Tag Archives: Crashaw Prize winners

Tomorrow, We Will Live Here

Ryan Van Winkle © Ericka Duffy

Ryan Van Winkle is Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library. He runs a monthly “Literary Cabaret” called The Golden Hour and is an Editor at Forest Publications. He lives in Edinburgh but was born and spent most of his life in America. His work has appeared in New Writing Scotland, The American Poetry Review, AGNI, Northwords Now and The Oxford Poets series. He has won Salt’s Crashaw Prize and been shortlisted for the Bridport and Ver Poetry Prizes.

“This is a terse, tough début by an award-winning American poet with punch in the language. What you find here is the grist of life – death, love, sex, departure – honed by a voice obsessed with the gravity, fear and the humour of being human. Van Winkle’s understated, plain spoken narrators are as diverse as the America they live in – the lonely night nurse, the conflicted son of a preacher, and the cross-country runner – are all ill at ease in the world. Through road kill, September 11th, and death row they address their own bitter faults with noir-like melancholy, seeking redemption and absolution.”
“This luminous collection begins with the workings of the author’s ghost and ends on a bar stool contemplation of days lived and quietly lost. In between is all the richness and wonder of things.”
– John Glenday
“RVW’s poems are rooted in the detail of daily lives and personal histories, yet their richly sensual physical reality is like ice, glittering beautifully over a void. His speakers are distinctly ill at ease in the world, questioning the sense of it all in voices that combine an elegiac tone with off-beat humour. VW’s first collection marks him as a confident and compelling new voice.”

– Jane Griffiths
“There is a bracing tension at the heart of Ryan Van Winkle’s first full collection, Tomorrow, We will Live Here. On the one hand, there are often ironic and self-aware poems whose focus is on geographical and personal fluidity – born in the USA (a Springsteen fan!), Van Winkle now lives in Edinburgh – and, on the other, those which explore, in a number of first person narratives, those whose lives are determined by inheritance and circumstance in the land he has left behind. In poems, like ‘They Tore the Bridge Down a Year Later’ (about a childhood rape) and ‘Everybody Always Talking About Jesus’, speakers recount memories that haunt them, as they seek forgetfulness or redemption. The filmic clarity of Van Winkle’s narrative shows they will be granted neither. These are thrilling poems in a confident and rich collection.”
– Tom Pow
“The experience of exile haunts these poems, as speakers reach helplessly towards forever-lost pasts and glimpsed, impossible futures. The wide and empty landscapes of America are stalked by ghosts and silences, suicides and roadkill. Words go unsaid; the old family life is unreachable because “They do not know the time in my zone”. Even death is ambivalent: is it a longed-for escape, or yet another numbing failure of intimacy?
Ryan Van Winkle’s back-country lyricism is tinged with cross-cultural influences – the beat-up resignation of Springsteen’s smalltown USA, the teabags and toast of bedsit Britain – that come together in a distinctive and harmonious poetry of distance and loss.”

