About a year and a half ago, I was on Instagram. It had been one of those nerve-wracking days and I wanted to go on a pointless journey through the wide world of social media. But what I came across that evening wasn’t pointless at all. It was a few words that resonated deeply with me. I just wanted to sink into those words for a moment and found myself on my bed hours later with a Pinot Grigio in my hand. This senseless thing ended up being the most meaningful thing I’ve done in a long time. I’m not sure what it was or why his words hit me so hard. But there was something in his words that was so vulnerable, meek and smoky that I felt like he was looking straight into my soul. Ben would say we are all connected and maybe I felt a connection with him that night. But today you might feel a connection with him. I got to interview him and just like his poems, his experiences and ways of thinking are inspiring.
In my texts, I always try to show excerpts of a plot in which the reader is directly involved from the very first second. The idea of what the beginning was like and what the end could be like is entirely up to the reader.
1. Hi Ben, how are you?
I’m doing very well, thank you very much. I published my new book in November 2022, the “benjamin winter. Mixtape” and I feel very fulfilled artistically with it.
2. To begin our conversation: How did you get into writing?
I wrote my first poem in spring 1995 as part of an assignment in German class. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was called “Spring” and that my teacher, who didn’t usually think much of me, was amazed at what I had written. I don’t remember if that was the key moment that triggered the urge to write in me. In any case, I had always been fascinated by how people could describe their own world in the most beautiful, deepest, hardest and softest words, and I wanted to be able to do the same. And so I wrote and wrote from early on in my youth, when I was twelve, thirteen, up to the present day. I remember that, but unfortunately not much of that time has survived. Maybe that’s a good thing, because I try never to live in the past, whether as an artist or a private person. It’s the moment now that counts, I think.
3. Where do you get your inspiration from?
From life. From love. From people and their circumstances. Yes, everything that somehow grabs you and could drive you. I often have no idea where an idea suddenly comes from. It suddenly appears out of nowhere and wants to be written. They say that poems are the most honest form of storytelling, and it’s true. I always try to show excerpts of a plot in my texts in which the reader is directly involved from the very first second. The idea of what the beginning was like and what the end could be like is entirely up to the reader. The images that form in his mind as he reads show his emotional connection to it. Do I succeed with every piece? No, but it is my personal aspiration that someone reading my lines might find it: Yes, that’s how I feel too, or yes, this feels very familiar to me, there’s something in these words that touches me.
4. What has been your hardest decision so far and what have you learned from it?
I don’t think there is one hardest decision in life. Life comes and goes in phases and writes itself. Everything is somehow prescribed, at least that’s how I feel. I wasn’t raised religiously, but I think there is something higher that connects us all in some way. I usually call it heaven. Each of us is an elementary part of the universe and has to fulfill our part in order for the great and whole, the We, to succeed.
5. What is your dream job and why?
From a young age, my biggest dream was to be a serious writer and artist. I’ve dreamed about it for so many years and worked so hard for it for so many years. It’s work on one hand, all the hours, days and nights you spend shaping your craft, growing with it, really finding yourself, yes, exactly the way, your way of expressing yourself and what you want your work to stand for. But on the other hand, it’s not work either; it’s something that you love from the bottom of your heart, that is a part of who and what you are, and that you don’t just do as a pastime. For example, I can’t understand when someone calls themselves a hobby writer. I don’t know why, and I couldn’t care less, but it makes me feel somehow attacked. Then I think he or she doesn’t take this important art form seriously and is just chasing after a little attention, which you can get quickly these days through social media, for example. Writing and creating is not something you learn. It’s that urge inside you that makes you do it and really live it. In my life outside of art, I also work as an educator in a daycare center. And it’s the same with writing. Despite all the professionalism, despite all the theoretical knowledge that is important, above all you need the heart for it, the character to be able to accompany the youngest people. You don’t do such a difficult job for the money. You do it because you appreciate and love it with all your heart, and because you realize that it is a privilege that children really trust you and let you be part of their journey of discovery through the beginnings of life. I think you always have to be fully convinced of what you are committing yourself and your time to, otherwise it won’t work.
6. Did it really happen if no one saw it? How does social media influence your life?
Social media is a part of my life for sure. But I mainly use it for my art and my audience. I used to share private stuff too, although I don’t do that anymore. I’m not particularly interested in who drinks their coffee where, and I don’t need to show that to others anymore. Instagram and YouTube are all important platforms where I can present myself to my readers and talk to them about my art. But I don’t try to just bang out content there like I used to, I try to post it in a more measured way. It’s like with the books. Last year I published the “BLACK ALBUM. traumfäng3r/bootleg” and the “benjamin winter. Mixtape” last year, the latter of which came to me like a flash of light and I felt: you have to do this now, you have to publish this now. It was and is exactly the snapshot of where I am right now with my consciousness, and the most personal thing I have written and published as a book so far. The first part of the book alone – I don’t think I’ve ever put together a sequence of pieces better than in this book. The pieces flow into each other in a rhythm that I don’t think I’ve ever managed before. And as I said, two books in the last year, I think that means my little niche in the literary market has been filled for a while. It first has to sink in and learn to breathe in the reader. Anything else would be pure flooding and oversaturation.
