Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Constance Brewer
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The poem “The Greater She-Bear” stood out to us as particularly fitted to the theme of Cosmos. Did you write the poem with the theme in mind? What drew you to this subject matter, and is it something you approach often in your writing?
Constance Brewer: I wrote “The Greater She-Bear” a year or so ago, as part of a series of poems on space. I remember watching a meteor shower while standing in my front yard, drinking in all the sights and sounds that went along with that experience, and knowing I needed to make a poem out of it. I read a lot of mythology, and love stories about how the constellations came to be.
I’ve always been drawn to this subject matter, I have a fascination with science—cosmology and physics in particular. Alas, I have no background in this. As in none, whatsoever. But I read what I can that’s understandable to a layman, and watch NOVA. I have a degree in Philosophy, and that helps with the Cosmology. I also live in a rural part of Wyoming, so when I need solitude, I can drive out, away from the lights of town and look up at the clear, dark skies. There you can see the stars and the Milky Way in all their glory. Very inspirational. For fun, I like to track the International Space Station as it goes around and around the Earth.
The Cosmos is something that appears a great deal in my writing. Writing poetry helps me puzzle through some theories, and also helps me try and express the wonder I get looking up at the night sky. I had so many Cosmos type poems that I collected them together in a book that’s out looking for a home, called Astronomy Lessons.
RR: What was it like growing up with as a daughter of an aerospace engineer? How does that influence your writing?
CB: My dad was always working on cool things, like the ejection seats for a B52 bomber, or an obscure switch for part of the Space Shuttle. He’s talk about how the little things helped the big things work, and I think that is where my interest in Cosmology came from. Copies of Air and Space Magazine were always on the coffee table. His love of flight rubbed off, and I remember being on vacation and always having to find the airport nearby and watch planes take off and land. We went to the Kennedy Space Center one vacation, the Air and Space Museum another. I watched the Space Shuttles take off and land on tv, and thought, wow, Dad made part of that. They are carrying a piece of my family to the stars.
Between of the family interest in space, rockets, and planes, and the availability of NASA news and videos, my writing is greatly influenced by what’s Out There. And how we get Out There.
Astronaut biographies/space station videos give me a glimpse of that. Poetry lets me explore it from my place on the ground.
RR: We understand that you work in multiple genres, including fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a favorite? How is your approach different to each of the genres?
CB: I write poetry, fantasy, and essays, mainly. The nice thing about writing in different genres is it helps me keep writer’s block at bay. Sometimes I want to work on my great sweeping novel, juggle all the plot threads and characters. I do a lot of research, take what I need, discard the rest, and approach the novel like something I have to conquer.
Other times I like to contain my vision to little stories – poems. I can be more nuanced and intricate. I can explore the odds and ends of life. Poetry is more of a partnership between myself and the poem. It gives, I take, and then we reverse in a complicated word waltz. Often I only have a first line, and I love to sit down and see where that little kernel of an idea takes me.
Sometimes I like to pass on what I’ve learned writing to other folks, in hopes that it might help someone. I like to review a book, or relate something interesting that happened. I write about poetry forms when I’m working on puzzling them out. That’s where the non-fiction come in. I don’t have to do as much research for them as say a thesis, so they are a nice mental break. I stick to a conversational tone, which might not make good non-fiction, but what the heck.
I’d have to say my favorite is poetry in all its messy, mucky slantways complexity.
RR: We also understand from your bio that you have a “small but vocal herd of Welsh Corgis.” We’re honestly just very curious as to how many Corgis classifies a herd, and what are their names?
CB: My corgis are Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Just one Corgi can be a herd, dog knows those little legs can stomp like a dozen when he stampedes through the house. At one point I had four Corgis at my house, two were on again off again guests, the other two were mine. (They are like Pokemon, you have to collect them all.) I had a tri-color, so the next year I got a red and white from the same parents. When all four Corgis got together, there was much playing, barking, snarling, tumbling and ball chasing. And eating, always with the eating. Snacks are a big part of a Corgi day. The four arranged themselves into a loose herd. The females usually ran things with an iron paw.
I think 3-7 constitutes a good sized herd. If you can manage all the unique personalities. Unique, hard-headed personalities. We lost the herd one by one due to complications of aging, and now I’m down to my 13 year old red and white Corgi, Merlin the Magnificent. I lost Maximus Minimus at Christmas, and our frequent flyer guest dogs (one a full sister to Maximus) passed recently also. They were Princess Emmy and Maggie the Mouthy. It’s lonely without a big herd. I’m thinking a rescue Corgi or two would fit nicely.
RR: Has being a co-editor and co-owner of a poetry journal changed the way you think about your own writing? If so, how?
CB: Being an editor of a poetry journal has definitely changed the way I think about writing in general. We see a lot of poems in the slush, and there are so many that just weren’t ready. There’s a kernel of a great idea buried under a lot of throat clearing. I realized that in my own writing, I needed to excavate those gems and polish them up. That it’s easy to go easy on yourself, to call something done when it really needs a swift kick in the pants. I learned ‘murder your darlings’ was a tough but true need.
I also learned when I read a poem that made me sit up and pay attention, that I needed to read it several times for sheer pleasure – turning my editor’s brain off – and only then could I come back and try to figure out how they did it. All this helps me to write fiction and non-fiction also. I read some books for pleasure only, and others I read with a critical eye to see how it’s done. I constantly question myself – would I have done anything differently? If so, how? There’s so much to learn, books and poetry are great teachers.
Thank you for the chance to talk a little about myself. And thanks for the great questions!
Constance Brewer’s work appears in Issue 5.3 here.