– Kona Macphee
My 100-Year-Old Ghost
sits up with me when the power cuts,
tells about the trout at Unkee’s Lake,
the wood house burned on the hill.
He says he was intimate with every
leaf of grass. Wore one hat
for Griswold, another for his own field,
the possiblities of the century laid out;
an endless string of fishing pools. But
they never got ahead of my ghost—
he took them like cows, one at a time,
never lusted for the color of trout
in a pool a mile away.
He knew from the smoke in the sky
Mrs. Johnson was starting supper, and, in March,
when the candles appeared,
he knew Bobby’s boy had died.
My ghost only ever had one bar
where the keeper didn’t water his drinks,
nor did he feel the need to hide his moth cap,
his potato clothes, or scrub himself birth pink.
My ghost tells me there was a time you’d look out
and not find a Dairy Queen. You could sit
on your porch a whole life and never think
about China. Sometimes I see my ghost
bringing cut sunflowers to his wife
and it seems so simple.
Then, sometimes, it is dark,
he’s just in from work and Griswold says
they ain’t going to raise his pay. And even back then
the power went out, long nights when they had no kerosene.
And my ghost tries to sell me on simpler times:
the grass soft, endless—
lampless nights,
pools of crickets singing.
Under Hotel Sheets
And the mother with scarlet baby biting
her breast, and the trucker with the bullet whore, crying
though he’d like to do more. And the newlyweds
too poor to go too far—but still he brings crimson,
and the nurse escapes, blots her mascara
on paper sheets which dry an ink spill,
and the farmer sweats the night
and goes back to grass the next day,
and the male too scared to shit,
waits for the balloons to break.
And only yesterday I was told
of my grandmother below hospice sheets,
and there’s angel dust in skeletal lamp light,
brown, moth-size burns left on the shade.
And someone looked out this window,
and someone spilled wine for the floor
and you have to tell yourself without fear
where this goes, and what we leave,
what remains whenever
we are a little bit gone. And how many
others have had this bed and done
what I’ve done—come in a hand
beneath whispering sheets,
wiped their ghosts on white before sleep?
She is a god of knots.
His socks are Spanish Bows
and in the night the doors
are secured with a tight Sheep Shank,
china cups hang on Artillery Loops
and she twists her own hair
when she worries, pulls it
over and around and then through
and around again until it hangs
in a Jury Mast and some nights,
when the door is tight, she gets him
in a Carrick Bend and whispers
about the old Bill Hitch
and all the time he hopes
she’s tied herself up
enough to stay the storm.
Necessary Astronomy
We had one of those
conversations like necessary
astronomy which your mind
must get back to
again and again to tell you something
about who you are and how you exist.
In your mind
maybe you are Paul Newman eating eggs,
maybe you are Orion tightening his belt,
maybe we are,
all of us, still 23 and drinking
as if we were stars who could drink
and not burn
out what was between us.
And it is important that we never fuck;
not on that night
or ever and after, anyway, we
lost touch, but that night was something
that I come back to
like a constellation an uncle showed me
and if you die
before me, Erin, I will not go to your funeral
and try to make
my mouth give everyone that image of you
in December,
our heads touching, your cuts
like all the skies we loved, opening
and closing and opening
again, echoes of necessary people chatting,
organizing lights
inside a darkness that grows and disperses
in the sky outside.
Ode for a Rain from Death Row
The rain is a cold, clean prayer,
the only light I want to see.
I say it still rains on her
like it rains on the bars and streets
somewhere outside the walls.
And in the rain, she is always twenty,
her shoes always candy-red Converse,
her jeans always damped to her thighs,
her mouth never parted from mine.
She hasn’t pressed her lips to glass
since the fire; the ashes are back to ashes, the dust
follows dust, the spring rain powders her arms
and evaporates in the stare of the sun.
And this rain is the only light I want to see.
A mist that kisses till my socks are sponge,
till the fire fizzles and baby is back again
cooing with hot-chocolate-warm hands.
Before I die I want to stand outside,
birth-naked, let the Lord soak me.
But options and pardons are gone.
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.
from Tomorrow, We Will Live Here (Salt Publishing, 2010).
Order Tomorrow, We Will Live Here.
Visit Ryan’s website.