7. What drives you in life?
Love. And always trying to see with my heart. To share and be there when I’m really needed. To know that I was able to be there for someone who means a lot to me and to see that this person is doing well as a result is the greatest joy for me and makes me feel really good. All the positive energy you get from it … I realize that if heaven takes me one day, I won’t be remembered for my poems. I just want to be a good person and be guided by my heart, that’s all.
“an artist in my eyes is,
whoever has this inner urge to create –
just as you can’t stop dreamers
i write, i also breathe words, images, impressions.
i love every second of what i create.”
8. Do you have role models? If yes, who and why? If not, why not?
My absolute favorite writer is the great German poet, author and director Thomas Brasch. It was through him that I first understood the eye for shapes and colors that was already in me before, but it was only through discovering his work that this eye completely unfolded in me. And I am grateful that with my talent, which I am aware of and which also makes me very humble, I can always try to achieve a certain level of quality in my work. Every artist should have a certain standard for their work, and I am certainly no different in this respect.
9. While we’re on the subject of role models, which five poems do you wish you had written yourself?
I don’t want to sound immodest, but I have written them – “dilê min / mein herz”, “naile”, “auf einmal ist die welt”, “der reine fluss”, “das klirren der nacht”.
10. How do you actually deal with hate and criticism?
When I get feedback on my work, I always try to take something away from it. In the vast majority of cases, it’s positive comments, which I’m very happy about because I don’t take it for granted that someone is engaging with my texts. I’m really grateful – and it’s not just an empty phrase. If someone reacts negatively to what I do, then that is legitimate for that person, but as an artist I know exactly what I can do and also where my limits are. Everyone always has an opinion about something, and I don’t exempt myself from it. I don’t like everything from the artists whose work I follow, but I don’t take it to heart when I get negative reactions to my work.
11. Have you ever been criticized by other men because you write poetry? If so, how do you deal with it?
I remember how I was often ridiculed for it as a teenager, yes. Writing poetry was super uncool, and I remember a situation when a boy at school once went to my bag and took out my notepad and read something of mine out loud in front of the others and made fun of me. As a child, I was very shy and I never talked about what was going on inside me, what was bothering me, what I was feeling, I always dealt with everything myself, and even then, writing was the key to a world in which I could be anything I wanted. But this moment was very formative for me and initially put me off, I remember that. Maybe that’s also the reason why I hardly ever show anyone what I’m currently writing or creating until I publish it; I have no idea. It’s just that I first have to feel comfortable with it, satisfied, to be able to release a final result as such in order to be read. But today I know that an action like that of the classmate back then is just a reflection of your counterpart, a reaction of their own insecurity that is triggered in them when they are confronted with something they can’t grasp at first. None of this has anything to do with you, even if it was a long way for me to realize that.
12. Many women like it when men show emotion and cry. How do you see that? How important is it to live and communicate your feelings?
I am absolutely someone who is guided by my heart and who has learned to show it. That is so immensely important. I simply see it as the core of who we are. And I live by what I feel and express that and try to always encourage people to live by it and never hold back or pretend, but rather: let your emotions carry you. Embrace the world when you feel like it and lean on it when you need protection. Don’t stay alone with yourself when you can’t find refuge in yourself. I know this leaves a lot of room for hurt, but I always see people as literally human first. We all bleed the same color, after all. There’s a really beautiful quote from Prince: “Everything beautiful is worth hurting for.” And I think he was absolutely right. Feelings are a sign of people being alive, not of gender.
13. Are you more introverted or extroverted in your personality?
In the big picture, I’m always quiet at the beginning. I observe, don’t show much of myself and simply need the time to let people and environments have an effect on me and find my place in them. I don’t allow myself to be rushed in this respect either, but see it as a quality not to reveal myself completely from the very first moment. I often hear: “You radiate such calm – but at the same time it’s also something like this: You unconsciously set boundaries that people dare not cross without you telling anyone directly. I was very shy as a child and teenager, and I still am sometimes, even if I don’t show it, that I literally get the shakes at times and would just like to close the door so that I don’t have to overcome myself. But if I feel comfortable with someone or in a setting or I feel I can trust this person, then I can let go and really show myself. I basically think that quiet people should really be seen and heard as such, because their nature brings a very special component to this world, which is mostly just stormy and noisy.
14. If you could give a small child one piece of advice for the rest of their life, what would it be?
Please, please never stop believing in your dreams, because all of them can come true if you really want them to. But at the same time I would tell him that you have to work hard for it, that this world doesn’t give you anything and it’s only up to your own will how far you get with your wishes. Stay strong and get up when you fall. Stay focused, but never lose your love for the thing you want to achieve.
my hand is behind the fog
& there is warmth, I feel
there is laughter, I hear
there are dreams that are alive
& I walk on, just a few steps,
Ben Kretlow written on 17.04.2021
15. Many of your texts deal with being, show excerpts from the fictional lives of your protagonists, tell of holding on to hope and seem spiritual. Do you personally believe in fate?
Absolutely. As I said, there is a plan for everything around us, and each individual – you, him, her, us – is a part of everything. It’s the same as the concept of karma: be kind, and everything you give flows back to you. The heart, believe me, beats so much more calmly in the light.
16. What else do you want to achieve in life?
I think everything in life is development and growth, and as I said, life writes itself. No one has an exact view into the future, so I don’t believe in five-year plans or anything like that. These are all external constructs that are supposed to keep you in line, something you are made to believe because everyone has to achieve something under pressure in our society. But something like that has never worked for me at least. That’s why I try to be in the moment. Everything is predetermined and fixed in the now, as it is, and then everything that comes for you develops from that. I think we should find more trust in the fact that everything you dream about will ultimately come true. It all happens and you don’t have to close your eyes for it.
17. Do you believe in life after death? Are you afraid of dying?
That’s an interesting question. As I said, I believe in something higher, I call it heaven, but it’s not religious in me; I would call it spiritual. I think everyone’s soul has a certain amount of time here on earth, a certain amount of light, to try and describe it more clearly somehow, and when that comes to an end, your soul leaves this world to go somewhere else. So everything that you are in you remains infinite. I don’t know … I don’t feel afraid of dying; I just hope that the transition to another life will not be painful, but peaceful. But I’m not worried about that. I’m still young, I’m healthy and I love life too much to think about leaving.
18. Now to another topic: How important is music to you, and how does it help you write?
Music is essential. Many of my texts are constructed as if they could be lyrics for songs, in terms of the rhythm of the language, the flow of the speech, the structure. But I don’t do that consciously. It just flows in this way while I’m writing. And when I’m writing, there’s usually music playing in the background. Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, for example, old jazz stuff or a lot of Prince; songs and pieces with atmosphere and ambience that somehow capture in sound the mood I’m in when I’m writing.
every hour a different song in the darkness:
everything is so different, you are not here
maybe I know more about you, when soon in time
your whisper lays rustling to me
Ben Kretlow written October 29, 2017
19. Can you always write, or do you have fixed writing times?
I don’t think you can plan creativity. That’s why I used to have no understanding of art lessons at school, because it was never natural, but artificially induced – and who gives teachers the right to judge your expression like in art lessons … An absolutely wrong concept. Creativity comes to you whenever it wants to, and I as the author am the medium that captures the words and gives them their appropriate sound. It can be in the middle of the night, on the bus in the morning, on the way to work or when I’m waiting at the checkout in the supermarket, and suddenly there’s a word, a line, and I absolutely have to capture it. And then the piece usually forms all by itself. I’m not the kind of poet who works on his poems for a long time. For me, 99 percent of the time they are finished just in the minutes when they catch my attention, because I always want to capture the moment. But if I put the text aside because I’m not completely satisfied with it, then I rarely take these fragments out again later and finish them. The magic of the moment is then simply no longer the same for me. As the famous poet Thomas Brasch once said, you never know how poems come about or where they come from, and I think he was absolutely right, because that’s exactly how I experience it in myself every time.
20. What advice would you give to others who want to start writing?
If you have the inner urge to write, then write. If you feel it enriches you, teaches you something about yourself so that you can better express yourself for yourself, then write whenever you can and you feel it. And above all, never let anyone put you off. As long as you are doing it for yourself and you feel that you are not doing it because you are doing it, but because it really is a part of you, then never put pen or paper aside where it will only gather dust. That would be too bad.
“when you begin to write, start
with what you see. describe encounters, glances, funny sequences on the bus, yes, practice
yourself with what happens outside.
let it sink in, close your eyes + open them again,
& then write it all again
from truly YOUR perspective.”
21. And finally, Ben: What are your next goals? Do you have any new books planned?
I probably won’t publish a new book this year, but ideas for projects come and go very quickly. So, who knows … But if an idea really grabs me, then I’ll stick with it. Otherwise, I’ve already finished another book, which was written before the “benjamin winter. Mixtape” and is called “die im dunkeln sieht man nicht”. Fifty new pieces, but by the time we see them on paper, I think we’ll have 2024 at the earliest. As I said, what I’m learning at the moment is not to flood the market. I used to dream of having the longest shelf with just my books on it. But I’m no longer in a rush; five of my print books have been published since 2016. That’s more than I could ever have dreamed of as a child, and it makes me very grateful and humble. So you really can make the deepest wishes come true … And beyond that, I hope to give more readings this year, for example with my artist friend and colleague Haydar Karaldi, which I started in 2022. This will give my plays a completely different angle, a new form of perspective that I definitely want to explore further.
“I WRITE CONTINUOUSLY + HAVE
SO MUCH MATERIAL ALREADY.
THAT I WONDER HOW MUCH WILL
won’t be in my drawers until thirty years.
BUT I CAN’T HELP IT. ALWAYS
THINKING ABOUT THE NEXT TEXT.
EVEN WHEN I REALIZE
THAT MOST OF IT WILL NEVER
WILL EVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY.”
Thank you Ben for doing this interview with me. I’m sure you will inspire many people with your journey. If you want to see more from Ben, feel free to follow him on Instagram or check out his website and Youtube.