekings and Sharon Olds, and reading some Hart Crane.

Includes a performance of Billy Liar’s new single “It starts here” from his epic new ep and the spoken word track “Desert Night” with ambient wizardry from Dirk Markham who’s new album Psycho Acoustic Sculptures Vol. 4 is out now.

You can now download this podcast from I-Tunes! Click: Here.

An Old Photographer Gives Up

January 17, 2009

An Old Photographer Gives Up
Dear camera, today we are glaucoma.
Better now to use you in some other way:
    paint you for the suffering,
    walk you like a broke dog,
    give you to the Slav reporter.

I cannot hold you any closer, stand
to hear painters tease money from seaside faces:
    noose you around another neck,
    sink you with stones in your pocket,
    cut your lens deep, leave you in the tub.

We have seen so much black and white, have toned
and contrasted. I never thought it could get so dark.
    I would take you with me
    but I cannot see to shoot,

cannot wait till milk develops; half clear, half white,
cannot half-watch the while pass.

<originally published in November 2007 in V: An Anthology of International Writing From Edinburgh from Edinburgh University Press>