Interview with Robert Lee Brewer

I’m excited to interview the poet, Robert Lee Brewer. He inspired me to create an author platform through a challenge on his blog last year, and I made a wonderful online community because of my participation. He recently released an amazing (see my review) full-length poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53).

robert_lee_brewerRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, which means he gets paid to edit books, create blog posts, write a column for Writer’s Digest magazine, edit a free weekly newsletter, and lots of other fun writing-related projects. Voted Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2010, he just celebrated the publication of his debut full-length poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He also curates the insta-poetry series for Virginia Quarterly Review. He’s married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Learn more at www.robertleebrewer.com.

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When did you start writing poetry and why?
It all started with trying to impress a girl in high school. The poem worked, but then she thought I had more poems. So I felt like I had to keep writing to impress her. Then a funny thing happened, I found that poetry helped me deal with other issues in my life–you know, besides impressing girls. It was a life saver.

How did you come up with the title for your collection? Did you select Solving the World’s Problems based on your poem of the same name?
I knew I wanted to use a poem title for the title of the collection, so it really came down to which poem to use. I chose Solving the World’s Problems for several reasons. For starters, it’s an extremely personal poem. Beyond that, it includes all the elements I love in poetry: sound, leaps in logic, and my worldview. I have many other reasons too, but I don’t want to take all the fun out of it for the reader by explaining my intent. After all, I think of publishing as a collaborative art–one that is now in the reader’s hands.

Name the poet(s) who have inspired you.

So many. I don’t know where to start. In my poem, “totem,” I try to pay homage to some of them, including Whitman, Eliot, Dickinson, Ginsberg, Frost, and Dunbar. Those are some of the biggies. Also, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anne Sexton, Jean Valentine, Bob Hicok, Robert Bly, and others–so many others, including my wife, who is the poet laureate of our household.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
That’s a good question. I’m an introvert, so I’d be terrified of meeting any writer, but… Kurt Vonnegut would be the writer, since he’s from the Midwest. I felt tempted to say Shakespeare, Whitman, or Wilde–but what would I say? Same thing with Dickinson and Sexton. But Vonnegut, I’d probably be able to carry a conversation, though he’d probably be joking his way through the whole thing.

What is your process for creating a poem?
It’s often not much of a process. There are times when a poem comes out fully formed from beginning to end in the first draft, though I still go through the revision process with every poem. Other poems are created from putting together various lines and images and filling in the gaps during revision.

The opening line of “Solving the World’s Problems,” for instance, was taken from the middle of a horrible sestina. However, I loved the line and image–so it stuck around until I could find the proper place for it.

Where and when do you write?
I write almost daily, though it’s more random than routine. I carry paper and pen with me all the time–so I write whenever inspiration strikes. That might be at my desk, the local park, or even the grocery store–yes, inspiration can and does strike at the grocery store.

I have two kids and find it a juggling act to balance writing with taking care of them. How did you manage to do it with 5 kids? Any advice or tips for other parents?
For me, it’s just trying to fit in the writing whenever I can. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a writing routine, because if I tried to hold down a routine at a specific time each day, the kids would probably find a way to monopolize my time. Instead, I write in those brief moments that diapers don’t need to be changed and fights don’t need to be resolved.

Also, I share my writing with them–the age appropriate stuff anyway. They love it, because it kind of gives them ownership of the process. Plus, it motivates them to make their own books.

What is your favorite poem in your collection and why?
I don’t know if I can do that. It’s like picking a favorite child, isn’t it?
Seriously though, I love each individual poem on its own merits, but I also feel this collection of poems is made stronger as a whole. Many of the poems communicate directly with other poems in the collection. Some finish on a line that is the title of another poem.

So they’re related; they’re a family; they’ve got each others’ backs.
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Solving_the_Worlds_Problems_cover2The “World” in Robert Lee Brewer’s Solving the World’s Problems is a slippery world … where chaos always hovers near, where we are (and should be) “splashing around in dark puddles.” And one feels a bit dizzy reading these poems because (while always clear, always full of meaning) they come at reality slantwise so that nothing is quite the same and the reader comes away with a new way of looking at the ordinary objects and events of life. The poems are brim-full of surprises and delights, twists in the language, double-meanings of words, leaps of thought and imagination, interesting line-breaks. There are love and relationship poems, dream poems, poems of life in the modern world. And always the sense (as he writes) of “pulling the world closer to me/leaves falling to the ground/ birds flying south.” I read these once, twice with great enjoyment. I will go back to them often. -Patricia Fargnoli, former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire and author of Then, Something

 

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Comments

  1. Nice interview! I got a kick out of you not being able to choose your favorite poem from your collection. That’s a great sign when you love each of your poems equally.

  2. It was nice learning more about Robert and his new collection of poetry book. I was also intrigued to learn how he came up with the title if the book. Great interview, robert and Jennifer!

  3. http://Jennifer says

    Thanks for dropping by, ladies! It was wonderful to learn what goes on in a poet’s head.

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