An interview with Tom Chivers

Tom Chivers was born in 1983. A writer, editor and promoter, he is Director of live literature organisation Penned in the Margins, Co-Director of London Word Festival and Associate Editor of international journal Tears in the Fence. In 2008 he was the first ever Poet in Residence at The Bishopsgate Institute, London. In September 2009 BBC Radio 4 broadcast his documentary about the poet Barry MacSweeney.
His first collection, How To Build A City, was published by Salt in 2009. A sequence of poems, The Terrors, has appeared as a limited edition chapbook from Nine Arches Press, described by Iain Sinclair as ‘dark London history, dredged and interrogated’.
Tom, what did you enjoy about studying Medieval English Literature at Oxford?
Grappling with medieval literature at university was an extraordinary privilege, but a slog too. I had to learn Old English (Anglo-Saxon) from scratch and even some of the Middle English dialects are pretty demanding. Beowulf, Pearl, Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, most of Chaucer and countless other texts have really nourished my love of language, of eccentricity, humour and the exotic. My final year dissertation was entitled ‘Literary Practice in Late Medieval London’ and certainly extended the depth of my knowledge of and interest in London history. My thesis proposed that the socio-political conditions of the city at that time (1350-1500) created a peculiarly heightened sense of textual anxiety. I think we’re going through something similar now, with the internet, blogging, e-books and the rest.
Salt recently published your Crashaw Prize-winning collection, How To Build A City. How did you decide upon the title?
How To Build A City is the title of the longest piece in the book, a prose narrative I sometimes refer to as a kind of failed travelogue to the East End. Initially it appeared as an A3 poster pull-out in the underground literary magazine The Edgeless Shape – if I remember correctly, one of the editors, Caleb Klaces, came up with the title during a conversation at his kitchen table!
The volume is divided into two parts.  How did you order the poems?
With difficulty. I knew I wanted the title piece in the middle, the sequence of fragments ‘Thom, C & I’ at the end, and some short poems at the beginning. The rest just fell into place during the editing process. The first part of the book focuses on the city; the second part is more of a miscellany, with poems set in Israel, Nepal and the Peak District.
Tell me about your relationship with London and, in particular, the East End?
I was born and raised in South London but have lived in the East End for the past five years. I identify with the city very strongly. I suppose it’s a kind of pride, but not a static, smug sense of belonging but a flawed, fluid impulse to describe the urban environment. Or rather, to evoke and work-out my subjective relationship with that environment. I don’t believe in a poetry that speaks truths or captures a knowable ‘reality’. I am suspicious of those who do. I admire the Futurists, the way they engaged with the speed and ruthless modernity of urbanism. I don’t care much for their decline into low-level Fascism, however.
When I first moved to the East End I felt as if I had betrayed my roots south of the river. I know that sounds pompous, but hey … It’s a very strange area. It’s a terminus zone for journeys of exile: French Huguenots, Russian Jews, Bengalis, Somalis. I live on a historic street market, reputedly where cockney rhyming slang was invented. That might sound romantic and sometimes it is, but usually it’s just very loud. I don’t get much sleep.
Which local East End haunts would you recommend to a first-time visitor?
The whole area around Spitalfields is fascinating, although I would recommend avoiding the rather mawkish Jack the Ripper tours. The tiny alleys off Middlesex Street are worth hunting down, as well as the grand Georgian houses on Fournier, Princelet and Wilkes Streets. Further south, near the Tower of London, is one of the most beautiful and undiscovered buildings in the city: Wilton’s Music Hall. So much of the East End, particularly around the Docks, was destroyed during the Blitz, so it’s a blessing this crumbling gem is still here.
Can you briefly describe your chapbook, The Terrors?
The Terrors is a sequence of ‘imagined emails’ written to inmates at London’s notorious Newgate Prison between 1700 and 1740. Still with me? Good. The poems steal from various sources including The Newgate Calendar, a popular anthology of prison tales which combines celebrity, voyeurism and moral snobbery with shameless gore. I’ve incorporated some of the tone and language of the original, as well as oblique references to modern places of terror, such as Abu Ghraib and the Big Brother house.
As director of Penned in the Margins, you promote live literature in the city. Is the spoken word scene thriving in London?
Yes, thriving and surviving! The last five or six years has seen a genuine revival in interest in spoken word, and a lot of energy has been generated by independent promoters. The extent to which that revival will extend beyond transitory media attention and occasional culture industry buy-in is yet to be decided. But I am personally excited about what is being written, read and performed. I see my role as an instigator of activity and nurturer of talent. I’m in it for the long haul.
Penned in the Margins has also published anthologies, Generation Txt and City State: The New London Poetry, as well as full collections by David Caddy, Tamsin Kendrick, Ross Sutherland, Stephanie Leal and Sarah Hesketh.  Does conflict exist between your work as an editor and your own writing?  How compatible are the two?
That’s a probing question indeed. Speaking frankly, there are some ways in which my work as an editor/promoter has actually stymied my own creativity. But now I’ve had my first collection published, I feel more justified in carving out time to write. In general I’m concerned with drawing a distinct line between my professional work and my writing, but that line is often blurrier than I’d like. I’m lucky enough to work with writers who inspire and influence me – Iain Sinclair, Ross Sutherland, James Wilkes, et al. Being a poet also helps me edit other people’s work as I hope to bring sensitivity and attention to language to the process.
Would you name a few of your favourite poetry collections? Why are they important to you?
The Book of Demons by Barry MacSweeney for its passion, dark comedy and jagged edge. Seamus Heaney’s North for the visceral language and for risk. The wildly musical poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins have been an inspiration (as well as Alice Oswald, whose first two books channel that music brilliantly); I connect with the humour of Ashbery and the controlled energy of the New York poets, as well as the relentless innovation of Allen Fisher, Geraldine Monk, and others. Of more recent volumes, D.S. Marriott’s Hoodoo Voodoo takes some beating for its haunting evocation of the Afro-Diaspora experience. I think Chris McCabe is mining some important veins too.
Thank you for your time, Tom.
Read more about Tom and How To Build A City here.
Follow Tom’s blog, this is yogic.
Read more from Tom at the Londonist and Gists and Piths. Tomorrow, he’ll stop by Baroque in Hackney and on Friday he’ll visit Mercy Recommends.