Former Pasadena resident and Anne Arundel County educator Shirley Brewer works almost like a journalist when she’s crafting a poem for a client of her business Poetic License.
Brewer, a Charles Village resident, will interview a client for about an hour, talking about the subject of the poem. Brewer looks for the details of a person’s story that helps her connect with the subject, which will in turn help her piece resonate with the subject and their loved ones.
"I have a lot of empathy for people, and so I think that helps me create these poems. Most of these people I don’t know, but I pretend that I know them because 'this sounds like my aunt so and so,'" Brewer said.
Click here to see samples of her poetry.
Now Brewer is trying to get the word out about her personalized poem business, where she crafts original poems marking milestones that subjects will appreciate and be able to read over and over again.
"The problem that I find is that people don’t understand what it is that I do. They don’t really get it unless they can see what I do," Brewer said.
Brewer, who previously worked in Anne Arundel County Public Schools for 32 years as a speech therapist and started her business in 2001, has mainly crafted her Poetic License pieces for occasions such as birthdays, graduations or as memorials. She worked at Glen Burnie High School, Marley Middle School, Chesapeake Bay Middle School and several others.
The genesis of Poetic License can be traced back to when she was working as a speech therapist. She said a guidance counselor at a school had injured herself in a bad fall. When the counselor came back to work, Brewer composed a poem to help cheer her up.
"Everybody in the school read it and they said 'Oh this is great. You ought to do this. You ought to write poems for people for different occasions,'" Brewer said.
The Rochester, NY, native has always been interested in writing and actually started creating fairy tales when she was in second grade. She continued writing through high school—even composing a memorial for President John F. Kennedy that was read to her classmates—before the desire to help other people lead her toward a career as a speech therapist.
Brewer, who was living in Pasadena, then moved to Charles Village in 2003 so she could be closer to the University of Baltimore where she was pursuing a master of arts degree in creative writing and publishing arts.
She already had one book of poetry published by Passenger Books in 2008 called A Little Breast Music and has a second book scheduled to be published in early 2013 by Apprentice House.
The next book is called After Words, and will be a collection of poems inspired by the murder of Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn in Charles Village in July of 2010. Brewer wrote the first poem, titled Offering, during the immediate aftermath of the murder.
Brewer sent the poem to Stephen Pitcairn’s parents, on behalf of the residents of Charles Village, to express sorrow that such a crime could happen in the community. Gwen Pitcairn, the mother of Stephen Pitcairn, wrote a letter back to Brewer thanking her for the poem.
"I was so touched that this woman, who had just lost her only son, would take time to write me a letter thanking me for the poem I couldn’t believe it," Brewer said.
After that, Brewer didn’t expect to be inspired to write more poems about the subject, but then she was moved to write a second piece in August 2010 in Stephen’s voice about the murder, and then a third poem followed the next month.
"I didn’t really intend to write any of these poems—I’m telling you honest to God I’ve never had this happen in my life—but these poems came to me over the period of that year," Brewer said.
In total she said she wrote about 11 long poems, with the last one she wrote about the time of the sentencing of Stephen Pitcairn’s murderer in October 2011.
But while she waits for the publication of After Word and continues to work on a third book she hopes to expand her work with Poetic License.
"I find that people say 'What is it you do again?' Until they actually see it and know the process. And then they go 'Oh my God. This is great,'" Brewer said. "But how to market that I’m still kind of, I haven’t figured it out."