Conversations with the Contributors: Shirley Brewer

Poet Shirley Brewer

Shirley Brewer is a Baltimore poet and the author of three collections of poetry. Here, she discusses her path to poetry and finding inspiration in the pandemic era.

Why did you decide to submit to Welter
I’m in a poetry group with Kendra Kopelke, the [University of Baltimore] professor of creative writing who retired a year ago. She always reminds us in the group when Welter is accepting submissions. I’ve been in it before, and I thought, well, time to submit again. 

You’re a graduate of the University of Baltimore’s creative writing MFA, right? 
I had graduated from UB in 2005. [Welter] has really evolved since I was at UB. It’s definitely come a long way. It’s really a very nice publication. When you think of journals that come and go, the longevity of it is very good. It’s a great experience if you’re there as a student, too, to work on a literary journal. 

Were you studying and writing poetry before you came to UB?
I didn’t really study poetry, but I’ve always loved reading it, so I was just writing it on my own.  I’ve always had poets in my family, so I’ve been exposed to poetry since I was young. When I was a speech therapist, I used poems a lot with my students–Shel Silverstein and that kind of thing. But before I retired from the school system, I went back to take some workshops in creative writing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and Anne Arundel Community College. I decided that I wanted to study this further, and I moved into Baltimore, and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve just immersed myself in it completely. Poetry has brought me a great deal of satisfaction, and I plan to keep writing it forever. 

Can you talk a little bit about the poem that you decided to submit, “Gift Shop on the Arctic Circle?” 
I have a friend, Don, and we used to teach together years ago when we were in our twenties. He has traveled more than any other person that I know, and I always kid him when he travels–you know, “Make sure you’re near a gift shop so you can buy me presents.” He’s been everywhere you could possibly imagine. So he said he had this trip planned and was going to the Arctic Circle, and I said “Well, wait a minute. I don’t think they have any gift shops on the Arctic Circle.”

As soon as I said that, a bell went off in my head. I thought that would be a cool title for a poem. I was thinking about everything that was going on in the news before the pandemic with politics and all of that, and I thought it would be kind of nice to just get away from all that. 

You said that was before the pandemic. Have you been doing much writing in isolation? 
No, I’m not. I’ve written three pandemic poems, none of which would be anything I would ever submit anywhere. But I’ve been working a lot on poetry–reading a lot, reading journals. I have two manuscripts that I’ve already written that I’ve been working on, and I’ve been working on poems over the phone with other poets. So I’ve been doing poetry things, but I haven’t been writing new work. 

Ada Limón is one of my favorite poets, and when she’s not writing,  she calls it the gathering time.  I love that and have adopted it, because I think that’s what I’m doing. I know some things will come out of [the pandemic], but as far as writing, I’m not putting pressure on myself. 

That’s wonderful. Stay well, and thank you for submitting. 
I’m looking forward to getting the journal! 

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