Poetry in the schools, at home, and everywhere in between.
THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Source Poems: "The Singers"
For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.
Today, guest blogger Shirley Brewer invites us to join her in finding a poetic voice.
I came late to
considered myself a writer at age seven (fairy tales), wrote some poems in high
school and college (Viet Nam, teenage angst), and used poetry with children in
my work as a speech and language therapist in the Anne Arundel County Public
real to me on Christmas Day, 1996. I was visiting friends in Santa Cruz,
California, and walked to the beach that morning with a notebook and pen.
When I returned,
my friends asked me to read aloud what I had written. They pronounced me a poet and I agreed. I took two poetry
classes at Anne Arundel Community College in 1997 that fueled my journey. Over
these past seventeen years, I often included travel as part of my poetry
studies, participating in workshops in various states, as well as in Italy and
1998, I spent two weeks in Dublin immersing myself in poetry under the guidance
of Irish poets. Our guest for one session was Eavan Boland, who remains my
favorite poet. That evening, she joined us at The Teacher’s Club, where she sat
next to me and bought everyone at our table a drink. What a thrill!
Eavan Boland and students. Photo: Shirley Brewer
The first book
of Eavan Boland’s I purchased was In aTime of Violence, in which she explores the social and political realities
of her Ireland. Her collection begins with “The Singers.” Here it is – 16
I connected with
this poem in a completely visceral way. Every time I read it, I feel myself
inside the poem. And I believe this poem has guided my own poetic path.
In the years I
studied poetry what mattered most to me was discovering my “voice.” How would I
find it? I read poetry voraciously. I still do–every day! One could become
dizzy with all the voices! I began attending Peter Murphy’s annual Poetry andProse Getaways in Cape May. Excellent teachers. I slowly began to develop more
confidence in myself as a writer. But did I have a voice?
To me, Eavan
Boland’s poem speaks of the poetic journey–“an unforgiving coast.” Not an
easy path. So much to learn, to read, to know, to weather. So much time not
knowing if one is a poet at all. The desire to discover one’s “own sense of
And always, it’s
about filling one’s own mouth with words and sounds… “every night their mouths
filled with Atlantic storms and clouded-over stars and exhausted birds.”
I often made the
connection that–for 32 years–I filled the mouths of children with sounds. With
my career change and early “retirement” in 2001, I realized it was time for me
to focus on self-fulfillment, as risky as it was–like the dangerous weather
of Boland’s poem. Time to follow my vision, to seek a more creative path. My
journey brought me to Baltimore City’s Charles Village, to the University of
Baltimore–where I earned my Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing/Publishing
Arts in 2005–and to the vibrant poetry community that exists in
Baltimore/Washington, DC/Annapolis and beyond.
I remember a
poetry event at Maryland Hall in Annapolis a number of years ago. There was an
intermission right after I read. I heard someone call out my name. It was the
wonderful Philadelphia poet, JC Todd, who had been one of my instructors at
Peter Murphy’s Getaway. She grabbed both my hands and exclaimed: Shirley Brewer, you have a voice! I’ll
never forget that moment. It felt like such a thrilling validation. No matter
what we surmise internally, it sure helps to receive external support. A moment
To have a poem
inspire you early in your journey, and then serve as a companion all along the
way, is the greatest of gifts.
Shirley J. Brewer graduated from careers in bartending, palm-reading, and speech therapy. She has served as poet-in-residence at CarverCenter for the Arts and Technology in BaltimoreCounty. Shirley will present "Healing Through Writing" with novelist Tom Glenn at the MWA Conference on April 26, and is scheduled to teach a poetry workshop at LitMore (Baltimore) in May. Recent poems appear inTheCortland Review,Little Patuxent Review,Innisfree Poetry Journal,Pearl, Comstock Review, Passager, and other journals. Her poetry books include A Little Breast Music, 2008, Passager Books and After Words, 2013, Apprentice House/Loyola University.