Even on a summer’s morning, the college crowd at Charles Village’s Bird in Hand is a serious lot. Bent over laptops or conferring over coffee and notebooks, they present a cheerless contrast to poet Shirley Brewer, whose purple tassel earrings match the streak in her blond hair and the three chunky rings on her left hand. Jumping out from her right hand is an aqua-bejeweled frog. Always colorful and a frequent presence on Baltimore’s poetry scene, Brewer is the poet in residence at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology. This summer, her first full-length book of poetry, “Bistro in Another Realm,” was published by Main Street Rag.
Did you choose poetry or did poetry choose you?
“That’s a great question. I’ve loved poetry since I was in the fourth grade. I haven’t written it since then, but I have used it. I worked for thirty-two years as a speech therapist and I used poetry in my work. But I wasn’t always writing it. Then in 1996, I took a creative writing class in Annapolis and I was hooked. In 1997, I started taking poetry classes at Anne Arundel Community College. It’s really been a part of my life since then.”
How would you describe Baltimore’s poetry scene?
Poetry here is definitely alive and well. Poets stay connected in every way we can—like me, I’m in two poetry groups. We used to have LitMore, which organized readings, but they ran out of money. Now we have the Lit and Art reading series, which meets here (at Bird in Hand) and is organized by (local novelist) Eric Goodman. I went to University of Baltimore for my master’s so I’m involved with Passager, too. There is the Baltimore Book Festival and also CityLit. So, there is a lot here. The poetry community doesn’t have a headquarters, but we all know each other.
Tell us about your new book.
This is my first full-length collection. My first two books were chapbooks. I’ve been working on this collection for seven years, so the inspiration came from many different sources. I had a couple of different titles, too. The final title is about my parents, imagining them having a Manhattan together in heaven, a bistro in another realm. So, it’s a tribute to my parents.”
Who are the poets whose work you return to again and again?
How do you narrow it down? Steven Dunn, who is a mentor of mine. Thomas Larks, who died this past February and I just can’t believe he is gone. Campbell McGrath. He did a dynamic reading a couple of years ago at the Walters Art Museum. And too many local poets to name!
What are you planning next?
I’m working on a collection called “Wild Girl,” and I just went to see that movie, “Wonder Woman” and I loved it. This collection is about women taking charge of their power. I’m going to see the movie again this Sunday, because once is not enough. I am also developing a curriculum to teach creative writing at a retirement community in Sykesville.
How can the average person find more poetry in life?
They could go to some local readings. By listening to poetry, you find out what you do and what you don’t like. I like readers to understand what I’m saying, but other poets are more abstract. I’m not sure the person interested in poetry can just go to a book shelf and pull out a book of poetry. Take a class. There’s a wonderful book that I use in teaching, “Poemcrazy,” that takes you through short exercises. It’s not a long book, only about one hundred pages. I’d highly recommend that book. I’d start there. That’s exactly where I’d start.