Poetry Express: Ash Winters + Run Riot

During a ninety-day stay at a Vancouver rehab centre, Ash Winters wrote a poem a day—a body of work that would later become their debut collection  Run Riot (Caitlin Press). In this vulnerable, powerful portrait of the struggle against addiction, Ash takes the reader through moments of determination, anger, hilarity, and heartbreak. Read on for our Q&A with Ash in which they tell us how frustration has been an unlikely source of inspiration, how their idea of poetry has changed over the years, and their hope that Run Riot become “a love letter to all those folks sitting in rehab cafeterias scribbling in journals not entirely sure what to do with themselves next.” Plus, read the poem “Day 44” from their collection, below.


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During the month of April, you can buy any of our featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada. Just use promo code NPMexpress at checkout. Or you can find it at your local independent bookstoreAll Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how it came to be?Ash Winters: I wrote Run Riot while I was in a rehab centre in Vancouver getting some much needed help with my addiction. I didn’t set out to write a collection of poetry while I was there but rather just kind of found myself most of the way through writing it when it occurred to me I might have something worth putting together. I had been scribbling down poems in my journal before arriving in treatment, for as long back as I can remember actually, but while in treatment it became a part of my routine. Every morning I would wake up early and go down to the cafeteria and have my coffee and write a few poems. This is a habit that I have kept up to this day. While in treatment I wrote about how I was feeling that day, what I was processing from my past, and about the other clients that I lived with. Run Riot is a memoir of a moment in my life that was both delicate and tumultuous. My hope for what it becomes is a love letter to all those folks sitting in rehab cafeterias scribbling in journals not entirely sure what to do with themselves next.           

Photo of Ash Winters (Credit: Andrew Rowat)

[Image Description: A front-facing close-up picture of the author that is cut off at their chest. They have dark blonde hair and blue eyes and are wearing a dark grey collared shirt. 

ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?AW: Frustration. I have found frustration to be a huge source of inspiration for humour in my writing. Coming across these relatively impossible situations in dealing with institutions, individual or myself even and turning my anger into levity. Pointing to the absurdity of the human condition in these moments offers a momentary escape from the power that our circumstance has over us. Creativity gives me an opportunity to laugh at something that other wise I don’t think I could. ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?AW: I think my idea of what poetry can do has really changed since I started writing poetry. When I started I really liked beauty, I wanted pretty words and pretty images. I thought that was the point of poetry to be attractive. Now for me poetry is more about peeling back the surface of the world and showing what is underneath. Which sometimes can be beautiful but it can also be hideous or hilarious or so sad it finally makes you understand something about yourself you didn’t want to but really needed to. Poetry for me has become something that can bring truth into the world, sometimes even clarity. ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?AW: I am in a very Canadian poetry mood these days. I devoured Billy-Ray Bellcourt’s A History of my Brief Body and have been waiting for a rainy day to go back for a second reading. Jillian Christmas’s The Gospel of Breaking is another book I just finished that was really brilliant. Both of these queer poets take my breath away with their ability to bring the raw emotion of the moment to centre stage. Cicely Belle Blain’s Burning Sugar is another recent read that makes me want to write poetry that stirs as much emotion and thought as Blain does in her stories.ALU: Describe your idea of escape. AW: What an interesting question to ask an addict. I have spent large swaths of my life in a perpetual attempt at escape. Escaping painful memories, escaping bullies, escaping the uncomfortableness of my socio-economic situation, escaping any intense emotions. What I find most interesting about looking at the idea of escape now is how much of escape was dependent on what I was escaping from. The idea of escape simply didn’t exist in my life without the unwanted place I was escaping from. These days I am having a whole different experience of escaping to something. It is a very different mode of travel that is for sure. I care so much more where I end up and how I ended up there now that I see escape as an adventure not a necessity. 

A poem from Run Riot

Day 44Triage
The morning cafeteria light is perfect
just like a hospital
The chair is exactly where I
sagging into its stiff uncomfortable
need to be
A place where a hundred thousand dollar
insurance bill is small news
to pending cancer
and an amputated leg that is very much final
if not fully healed
Fourth party reeling with memories of her mother
something I know well
something I hope she gets away from somehow
Because I wish that for myself
to never again wake up from her screaming in my face
for our fourth to never again see herself reflected
one hundred times back at herself
in her mother’s insect eyes

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Ash Winters is an emerging Toronto-based poet. Queer and sober, their work navigates the intersections of addiction, identity and trauma. Growing up queer in small town Ontario gave Winters a chance to develop a lavish sense of humour and a deep respect for empathy, both of which come through in their work. They graduated with their BA in English from Lakehead University in 2010. Their poetry has recently appeared in Existere and Open Minds QuarterlyRun Riot is their first book of poetry.  

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During the month of April, you can buy Run Riot and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code NPMexpress. Or find them at your local independent bookstore! Keep up with us all month on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryExpress.  
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