By Kody Ford
Idle Class Editor
Benjamin Del Shreve has garnered a large fan base for an independent artist based on his infectious pop rock and hellraiser appeal. He’s the guy that the guy in the suits want to be, a man who can wear a tailored vest with no sleeves and a fedora. Raised by a father who was a missionary to biker gangs, Benjamin had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sonny Barger and other legendary motorcycle outlaws before puberty. He and his brother Randall started a band in high school that eventually lead to touring nationwide. Benjamin released his solo album “Brilliant & Charming” in 2007. Crowds filled bars throughout the Midwest. His follow-up “Sleeping Sweetly” further solidified his reputation as a master showman and consummate rocker. However, there’s a side to Benjamin many people are unaware of.
Poetry has long played a role in his life. Books by Lord Byron, William Blake, Percy Shelley, and other Romantic era poets helped him find himself after his parent’s rough divorce. Alongside his music, his abilities as a poet flourished. He is one of the rare types—a songwriter who can write a poem that doesn’t sound like secondhand lyrics. The Idle Class is proud to share Benjamin’s poetry this week. We recently sat down with the man to discuss his writing and more.
KF: You’ve had an interest in poetry for years. How did you get into it exactly?
BDS: “At first, when I was in the latter part of grade school or the beginning of junior high, there was a form of detention where you had to sit in the library and not talk and I just found myself curious about Shakespeare. That led my curiosity even further into the [other] writers. Then I soon started trying to write a little here and there. It was also right around the time that I got into music. I worked the next few years mainly on music but also writing lyrics.
“I remember blaming my dad when my parents split up however. I realized that I had modeled myself after him to a fine point and that bothered me. I thought to myself that if I didn’t make some changes then I could expect to make my son feel as awful as I felt [someday].”
KF: So how did poetry help you cope with your parents split and help you differentiate yourself from your dad?
BDS: “I decided to build myself from scratch. I realized that your parents may give you your name but only you can tell the world who you really are. So I went to the library in town and got books on history philosophy, all kinds of poetry and literature, even books on etiquette and handwriting analysis and random stuff like that. Then I went to the video store and got movies with guys like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, etc. and asked myself what about these guys makes them so easy to admire.
“I was taught that stealing was wrong. That was one of the first things you learn. So I stole every one of those books and movies and decided if my learning taught me that stealing was wrong then I’d never steal again. The poetry was very much my favorite [of everything I read].”
KF: What role did literature and music play in shaping you into the man you are today?
BDS: “I wanted to be a poet…Or at least poetic.”
KF: What was appealing about that?
BDS: “Ralph Waldo Emerson said that it is proof of high culture to say the greatest things in the simplest way. I wanted to be that kind of person too. And it all made me want to not just read stories about amazing lives but to live one. Some men read stories, other men live lives that people write stories about. I guess it just gave my life a narrator.”
KF: Did you continue to write poetry while you were developing as a musician or did you take a break for a while?
BDS: “I kinda always tried to. In my travels it was a cool way to take a picture of everything in a moment, the smell and sound of it are included when I read old poetry.
“I started committing poems by Frost, Whitman, and Byron, etc. to memory. Their influence is easy to spot in some of the poems I’ve written. “Alana” [one of his songs—ed.] for instance was written sometime after I’d memorized “She walks in beauty.” [Another BDS song] “Oh Fair moment, Oh Fair Tonight” has Whitman’s influence all over it.”
KF: So has it been difficult to transition between song lyrics and poems for you?
BDS: “It sure can be. It’s always hard to trim parts of a poem to be a song. You want to keep its integrity. Every line meant the world to you. That’s why you wrote it down.”
KF: Do you have a technique or criteria for doing this? Or do you just go with what feels right?
BDS: “Well, I just have to remember the poem is the poem and the song is the song. If I’m working on a song then it is the most important thing in the world until it’s done. The poem was when I was writing it. After the song is done then I just have a lot more beauty to enjoy.”
KF: You mentioned that some of the poems are moments in time. Do you base all of your poems off of fact or is some of it fiction?
BDS: “Well, they all immortalize that time in life when it was written. Good or bad. You have to be careful when and what you write about because you will remember that time in every detail. It’s mostly all fact to me.”
KF: So what are your plans for the future regarding poetry?
BDS: “Honestly it’s just a part of the lifestyle to write poetry. I would love to get a book out or something but that is not what drives me to write. Its just part of who I am. Who knows? Maybe someday some kid will be memorizing my writings while he is sitting on a beach somewhere. Maybe I’ll be that person that they needed to inspire them to “and damn near give them permission to” live an unbridled inspired life.
“If not, I’m at least still proud that I did. I reached past my arm’s reach and that is kind of what makes me feel at least poetic. I lived a life that said, ‘Reach past the ends of your hands or cut them off.’”
Fans of Benjamin’s music will be proud to know that he is in the process of wrapping up a new, acoustic-influenced album, which he plans to release later this year. The Idle Class will premiere a track from the album soon. In the meantime, follow Benjamin on Facebook for more information. Read Benjamin’s poems here.
BDS photo appears courtesy of JadefOX Pictures.