Concerning Craft: Shirley Brewer

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Please meet Shirley J. Brewer. Shirley is a Baltimore, MD poet and educator. Her work has appeared in The Cortland ReviewThe Innisfree Poetry JournalPearl, The Comstock Review, Loch Raven Review and Passager. Her chapbook A Little Breast Music was published in 2008. A second poetry book, After Words, will be out in 2013.

We published her “Fairy Tale, Interrupted” in our Summer 2012 Audacity issue. Here she is reading that poem and one other at our launch event:

And here’s what she says went into the writing of “Fairy Tale, Interrupted”:

Fairy tales have always fascinated me. The lure of a prince on horseback emerging from a forest captured my imagination. In second grade, I began writing my own, bringing them to school. My teacher encouraged me. My fairy tales, alas, came to an unhappy end. When I reached high-school age, I tossed them. A decision I now regret.

The first movies I recall seeing were Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I loved Cinderella. Befriended by a fairy godmother, she makes it to the ball, meets her prince. Despite setbacks, the proverbial happy ending prevails. As children, we revel in joyful conclusions. We want life to work out. Magic-wand intervention helps. Cinderella continued to mesmerize me. In 1998, I attended a poetry workshop in Ireland and returned with one souvenir: a glass slipper on a glass base. In 2000, I studied poetry in Italy and brought back a Cinderella CD in Italian.

I wrote “Fairy Tale, Interrupted” in Kendra Kopelke’s Lyric Spirit class at the University of Baltimore. I wanted to explore Cinderella as an un-fairy tale. The poem is only 15 lines, written in five tercets. Each stanza ends with a rhyming word: “stair,” “air,” “hair,” “impaired,” “where.” I don’t recall orchestrating the rhymes. The poem seemed to want to go in that direction. I liked referring to Cinderella as “the babe.” It seems deliciously disrespectful, especially for a writer who worshipped the classic tale. In the third stanza, the speaker admonishes Cinderella, calls her a “little twit.” The only time I’ve ever used “twit” in a poem, and it felt exactly right. In the fourth stanza, the speaker dares to curse Cinderella. This is a darker version of the story. The glass slipper, carriage, fancy gown are mocked as superficial. Even the fairy godmother is extraneous. What’s important is staying with the prince. The poem addresses the importance of learning to prioritize and listening to one’s inner voice.

If I explore my perspective of the Cinderella story, I must acknowledge my experience with time and clocks. As a two-year-old, I appeared on the front page of the Rochester Times-Unionin my crib, holding a clock–reminding readers to turn back their clocks that fall. Must have been an omen. For years, I struggled with time, developed a reputation for being late–to school, work, appointments. I always seemed to be in my own dreamy time zone. I came to dislike clocks and their brutal numerical insistence. I’m happy to report that I’ve vastly improved my punctuality these days. I was even 45 minutes early for the LPR Audacity issue launch event!

In the poem, the speaker–okay, it’s me–gets to chastise Cinderella for paying too much attention to the clock. Damn the clock! I say to her, to myself, to the readers. What’s important will be found when we ignore the o’clock-ness of our lives. When I write, I lose myself in time over and over, and it feels wonderful, wonderful.

Sure, my way might ruin the tale, cutting out a thrilling part. Who wouldn’t miss the antics of obnoxious stepsisters trying to jam unsightly feet into a dainty glass slipper? But c’mon over. I have that slipper I purchased in Ireland. We can admire it, listen to Cinderella in Italian, talk about the poetry process and explore the forest of our psyches. Never, ever–not even once–will we pay any attention to the clock.

Recently, Shirley started a new venture, The Poet’s Coach, where her coming to terms with time should come in handy. Check our Announcements page for details.

Note: If you like fairy tales, you might want to read my essay “Fairy Tales, Full Circle.”

4 thoughts on “Concerning Craft: Shirley Brewer

  1. david eberhardt

    Good work Shirley- would like to hear yr take on the “Hunger Games”- the movie, to me- quite entrancing- a dark “fairy tale” for real- but very real to our own reality show imperialist and right wing culture-
    sometimes i wonder why we write poetry given the fabulosity of movies (and before them- opera) but i happen to know why we do
    also was reminded of a tape I own on keys and unlocking- yr mention of clocks and numerals


    1. Shirley J. Brewer

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for your response. I’m a little culturally behind, as I haven’t yet read “The Hunger Games” or seen the movie. Will do both. I love movies and opera but, like you, I know why we write poetry!! Your tape on keys and unlocking sounds intriguing. Shirley


  2. writerfiber

    Loved the piece–Shirley’s delightful words plus Ilse’s masterly use of them. Kudos!


    Clarinda Harriss Professor Emerita, Towson University Director, BrickHouse Books, Inc. 306 Suffolk Road Baltimore, MD 21218 USA



  3. Pingback: Book Review: Shirley Brewer’s After Words | Little Patuxent Review

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