Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Muse: Robert Lee Brewer's 'Enter'

Robert Lee Brewer recently published a limited-edition chapbook, Enter. The collection's title is apt: What happens when we enter into relationships (as here we enter into the relationship of readers and poet) is the thematic thread that ties the poems together. It is the poet's relationships to those most important, if not always closest, to him — his father, his children, his loves (including his wife) — that are at the heart of the 21 poems that comprise the chapbook.

The "father" figures especially in Brewer's work here and, by the poet's own admission, the relationship is "complicated". We get a first glimpse in the first poem, "Solving the world's problems", in which the son appears at odds with the father, who, midway through the poem, comes across as a kind of bogey-man: "Father turned into a dream filled / with fire and a horrible laugh. I / burned into a cloud of smoke." Absence is felt. Eventually, there's rupture — "Father became a phone call and then / silence." — until, ultimately, understanding, however uneasy, wins out: "I worried what I might // transform into next. I worried / what I might already be. Then, / I forgave father." Later, in the poem "Father's shoes"*, the portrait fills out with a tender detailing of the father's spark of recollections of his own father, the leavings again and again, the absences that, no matter how long or for what reason, end with the usual "Pretending / nothing was wrong, not / a damn thing missing. . . ." The last poem, "My Father", uses beautifully the metaphor of magnets to explain what is inexplicable: the bond of son to father and the son's received wisdom of needing to "try anything / they could to hold everyone together forever." 

There's a palpable sense of what's missing from the relationship(s) but feeling isn't allowed to get in the way of the telling. In "The world will worry for you", for example, we expect no varnishing when the poet says directly, "Forget speaking in code; forget / telling it slant; here is what happened:. . ." Or in "Of summer", where the poet again speaks directly, urging, "Place your mask on the counter / and write me a letter without the words / "Dear" or "Sincerely". . . ." The pain is complicating.

One of the poems I most like is "We woke up and fell asleep", which addresses what it's like to be "born every morning with or without the ones we love". There's joy underlying the acknowledgment that even when two people go in opposite directions they can still meet in a place where it's possible to say I love you. I also like Brewer's "I think the world is a pin cushion":

There's a space between everyday matters,
that makes someone feel every day matters,
a breath or sigh in the darkness. We surround
our time with excuses and distractions, bind
those we love with commitments when we should be
splashing around in dark puddles while the rain
covers us in nothing more than what it is.

Other poems in the chapbook Brewer categorizes as "poems of the world", or "political statement poems"; they include "Watching the ice melt", "Cold water", and "One day we looked for the snow".  That last poem especially conveys honestly a weariness, if not utter boredom, with the issues of our time, the end-stopped lines underscoring the ennui and lack of enthusiasm for doing anything about our problems: ". . . we mourned // the loss and watched / on our televisions, / the slow chaos unfolding / an inch at a time. / We watched; / we mourned; / we ate ice cream." It's all just too familiar.

It was not until I read the 21 poems several times that I saw their degree of depth. Employing language that is largely unadorned, Brewer manages to do what all good poets do, what he himself maintains should be the primary purpose of poems: to communicate with the world. That world need comprise only a single reader who can "enter" into the conversation and get the meaning to render the effort successful.

Brewer, poetry columnist for Writer's Digest and editor of the Writer's Digest's resources Poet's Market and Writer's Market, has published poems in Barn Owl Review, OCHO, MiPOesias, and other print and online literary magazines. He posts regularly at his popular Poetic Asides blog and at the My Name Is Not Bob blog.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Brewer's chapbook, write to him directly at robertleebrewer[at]gmail[dot]com.

* To read the poem "Father's shoes" from Enter, go here.

Robert Lee Brewer on FaceBook and Twitter

Robert Lee Brewer on Escape Into Life

"3 Questions for Robert Lee Brewer" at Miriam's Well, January 29, 2011

Poet's Market 2011

2011 Writer's Market


Glynn said...

I was struck by the "father poems" as well - there was a kind of brutal honesty about them that left me wondering. Wonderful review, Maureen - Brewer has a good collection here.

Louise Gallagher said...

thanks for this -- I like that given me a perspective to my father figures!


Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thank you, Maureen and Glynn!

Anonymous said...

thank you for the wonderful information on robert lee.

S. Etole said...

What you have shown is powerful in its honesty ...

Sheila said...

I read through ENTER twice since receiving it this month and I know when I read it again, the meaning of the words will unfold even more. Your review is amazing Maureen! Thanks.

Unknown said...

Great review with insight, Maureen!