Numb, we watch the news from a safe distance. No personal blood is shed. Yet, beyond statistics lie human emotions—pain that cuts deeper than any weapon.
Poet Shirley J. Brewer responded to the stabbing death of Stephen Pitcairn, who envisioned a career as a doctor. Instead, he died in the street just one block from Brewer’s home in Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood.
Brewer gives tragedy a voice. In words both spare and poignant, she creates an awareness of the staggering ways violence robs everyone—families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and society as a whole. In After Words, we grieve. Our sorrow is specific, for Stephen and the Pitcairn family. It is also universal—for every person whose life has been lacerated by crime.
One knife, and we all bleed.
Specs: Paperback, 50 pages, 6×9″ perfect bound on white paper
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Shirley Brewer’s After Words is a testament to the spirit of compassionate community that embodies the best of Baltimore and all of us. In the face of tragedy, she reaches out as a loving neighbor to address the inexplicable: the senseless murder of Stephen Pitcairn, a researcher whose dream of becoming a doctor and alleviating others’ pain is abruptly cut short one night in Charles Village. In sharing her work with members of the Pitcairn family, the author gives voice to the lost and offers solace to the bereaved. After Words is proof of the power of words—to express outrage, to comfort and to heal.
—Ned Balbo, author of The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press, 2010), awarded the 2010 Donald Justice Prize and the 2012 Poets’ Prize. He teaches at Loyola University, Baltimore, MD.
Shirley Brewer and I constantly walk the walk Stephen Pitcairn was taking when he met his murderers; it’s where we live. Brewer walks the walk in a second way—via her powerful, gut-wrenching, brave words. Brewer’s wise, beautifully crafted book, with its moving foreword by the victim’s mother, images the unimaginable in a way that teaches me how to think about the unthinkable and, as Brewer says in the opening poem, to give thanks for the days/you walked among us.
Readers familiar with Shirley Brewer’s wry, witty, often slightly amused poetic voice will not hear it here. Instead they will hear the voices of Pitcairn, his mother, Reggie Higgins and, yes, even the knife.
—Poet Clarinda Harriss is Professor Emerita of Towson University and Director of Brick House Books, Inc., Baltimore, MD.
Shirley Brewer’s stunning poems give voice to an urban Baltimore community struck by crime, to the young victim following his death, to his grieving mother, and to the neighbor – Reggie Higgins – who held and comforted Stephen in his last minutes of life. They reflect, in beautifully crafted lines, the horror of violence, the depth and duration of grieving, the incredible kindness of a stranger and, most of all, the tenderness, anger, love and wit of the young victim in messages sent after his death. Brewer brings us to the edge of an abyss and holds our collective hand.
—Margaret S. Mullins divides her time between rural Maryland and downtown Baltimore. She is the author of the chapbook Family Constellation (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and the editor of Manorborn: The Water Issue (Abecedarian Press, 2009).
Shirley J. Brewer is an educator and workshop facilitator. Her poetry has appeared in The Cortland, Review, Comstock Review, Passager, Free Lunch, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Pearl, Evening Street Review, and other publications. Her poetry chapbook, A Little Breast Music, was published in 2008 by Passager Books (Baltimore). Shirley lives in the Baltimore community of Charles Village.