I Know Your Kind
Selected for the National Poetry Series by Ada Limón, I Know Your Kind is a haunting, blistering debut collection about the American opioid epidemic and poverty in rural Appalachia.
In West Virginia, fatal overdoses on opioids have spiked to three times the national average. In these poems, William Brewer demonstrates an immersive, devastating empathy for both the lost and the bereaved, the enabled and the enabler, the addict who knocks late at night and the brother who closes the door. He shows us the high, at once numbing and transcendent: “this warm moment when I forget which part of me / I blamed.” He shows us the overdose, when “the poppies on my arms / bruised red petals.” And he shows us the mourner, attending his high school reunion: “I guess we were underdressed: / me in my surf shoes / you in an urn.” Underneath and among this multiplicity of voices runs the Appalachian landscape—a location, like the experience of drug addiction itself, of stark contrasts: beauty and ruin, nature and industry, love and despair.
Uncanny, heartbreaking, and often surreal, I Know Your Kind is an unforgettable elegy for the people and places that have been lost to opioids.
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Praise and Prizes
“The opioid crisis has plagued poet William Brewer’s hometown in West Virginia. His vivid poems tell the story of the opioid epidemic from different voices and depict the sense of bewilderment people find themselves in as addiction creeps into their lives.”
“William Brewer’s exquisite I Know Your Kind is a rare confluence of addiction and surrender in an unsung American landscape. The poems brilliantly attend to the world with surreal lyricism, bitterly truthful narratives, and an ache that’s eased by the thing that saves: language. This work quakes and blooms and dares us to try to resist the world’s grace.”
“Brewer's collection is a prime example for what can be accomplished when a poetical praxis is used to implement large and tricky-to-wield questions, particularly by moving outward to thoroughly probe an epidemic as it effects a state, a region, a people—as well as the individual. It holds our gazes to the underbelly and shows us that here, too, the imagination thrives and, like all undeniable art, is written in spite of all the things that work to silence it.”
“A timely work of uncommon craft and artistry, I Know Your Kind focuses our gaze on the addict’s plight while cautioning that we not romanticize what we see.”
“‘Oxyana’ is both a real place and a fantastical mental prison, a symbol for addiction with religious and mythological references scattered throughout. Anyone familiar with addiction will recognize Oxyana’s metaphorical scenery in all its absurd and devastating iterations. Despair-inducingly relevant as opioid deaths soar across America, Brewer’s depiction of his triumph over his ‘shrieking private want’ is a revelation.”
“Rooted in rural Appalachia, electric with insight and music, William Brewer’s poems explore the wreckage of addiction. In language that’s luminous and surreal, he makes visible the fractured lives of people moving in and out of halfway houses, pain clinics, and gymnasiums ‘full of coffins / full of smaller coffins / full of Oxys.’ The poems are elegiac, viscerally present, and reveal the interiority of those struggling at the margins of our society. William Brewer is an immensely gifted poet. I Know Your Kind is a commanding debut.”
“With urgency but impeccably composed, harrowing but determinedly non-sensationalistic, William Brewer’s powerful and profound debut I Know Your Kind emphasizes the cycle of disillusion and loss that America’s worsening opioid epidemic both begets and feeds on. These poems seek out understanding but refuse false hope; the currents that compel them are ancient, cold, and strong; and what saves them from despair is what will keep readers returning to them for a long time to come—namely, the sheer forcefulness and vitality of Brewer’s expression.”
“Balancing difficult material with refined style, I Know Your Kind gives voice to a submerged perspective and creates a startling experience . . . in a way that statistics, figures, and journalism cannot. . . . his lines have an ability to set and to shift like striated sediments on a cliff face.”
“I Know Your Kind may be one of this year’s most important books of verse.”
“I Know Your Kind will take you on an eye-opening and haunting journey into the opioid epidemic ravaging West Virginia—the constantly-chased highs, the crippling lows, the devastating overdoses, and the lives that the American healthcare debate doesn’t even come close to considering.”
“Pitch-perfect and tightly focused . . . Brewer displays concision alongside journalistic skills, demonstrating how the rise in addiction matches declines in hope.”
“Brewer opens this pointedly forthright debut collection with an epigraph explaining that the town of Oceana, WV, was nicknamed Oxyana for its high incidence of OxyContin abuse, and the name surfaces throughout this chronicle of addiction and social consequence. . . . But the tone is less cri de coeur than calm, determined observation.”