Open Alphabet welcomes ROBERT LEE BREWER and his new book Solving the World's Problems, published by Press 53 (ISBN 978-1-935708-90-2).

Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer has been named Port Laureate of the Blogosphere and is Senior Content Editor of the Writer's Digest Writing Community. He curates an image-based poetry series for Virginia Quarterterly. He has published two chapbooks: ENTER and ESCAPE. In Solving the World's Problems, his poems bend light into nooks and church and forests and poets and himself. Favorites are, follow me like bright stars for its compression and surprise, the intense understatement of anatomy of a pencil, the last bomb on earth (about a poetry bomb), and self portrait for its humor. Extra points go to the reader who can identify the most literary allusions in totem, an homage to all of Brewer's poetic influences.

Open Alphabet: What initiated this project? How did you choose the title? Solving the World's Problems

Robert Lee Brewer: After nearly 20 years of writing poems (thousands of poems), I finally felt like the time was right to try collecting some of my favorites. I had a few possible title ideas, but I liked Solving the World's Problems for a few reasons. Maybe the easiest to understand is that it's the title of a poem that I feel best represents what I try to accomplish with my poetry. The title was one of the few things that didn't change in one way or another from when the collection was submitted to when it was published, and I'm thankful for that.

OA: Did assembling and publishing this new project change you or your creative process? What surprises or challenges did you encounter in putting it together? What do you know now that you wish you had known then?

RLB: This project did change me and my creative process. After the collection was accepted, my editor challenged me in several ways. First, he noticed that many of my poems were naturally written in tercets--even when I had them formatted as a larger stanzas. That was kind of mind blowing to me. Second, he had me focus on the lyric poems, which meant that I cut out nearly a third of the original poems and included a few newer pieces. Third, he noticed that I was already playing around some with lack of punctuation and capitalization--so he encouraged me to try going all out on it to create breathing room for the poems. As a person who loves art, I totally got into the process of using white space to help with structuring the poems. I've long felt that poetry is a process--as my friend S.A. Griffin loves to say. This collection only helps solidify that I'm constantly learning new things about myself and others as I travel the poetic path.

OA: What is the role of outside forces in your work? For example, are you connected to a place? How does that place enter your work?

RLB: As far as geography, I don't know if there's a specific place that dominates my work. That said, I do try to keep myself open to the things happening around me and what matters to people. For instance, I feel love is an abstract idea that means different things for different people, but I also feel it's one of the strongest emotions there is--causing wonderful and horrible things to happen around the world every day. Global warming, child abuse, Alzheimer's, depression, hopelessness, hopefulness--all these are tackled in this collection. There are poems set in Antarctica, in a grocery store parking lot, at an arboretum, in front of the television, and other places.

OA: Imagine a country where all of the dissidents carry your book. What are they arrested for? To where are they exiled?

RLB: They're arrested for thinking they can solve the world's problems. They're likely exiled to Antarctica or Wrigley Field. Only people who've read "Watching the Ice Melt" will get that one.

OA: Where do you see yourself in the family tree of literature? Who are your kinfolk? Who are your foster parents?

RLB: As a first-time poet, I see myself at the very bottom of the family tree. The cool kids I look up to include Bob Hicok, Jean Valentine, Thomas Lux, Sandra Beasley, Patricia Fargnoli, Wislawa Szymborska, Louise Gluck, Robert Bly, Robert Kelly, and Bob Pollard. Foster parents would include Anne Sexton, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Laurence Dunbar, T.S. Eliot, and Emily Dickinson. And these are all just scratching the surface. There are so many great poets to read.

OA: Who are you reading right now? What is on your desk? (Include a picture if you like!) desk

RLB: Books on my desk at the moment include In the Kingdom of the Ditch, by Todd Davis; Elephant Water, by Dan Veach; Scissored Moon, by Stacy R. Nigliazzo; Go Giants, by Nick Laird; and Stay, Illusion, by Lucie Brock-Broido. I've also been reading those Taschen art books for a project I'm working on with my wife. I'm currently on Magritte.

OA: Is there anything left behind that we can expect to emerge in your future work?

RLB: I'm always working on several things at once. Some of what I'm working on further explores topics examined in Solving the World's Problems, but there are many completely new and different directions, including that project I'm working on with my wife. I like to have directions and paths, but I also like to wander off them and discover new things that even I did not expect. I'm sure whatever emerges in my future work will be a surprise to the current version of myself. I can't wait to see what that future self is up to.