In poetry, the imagination can exceed itself
The singer of Rammstein grants an audience. Not about Rammstein, no, but on the occasion of the publication of his second book of poetry “In silent nights”. It’s a rare event: the media-shy Lindemann is known for avoiding interviews and people. The meeting point is a tower lounge, high above the rooftops of Berlin, and the terms are clear: only the poetry counts.
And that has a lot to offer: morbid, chillingly romantic , touching, but also explicit, borderline and bloodthirsty. It is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a characterization that verifies itself during the interview.
So rare it is, that Till Lindemann (50) deigns to an interview, so calm, introverted and reflective he seems in conversation.
Sometimes, his eyes are inquiringly focused on his conversation partner, and sometimes dreamily looking into the distance over the rooftops, his hands folded, his feet in high boots, still and motionless. He wears a worn out t-shirt advertising an old punk band, his blond hair stands on end. His handshake is firm, almost too firm, as would fit the bestial character he presents on stage. But sitting here is a different Till Lindemann, a quiet, almost shy, artist, who speaks in a low voice, chooses his words carefully and occasionally allows himself a soft smile.
Orkus: Why do you write?
Till Lindemann: Because then I function. If I see something, I often very quickly have a story to that in my head. It was never the plan to make books out of it; I initially started to write because I enjoyed it myself. I have often discarded texts that didn’t seem worth the bother. Later, when I started making music, the concept of ‘lyrics’ emerged, because in my previous band, there were no lyrics in the proper sense. Our singer used a phonetic, made up language, which, in principle, meant nothing. Eventually we decided that we also wanted to convey content, and shortly after that, I was a part of Rammstein. Someone had to ultimately step into the shoes of the lyricist and since it worked out from the beginning, I’m still that someone.
Orkus: Is it a coincidence that it got to be poetry?
TL: Poetry is a freer for me. With that, I’m not trapped in a corset, as is the case with song texts, where clear structures are used and the text is adapted to fit them. Letting off steam is almost impossible since as much as possible has to be expressed in a short song text and, of course, it also has to sound good. In poetry, the imagination can exceed itself. This is very important to me.
O: So, it’s not the case that you first write a text and later decide whether to include it in your collection of poems or to use it for Rammstein?
TL: Sure, that absolutely happens. If a line in a poem is good enough, it’s sometimes used for lyrics. I usually show my bandmates everything I write and I hope that with ‘In Silent Nights’, I have provided us with enough material to last through the next decade. (laughs)
O: The foreword mentions your very first poem, which you wrote at the age of nine. Have you always been writing?
TL: No. My father used to run the “The Study Circle for Writing Workers” in Neubrandenburg. Behind it was an amateur association of people who were writing alongside each other and were being instructed by my father. He guided the laymen into the world of poetry, and sometimes I had to go there after school. Due to a school competition, he one day insisted that I write a poem. He was a writer, after all, so his son had to be able to deliver something. So I tortured myself with it, I really did not feel like it and just wanted it to be finished as quick as possible. I remember him asking me afterwards, if that was all there was to it, because it was very short, but luckily, he let me get away with it.
O: Curiously, put into those simple, short lines, there is a lot of what you later have put onto paper for Rammstein.
TL: (laughs) Do you really think so?
O: Well, you did put that enigmatic intransigence into these lines, which is also to be found in the lyrics of your band as well as in ‘In Silent Nights’. Is this a trait of yours?
TL: I don’t know. These things just happen. I have often tried to write “beautiful” things, but I’m quite blocked. This is not to say that it’s easy for me to write gloomy, cryptic lyrics. But especially when deviant topics take form, as the one in ‘Mein Teil’, for example, then my imagination begins to stir. Because boils burst faster.
O: Still, there are beautiful, almost eerily romantic moments in your poems, almost like a German version of Edgar Allan Poe and his Gothic-sexual symbolism. What lies closer to you: an S/M-fetish text or the metaphorically beautiful?
TL: I like figurative poetry very much. Poetry where it isn’t clearly expressed what’s happening. I’m happy if the reader is forced to think around the bend and a fantasy is being built out of beautiful words. Of course, everyone gets quite quickly what is implied, though, but things are deliberately not spelled out. This kind of old, flowery phraseology has already been perfected by Goethe. It is wonderful to read how a poet of the past had to twist things to describe sexual intercourse. This is no longer needed today, hardly anything is censored. I think it would be nice if more people would make an effort to find new words and imageries for the familiar. Previously, in the East, we were forced to create a lot of metaphors and build bridges around certain words, which over the years led to the distinct ability to present issues differently.
O: In the poems of ‘In Silent Nights’, both “fuck” and vibrant allegories are used to describe the same thing.
TL: Exactly what I mean! It’s good, when you find use for them both
O: You just mentioned Goethe. Who do you regard as your literary role models?
TL: Almost all the great German poets. Gottfried Benn, Else Lasker-Schüler, Eichendorff, Hölderlin… the list goes on. After them comes the great Brecht, of course, but then it’s relatively thin. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one post-war German poet who has touched me.
O: Do you put more poetry onto paper during certain phases of life than others?
TL: Oh yes. Virtually nothing on tour, not all that much while in Berlin either. I always bring with me something to write on, so I can quickly take note of any thoughts or ideas.
O: Where does this happen most often?
TL: It can happen anywhere, at home or in the subway. I often complete things when I’m out in nature, I put scribbled sketches into final poems. But I have also written a poem while on a plane from Frankfurt to Berlin. Sometimes it’s quickly done and yet sometimes you can spend ten years on a few lines. And even then, at times, it can be too late, because some thoughts lie too far back in time. The lust, to write from the soul, is by then no longer that great. So much revolves around interpersonal relationships and at some point, you can no longer retrieve that.
O: Does it ever surprise you, what you bring into the light from your soul?
TL: No, because without the foundation of what I intended to create lyrically, I cannot write a poem…
O: Do people who know you well, recognize you in your poems?
TL: That depends entirely on how well. Most people are bit confused, but even those who know me really well, don’t recognize me in my texts right away. Also, many react with shock, with the usual nonsense, asking me about my childhood or advising me to consult a psychiatrist.
O: Are you the real you when you write poems?
TL: When I write, I go into my own private room, close the door behind myself and open my cabinets and drawers. Therein hide, in equal amounts, both good and bad stuff that I have to leave behind me once I’ve dealt with them. Otherwise, these thoughts and ideas would probably drive me crazy. I can handle this split in my personality quite well. There is the “slightly sick” side, but I can quash it well. I’m a good suppressor who can speak eloquently, and with a penchant for pushing things away.
O: Does it ever bother you that the public only knows of this “slightly sick” side of yourself?
TL: No. Quite the opposite. Aloofness ensures that many people do not even want to bother with me. This leaves space for privacy, but it also attracts misery.
O: Do you allow it to get to you?
TL: Partly. When I think it would be interesting, I sometimes immerse myself into the world of these people who believe that they recognize something in me. With a little alcohol and a bit of this-or-that for loosening up, it’s in most cases quite quickly forgotten and pushed aside.
O: So, if someone should write that your book is the work of a psychopath who’s only got sick shit in his head…?
TL: …then I would really appreciate that praise.
By Björn Springorum.
Translation by Maya Aster.
Edited by Murray.
Original issue in the digital format can be ordered here