Below are some of the reviews of my first collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here. Where possible, I’ve left links to the full reviews though, sadly, some of these publications are now defunct.
From Siobhan Harvey in Poetry New Zealand – March 2012
‘Poems in the book unite tender evocations of relationships with literary and academic notions of displacement. Always, there’s a ‘searching’ — for love, belonging, understanding — embedded in Van Winkle’s work which challenges the reader’s expectations….Tomorrow, We Will Live Here is a rich symbol of contemporary UK poetry.’
From Scots Whay Hae – 26 September 2011
‘this collection is an evocative, sensual, and at times cinematic journey through place and past.’ read more here.
‘This is not a book for the faint-hearted. But neither ought it to be. Heaney has said there are two types of poem: one gives you the rosy glow of recognition, the other disorientates, annuls your set coordinates. Van Winkle’s poetry wears the garb of the former, but belongs in the latter category. He is not formally or stylistically experimental – while the poems are rarely in fixed forms, neither are they ‘avant-garde’ in the sense of being materially fragmented. They are, however, subversive, in that they tread where others fear to, and force the reader to admit complicity. It is not that the work inhabits ‘unfamiliar’ territory. Rather, it wallows in the dark and disregarded areas with which we strive to keep a silent truce.
‘The Day He Went to War’, which manages,in eight lines, to capture an entire zeitgeist in relation to conflict. It does so,furthermore, with a touch that is dangerously light, resonant beyond mere poignancy, and profoundly, disturbingly accurate in its depiction of the place of war in contemporary society (no village gathering sending the boys off here; no torrent, but an endless, invisible trickle). This poem – it can not be stated enough – is a huge risk: it breaks all the rules of engagement; it whole sale revises what a war poem can and ought to be in cultures where conflict is an industry, not an event. As with the rest of the poems, you may not like what it has to say. But that’s its greatest recommendation: we don’t live in an age when poetry should warm your heart.’ … read more here
From Willy Maley in the Edinburgh Review 133 – September 2011
“The opening piece by Ryan Van Winkle is no ripping yarn but a tripping verse. Those who concur with Tom Leonard’s barb about prose limping while poets leap will be pleased to hear that this is one of the strongest entrants: ‘Door, I have knocked, pushed/ licked and, for a year, stroked/your veins smooth as varnish’. This poem, with its wink at John Donne’sbesieged beseeching in Holy Sonnet XIV – ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you/ As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend’ – is theperfect welcome mat for the reader in the wake of Glass’s chatty intro. And the stories – poetic prejudices aside – don’t disappoint.”
From Isabel Galleymore at Eyewear – 11 June, 2011
John Glenday is right to link Van Winkle’s poems to paintings of Edward Hopper’s, and it is possible to extend this comparison to the voyeurism inherent to Hitchcock’s Rear Window (a poem such as ‘The Apartment’ makes this clear just from its form on the page). Yet Van Winkle’s insight into natural, cultural and social processes finds him surprisingly comparable to writers such as Barry Lopez and A. R. Ammons when he describes, at the end of ‘Retrieving the Dead’, how one should ‘lift the soldiers up, try not to breathe till they’re tossed/into our trenches of tea bags, messed diapers, spare parts.’ Indeed, Van Winkle’s poems are not static portraits of men and women framed in windows or doorways, but poems with characters that move within their environments and which, with their histories, move the reader. — read more
From Stuart B. Campbell at Northwords Now
… these poems are an investigation of the poet’s identity, they avoid the rambling stream-of-consciousness monologues that are as easy to call poetry as they are to write. Van Winkle’s verse is largely presented in controlled regular stanzas, which contain some very subtle internal rhyme or auditory echoes. The formality of the writing sharpens the intimacy of the subject and focuses his invigorating vocabulary. Whether or not Van Winkle’s use of language is a consequence of his American culture or his conscious deliberation (not that these can be separated entirely) is irrelevant; what we are given is a poetic voice that is as distinct as it is distinctive. There is a refreshing use of language in lines like “one note was a leather whip in a field / of daisies” (‘Bluegrass’), which feel as if they are drawn from an altogether different cultural well. In ‘The Grave-tender’ he describes “her skin sagging like a lost kite […] dangling thin from her body”. Van Winkle uses combinations of words and images which conjure up impressions which have the dual quality of being a little bit familiar and foreign – and consequently something new is experienced by the reader. … read more
From The Glasgow Review
I like this collection very much; I found myself reading each line slowly and deliberatively, each sentence an encapsulation of still, plodding, suburban air. At times Van Winkle is tentative and at others more spontaneous and brassy but whatever their differences each poem captured an inimitable particle of Americana with real insight and artistic restraint. Considering the building popularity for a plain speech kind of poetry this collection seems to be at the forefront of a shift to something new, it is on the way to a perfection of some new movement, aware at all times that no speech is truly plain for the poet who wants to do a good job. — read more
From Gutter Magazine Issue 4 – Spring 2011
The debut collection by the Scottish Poetry Library’s American-born Reader in Residence is nothing short of excellent. There is a small-town, downtrodden, careworn feel but as Van Winkle bumps the reader along the back roads of country America – and Scotland – his urgent narrative voices rapidly dispel any air of despondency. These are compelling, self-assured, driven poems that shine a longing, elegaic laser beam at their subjects.
