Today, at the Art Barn’s Guest Writers Series, Mark Jay Brewin Jr. will change that definition when he reads his collection “Scrap Iron,” which won the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize in 2012. He will also share poems from his upcoming manuscript.
Many of Brewin’s poems carry the reader to a different place. With an emphasis on travel, it’s no surprise the themes he grapples with are family, identity and the abstract concept of home.
To help explain his idea of home, Brewin utilizes the Welsh word, “hiraeth,” which has no direct translation in English. Brewin explains it’s “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.”
Brewin’s relationship with his family correlates to hiraeth. He grew up in New Jersey, but moved away for college. Brewin was the first of his family to leave New Jersey, and his ambition resulted in resentment on both sides.
“The idea of home is a complex one that intrigues and puzzles me,” Brewin said. “Home for me is something I’ve turned from, at times abandoned, lost touch with. Yet, [it] is also something I constantly miss, mythologize, praise and [it has] shaped me into the person and writer I’ve become.”
More distance was created when Brewin earned his master’s degree. Although his family was mildly supportive, they never fully understood his draw to education and his desire to write poetry.
Though it is difficult for Brewin to connect with his family, he knows that without them he wouldn’t be the person he is today. Like any first generation college student, Brewin recognizes he may never see eye-to-eye with his family, but believes their love helped shape his success.
“Family is complex,” Brewin said. “Despite shared experience and love, there is competition, arguments and tender violence that we inflict on each other whether we want to or not.”
Brewin humbly admits he doesn’t have his familial problems figured out, and continues to work through them. Because of this, he ends “Scrap Iron” on a hopeful note. The people in Brewin’s life have empowered him in many ways, and their love and kindness will continue to inspire him.
“Since I left New Jersey, I’ve lived across the country and abroad, and every place I’ve ever been just makes me miss home a little more, [and] makes me want to find a trace of it somewhere else in the world,” Brewin said.
Acclaimed poet Kathleen Graber is also scheduled to read today. She has two books of poetry — Correspondence and The Eternal City. The second was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also the winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry.