Getting To Know Benjamin Hertwig

Written by Guest Writers: Brooke Reinink, Sarah Olivo-Espinosa, and Rachel Ten Hove

On Friday, October 21, the Redeemer community was disappointed to hear that Benjamin Hertwig had fallen ill and was unable to attend Redeemer Reads to read from his debut poetry collection, Slow War. Thankfully—despite last-minute changes and busy schedules—the event was able to be rescheduled for November 4th. Hertwig made a virtual appearance and captivated audience members, inviting listeners to consider his poetic account and personal journey. 

Since its publication, Slow War has received glowing reviews, with critics complimenting Hertwig’s emotional content and simple, elegant style. On Hertwig’s content, critic Jonathan McGregor says, Slow War sees Hertwig build a new personal myth—one that promises him an escape from the cycle of retribution—by refashioning his Christian faith” (2018, 3). As for style, David Ward states, “Hertwig favors a lean, stripped down or telegraphic language… the clipped language mimics the gasping speech of the injured man, holding the pain in” (2019, 74). 

After hosting a seminar on Slow War in ENG-427, the three of us connected with Hertwig and were able to ask him some questions related to his book. The following is a portion of our interview:

Interviewer: What motivated you to write Slow War

Hertwig: I wrote SW because I had things inside of myself that needed to be dealt with and had not. Trauma from the war, the ending of a relationship, serious health concerns, the death of my grandfather—I was processing all these things and didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t have a good outlet, so I just started writing and found it very healthy and helpful in processing. I didn’t initially write for anyone other than myself, so I wasn’t trying to correct anyone’s assumptions, but later, when a book actually felt like a possibility, I started thinking more about the war and how I felt about it.

Interviewer: When did you decide that poetry was something you were going to devote yourself to more seriously? Were there any people or instances in particular that encouraged you to pursue your writing?

Hertwig: The poems that SW consists of are some of the first poems I wrote and shared with anyone. I didn’t consider myself a poet at the time, so I guess it was just after the publication of the book that I thought poetry was something I could do more of. In terms of people who encouraged me to write, an Edmonton poet by the name of Lisa Martin was an early encourager, and some writing successes helped me feel like less of a fraud, but writing just felt so deep and primal that I think I would have continued doing it for myself, even without the external support.

Interviewer: What kind of impact do you hope Slow War has on readers? 

 

Hertwig: I suppose I just want people to encounter something emotionally honest that maybe makes them think about the meaning in their own lives, the things that have wounded them, the things that help them grow and keep going.

During the reading there was time for questions and comments, leading to lively discussion. Listeners surely left with a fuller appreciation for Hertwig’s body of work and perhaps a desire to read more. Keep your eye out for future “Redeemer Reads” events; there are plenty more to look forward to!