Like a Bill Callahan lyric, the poems tackle the grave stuff of human existence – love, loss, lust, religion, dislocation (spiritual and topographical), guilt – with a tenderly sardonic, noir-ish humour. Subjects from road kill, a fat boy, through a pastor’s son, deceitful lovers on September 11th, to the rain-soaked wishes of a condemned man are each addresssed by narrators who are edgy, uncomfortable and acutely aware of their failings.
It is hard to determine exactly how Van Winkle’s poems do their work, but they burrow into the reader’s skin like a mite to leave a persistent itch in the memory. The language is clean: WC Williams’ ‘plain American that cats and dogs can read’, but with syntax that is at times polysyndetic and mesmerising: as if a character out of Faulker, Twain or Cormac McCarthy has stepped off the page to charm, disarm and then shock the reader.
Three poems particularly stand out. ‘The First Time I Touched Her’ is a coarse love lyric narrated with tenderness (‘My wife is a purple scent / the whole table can see’) by a man unaccustomed to fine living: ‘Never am I a man / who hasn’t tinned, deboned. / Sometimes I rough perfume into my palms.’
‘They Tore The Bridge Down a Year Later’ is an affecting depiction of a murdered child in Southern Gothic style ‘I found her in a blue dress /…/ with ropes around her wrists, / her neck, her ankles. / It’s how we would tie a hog, / when there was money for that type of thing’, by a father who laments the bridge’s replacement: ‘Nowadays I don’t pass the creek much. / There is no reason to walk my quiet boy / across metal into Louisiana. / If the bridge I knew still stood / maybe I could bring him down, / … Tell him / his father wants to pass the time. / … / But the bridge is not there anymore.’
‘Ode for a Rain from Death Row’ references Kenny Ritchie’s wish to be soaked by Scottish rain before he dies: ‘The rain is a cold, clean prayer, / the only light I want to see /…/ The priest only offers a glass / where my throat wants a holy rain that pours in sheets and hoods and lasts for forty days, / till it floods and floats my sins away.’
The collection closes with three poignant poems that evoke the wanderer’s eternal dilemma of displacement: ‘Also, it is Lambing Season’ places the foreign narrator in a Scottish landscape, hemmed in by ewes protecting their offspring, ‘And I wanted to put my hands and knees into the mud, / … / be a lamb again. Easter was coming. / I was not in the country of my birth. Shadows / were all around me. My mother’s milk was sepia.’; ‘Unfinished Rooms’, builds on earlier themes of Heimweh laid down in ‘The Apartment’ (source of the collection’s title).
The final poem ‘And Table, You are Made of Wood’, ends with a resonant couplet that underpins all the quiet revelations contained in the preceding pages: ‘I too have been cut, had my meaning moved / far from where I thought it was.’ This is a rich, incandescent book to keep at your bedside for dark winter nights.
‘Equally impressive is ‘Tomorrow, We Will Live Here‘ by Ryan Van Winkle. The American poet is Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library and this debut collection of poems demonstrates a mature and already accomplished style, as the writer creates a brooding and melancholic atmosphere throughout. Casting a perceptive light on the downhearted and disaffected corners of his native America, Van Winkle writes with clarity and resonance, as well as having a noir-ish eye for the darkness beneath the surface.’ Doug Johnstone — Author of Smokeheads and Tombstoning.
‘One of Ryan’s strengths is that (all aboard the jargon express) where his grammatical syntax is simple, his syntax of imagery is allusive, instinctive and complex. The first section is a delightfully f’d-up piece about pubescent sexual deviance that captures a simultaneous feeling of decay and blossoming, something wholesomely clandestine, ‘I was so happy, I took it all; her arms sweating / like horses. My father and sister never knew / but in that house noise always dried like palm.’ Placing this story beside the subsequent evidence of his father’s sexual waywardness puts both in a light that could not have been achieved otherwise.’ …. read more