“And back around the time of the OJ Simpson trial, I sold knives door-to-door” – interview with Ryan Van Winkle

Interview by Will Barrett


Ryan Van Winkle is a poet, performer and podcaster, with his hands and legs stuffed in various interesting pies. Ryan has a new book out, The Good Dark, and to help promote the release Ryan has set upon himself the task of completing a “virtual book tour”, essentially a marathon series of back-to-back interviews with lots of different websites. This interview was meant to happen in May, but after some re-scheduling I’m very happy to welcome Ryan to Sabotage Reviews for what will now be the final leg of his virtual tour.

Why do you write?

Ryan: To clear my head. To help me sleep. To comfort, to apologise.


What do you like about your new book, The Good Dark?

Ryan: I like that it still feels honest to me when I re-read it. I like the fact that I finished something. I like the cover.


What have you done to earn money?

Ryan: I’ve worked in kitchens, washed dishes, I’ve cleaned toilets (badly), looked after kids with mental health issues, done a medical trial. And back around the time of the OJ Simpson trial, I sold knives door-to-door.


Does poetry help you or waste your time?

Ryan: Both. It helps me waste my time in a manner that I can justify.


Are zoos cruel?

Ryan: There’s Sea World which is evil and then there’s zoos which (I’m sure) have far better and more ethical practices. However, the last zoo I went to was particularly bad. The bears were slovenly, the lions were emaciated, nobody and nothing looked happy. Even the ice-cream cones seemed sad.


Do you think you’re a good person?

Ryan: I couldn’t say. I try. I hope other people think I am. Personally, however, I feel I curse too much and am too insecure to be a good person.


Is there any point to Facebook?

Ryan: Well, it is comforting to know where people are at without having to actually talk to them. Facebook, to me, is like a high school hallway. You get information about people who you don’t really interact with through a bizarre kind of osmosis.

Also, I like sharing pictures. I used to make doubles and triples of all my negatives and post them to friends. Facebook isn’t as nice as getting those things through the mail, but it is a lot cheaper and less work for me.


Should we trust politicians?

Ryan: I don’t. They are like shitty poets — you’re always having to read between the lines with the hope that your interpretation of their vagaries are the interpretations they will govern by. The language of politicians is frustrating because they really resist saying anything actually meaningful or honest, lest they have to actually stand by it.


Can violence ever be justified?

Ryan: Sure, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to justify it.


Is it worse to fail at something or never attempt it in the first place?

Ryan: I’d rather regret something I’ve done than something I’ve never done. Trying and failing – most the time – is pretty safe. I mean, I wouldn’t try to jump six trucks on a motorbike but, otherwise, I’m game.


If you could choose just one thing to make different about yourself, what would it be?

Ryan: I’d like to be less lazy. I’d like to be more organized, schedule time to exercise, put all my receipts and warranties in a place where I can find them, that kind of stuff. I feel like the business of being an adult doesn’t suit my ‘things take care of themselves’ philosophy. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m paying too much for broadband.


If you could be happier not writing poems, would you stop?

Ryan: Yes. I’m with  Bukowski when he says:

you have to wait for it to roar out of

you, then wait patiently. if it never does roar out of you, do
something else.’


Can people change?

Ryan: They have to.


How do you feel about children?

Ryan: Fun to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.


Where do you sit on the creativity-insanity scale?

Ryan: I’m afraid of scales.


Do you have a favourite memory?

Ryan: Snow days.


Where should I go on holiday?

Ryan: Anywhere but Switzerland.


How should you handle the end of a friendship?

Ryan: As quietly as possible.


Is there a purpose to guilt?

Ryan: Comedy.


How full is the glass?

Ryan: Doesn’t matter — refills are free.


Who is your ideal celebrity neighbour?

Ryan: Tom Waits. We’d never speak to each other.


What advice would you give to a just-born infant, entering this life for the very first time?

Ryan: Goo-goo, ga-ga. And sorry.