John VanRyan is a Coventry-based poet and musician who describes himself as “appearing on the poet’s podium out of nowhere”. He spent 20 years as a singer/sax player, but that part of his life was unfortunately curtailed by a stroke. Following recovery, VanRyan needed an outlet for his creative mojo, and says writing seemed a natural progression. He has since become a regular performance poet at not only his “spiritual home” Fire&Dust, but also Pure&Good&Right in Kenilworth and ScriptStuff in Leamington; in December 2021, he was named ScriptStuff Poet of the Month. VanRyan’s style is eclectic and tackles a variety of subjects that inspire him – sometimes melancholy, often featuring observational humour, but always with lots of personality and depth. He is hoping to publish a poetry collection and a modern faery-tale in the near future.

On 6th January 2022, VanRyan was the special guest at our Fire&Dust poetry night, for the first-ever gig in new venue Café Morso. As a loyal regular who has developed into a much-loved part of the local poetry community over the past few years, VanRyan was the top choice to start us off in our new home. We caught up with him after the gig, to ask a few questions…



HCE: Tell us about the transition you’ve had to make from music to poetry. What in particular drew you to poetry for your creative outlet?

JVR: There wasn’t really a transition, I have been writing poetry on and off since I was about sixteen – one, maybe two, poems per year. I just never took it serious. Then I taught myself to play sax, and my creativity was covered another way. I then took to writing songs. I always felt that music and lyrics should be good enough to stand alone. I became a full-time musician for over twenty years until my stroke took it all away. It wasn’t till I heard about Fire & Dust, that I realised I could write and have an actual outlet for it.



HCE: Would you say there are recurring themes or motifs in your work?

JVR: A lot of my poetry is about myself in round about ways; even the humorous stuff has history to it, as with ‘Jumpers for Monkeys’ for instance: childhood memories embellished and exaggerated. Or just subjects that I find interesting and questionable. That stir my imagination.




HCE: You write quite a lot of biographical poetry about your family and personal life. Is this quite difficult to do when the memories are painful, or do you find it helpful to express and share those emotions?

JVR: I find the personal stuff cathartic and feel it helps to get it out, and drag it into the light so to speak. I don’t find it hard to bare my soul in public, this just makes me appear more human, as with losing my wife of thirty-eight years in 2021: I do what I do best and write about it. This has helped with the healing process. I refer back to them often and console myself that my feelings are covered for that subject.




HCE: Female voices often feature in your writing, and you tend to collaborate with women poets when it comes to the performance of those poems. Can you talk to us about what influenced this quite rare and interesting choice?

JVR: This was purely by chance. The first time I was approached, and the second time it was pure fate, being thrown together in a poetry workshop. Having two people to write for gives me more scope.

Having five sisters, you would expect me to have all the confidence in the world with women, but I am quite shy. I believe women are, in fact, superior to men and have written so in my poem ‘Mother Goddess’. So, if I can find a way to prove I am worthy of their time with my writing, new friendships are made.



HCE: Talk us through your writing process. How do you ‘translate’ into poems the life experiences that inspire you?

JVR: It is usually a scribble process; I make notes of all I want to say and try to find a format that suits it, then I work it into the chosen style. Sometimes it can take a turn and end up completely different, and I will go with it or I will pull it back. I use the laptop a lot earlier than I used to – it saves on paper, and it can be swapped around a lot easier.




HCE: Who is your work aimed at – do you have an ideal audience in mind when you’re putting a poem together?

JVR: I write for myself mainly and hope that what I have to say will interest the public, even the humorous stuff. If I like it, I think they will.




HCE: From your very first time on the mic at Fire & Dust, you struck us as a confident performer and stage presence. Any tips for beginners on how to shake off the nerves and be more engaging on the mic?

JVR: That just comes from twenty plus years as a musician – as a solo act, you are pretty well exposed up there. So, be loud, clear and confident. We will not know if you have made a mistake, so plough on. I still get a bit nervous at times, so fake it till you make it.



HCE: What do you believe is the main function of poetry? And what type of poetry is your preference for personal enjoyment?

JVR: To inspire other people to pick up the pen, and try. Don’t try to rhyme everything; I had to look up prose, and realised I was already doing it. The ideal performer for me would be Leonard Cohen for music and poetry. I love Rudyard Kipling too. Charles Buwkowski – love that observational approach. I have always been a people watcher and a listener, best subject in the world. Performance poetry for me is my favourite.




HCE: What, in your opinion, is/are the essential ingredient(s) for a good poetry gig?

JVR: Variety!




HCE: You mentioned during the gig that you were born “in the caul”. So, we have to ask, in accordance with the myths: have you always felt destined for great things…and do you have ‘the Shining’?

JVR: My mother was always talking about it, so kind of made me feel a bit special. I am one of those people you can’t pigeonhole. I was born on the cusp of Leo Virgo; I am the rarest personality type (an INFJ); I don’t have and never have had many friends; and I can be equally as extroverted as I am introvert. The social chameleon, they call it.

Not so sure of the Shining. 😁



HCE: What’s next on the horizon for you, all being well in 2022? Where do you plan to take your writing?

JVR: I want to publish an anthology of poetry, and have a couple of short stories I would like to get out there. Plus keep performing.




HCE: What’s the best way for people to keep connected with you and your work, or contact you for bookings?

JVR: Through Facebook or my email address: Johnvanryan58 @ gmail dot com



HCE: Is there anything we didn’t cover that you’d like to share with our readers?

JVR: FIRE & DUST changed my life. Having that outlet has made a new man of me and given me back the confidence I lost.