Friday, June 9, 2023

Q&A with Shirley J. Brewer




Shirley J. Brewer is the author of the new poetry collection Wild Girls. Her other collections of poetry include After Words. She is the resident poet at the Carver Center for the Arts and Technology in Baltimore County, and she lives in Maryland.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your new collection?


A: The poems in Wild Girls were written over a number of years. Several are more than 10 years old. Some are much more recent. I started putting the collection together in August of 2015, so it's taken time to become a whole book.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which they would appear?


A: Ordering a book of poems, I have found, is a very intuitive process. It takes quite a while for the poems to feel they are in the right place, and are speaking to one another!


I knew I wanted to start the book with the poem about my mother, "What the Bride Wore," and to end with a family poem, "Mermaids in the Basement."


The manuscript went through a lot of re-ordering! I chose to include three sections. Again, that felt right. Each section has a phrase at the beginning that comes from a poem in that section. The three section titles are Crimson on Plum, A Solace of Lilacs, and Wild Raspberry.


Q: The poet Grace Cavalieri said of the book, "Brewer’s sartorial poems dazzle with language personalizing poems with humor and pathos. The seduction and glamour of clothing often carries the poet’s themes—funny and sad, sweet and soulful— but the extraordinary realization is that sensuality can define our humanity." What do you think of that description?


A: Grace Cavalieri is a very insightful person and poet. I feel she has the gift to dive in and capture the essence of a collection. I am passionate about the accessories that define us. In Wild Girls, there are 68 poems, and more than 40 of them reference an article of clothing. Grace focused on the "sartorial" in her comments, recognizing that clothing "often carries the poet's themes."


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I chose the title myself, although some friends tried to talk me out of it. I know the word "wild' has many connotations. I spent a lot of time delving into the many mysteries of that word. To me it represents bold, brave women who may have suffered or undergone hardships, but who bloomed in a myriad of ways. It's a strong and positive word!


Here's the description of Wild Girls that appears on the back cover: 


In Wild Girls, a cascade of vibrant voices shows up, speaks up, stirs up, grieves, heals. 


The “wild girls” spirit is bold, persistent, sometimes humorous, occasionally tragic, and often heroic. Included are wild girls from family, current events, history, the arts, and even make-believe. Together, they share their stories. The author’s passion is observing and honoring the authentic Wild Girl in herself and others. As a writer, she wants her readers - men and women - to feel poignancy in the details, to find a moment of connection in each poem, to nurture empathy in themselves, to bask in the language.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a manuscript that I started about six years ago. The title is "Goddess of Swizzle." I just finished writing a description of the manuscript, and it starts this way: 


Swizzle suggests a stirring motion that brings to the surface memories/images/regrets/metaphors/solaces. 


The Goddess of Swizzle senses and samples the world around her, and within herself. Ingredients and insights garnish her lines.  


Via recipes and reflections, cocktails and contemplation, may the reader find in Goddess of Swizzle a tasteful blend of appetizer, entree, and dessert. May this manuscript serve as a filling and nourishing repast. And may the Goddess in all of us - men and women - feast on our lives.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I'd like to mention that the cover of Wild Girls took a while to evolve. I knew I didn't want a literal "girl" on the cover.


I've always been passionate about astronomy, and I had met an astrophysicist, Dr. Jason Kalarai, at the Village Learning Place in Baltimore where I volunteer. I contacted Dr. Kalarai and he guided me to images of the Hubble Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope - all of which are free and available to the public.


I searched through more than 4,000 images, and found one that I felt was perfect for my book cover. My publisher, Apprentice House Books, gave me the freedom to select this image. I envision each star in the galaxy shown as a "wild girl." That's metaphor! That's poetry! I love my book cover.


I'd also like to mention that I have a brand new website:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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