The poet, 35, has created an intense one-on-one poetry experience
Van Winkle can't be his real name. It is. I triple-checked. The American poet is based in Edinburgh and his first collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, won the 2009 Crashaw Prize. His latest piece, Red, Like Our Room Used to Feel, won rave reviews at last year's Edinburgh Festival and was called a "landmark in poetry performance".
How does it work? Van Winkle reads his poetry in A Room for London – that little boat above the Southbank Centre. Each 15-minute session takes place with one audience member at a time, and there's free port or tea and biscuits and the chance to look at the objects around the room and realise how they relate to the poetry. "I like to think it's like the end of The Usual Suspects – people go: 'So that's the ashtray' or 'Wait, the sand! I get it!'"
So you go into the room and it's just you and him and he reads you haunting poems? That sounds very intense. It is. "A lot of people have cried. Which was surprising, but ultimately gratifying," says Van Winkle.
And what are the poems about? Oh, love and loss, like all the best poetry. Van Winkle wrote this breathtaking piece when he and his wife separated. "One of the last things she said to me was: 'Why don't you read to me any more?' and it really stuck with me."
He says: "People look at poetry the way they look at jazz or opera or ballet. It's perceived as really challenging, but there's no need to be afraid."
We say: An intimate, emotional experience guaranteed to win over even the most poetry-phobic.
Red, Like Our Room Used to Feel takes place in A Room For London on the roof of Southbank's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 31 May and 1 June. For details, visit southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/red-like-our-room-used-to-feel-73668