The Good Dark by Ryan Van Winkle
There are certain buttons a writer can push for any individual reader that initiate a simple, powerful 'yes to this' response and pretty much destroy the potential for anything approaching objectivity. The moment Ryan Van Winkle began a poem with a lyric from The Decemberists, this reviewer was pretty much gone.
The Portland folk-rock group actually make an ideal touchstone for understanding Van Winkle's latest collection, The Good Dark. Imagery of woodland scenes and drifting snow, red berries and the sound of the sea hark back nostalgically to a simpler time, softly recalling lost childhoods and past loves. Though the images draw on a time gone by, the focus is still very much on the now – on love and life in the modern world. This harmonising of the old and the new, the classically romantic and the intensely modern, is characteristic of both The Decemberists’ music and Van Winkle's verses, and he extends it to the works he references within his own – heading his poems with quotations from an eclectic panoply of sources ranging from Abraham Lincoln to David Lynch to Snoopy.
The Good Dark feels like poetry written in the quiet time a little after a heartbreak; a time for sitting still and calm contemplation. It moves between stabbing pain, deep melancholy and cautious optimism, always with the same gentle touch.