Robert Bren of Brunswick will read from his new book, “Undertow: A Tide Pool of Poems,” at Curtis Memorial Library Saturday, Sept. 28. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — Where he once wielded tools to battle furious blazes, Robert Breen now holds a pen just as resolutely.

“I take the pen today, and I carry it just liked I carried my ax, or the hose, and I use it, I hope, for the betterment (of people),” the former Boston firefighter said in an interview Sept. 19.

Serving in that role from 1978-1999, Breen has spent the years that followed cultivating his love of writing poetry, a journey that has culminated in his new book “Undertow: A Tide Pool of Poems.” Breen will host a poetry reading and book launch at Curtis Memorial Library, 23 Pleasant St., from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28.

“All the stories that I needed to make me the poet (I am) today, came out of the fire department; that nurtured and grew me,” he said.

Firefighting is combat against an enemy gone wild, when an element humanity uses to warm itself and its food has turned and must be suppressed, Breen explained: “It becomes dangerous and it can kill.”

His thoughts turned to the fire captain who’d been killed, and six other firefighters injured, in a Farmington propane tank explosion just three days prior. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “There you are one second, and you show up at a scene, and it’s over.”

“I’ve been in back drafts; I’ve been in dangerous, dangerous situations,” he continued. “A lot of my friends got killed in the line of duty.”

Of course, Breen’s profession was one of healing, too.

“Extricate wounded from the pith of pain / snatch survivors out from the Jaws of Death. / With care, bind, collar, board flesh and bone,” he wrote in “Pulverizer.”

The 68-year-old Boston native has found his poetry to be one means of healing from those traumatic experiences.

“It’s a way of me recording their stories,” he said of his brothers in service. “Everything I write about, I’ve been there; it’s not about me, it’s about we. … A firefighter does his job because he’s got that team about him.”

Breen as a youth fell in love with the poem “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer. Studying Irish literature at University of Massachusetts Boston while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree, he penned his first poem in 1978. “I started being introduced to (James) Joyce, (William Butler) Yeats, and (Patrick) Kavanagh,” he recalled.

In the ensuing years, while a Boston firefighter, he met and befriended Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who taught at Harvard College in the 1980s and 1990s and would earn the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Breen gave Heaney his fire helmet, which prompted Heaney to write the poem “Helmet” in honor of his younger friend and his heroic line of work.

“It sat on his desk at Harvard for 20 years,” said Breen, who Heaney had nicknamed the “fire poet.” Hence the name of Breen’s website,

He continued to write some poetry during his firefighting years, but largely kept it to himself. After tearing the rotator cuff in his shoulder, the latest of several injuries in the line of fire, Breen was forced in 1999 to retire. Since retirement he’s had two hip replacements, and back and knee operations. “I’m a whole new man; I’m young again,” he said, smiling.

His interest in writing still prevalent, Breen entered graduate school and attended Harvard’s summer writing program. His professor at the time, knowing Breen packed more poetic power than perhaps he’d been letting on, “turned to me and said ‘Breen, for God’s sake, write a poem for us; stop bringing me hearts and flowers.'”

Breen delivered three poems, including “The Eighth Circle” – a nod to Dante’s “Inferno” – which Faculty of Arts and Sciences judges chose to include in The Harvard Summer Review in 2000.

“My professor looked at me and said, ‘we’ve found the poet,'” Breen said.

After moving to Brunswick with his wife Karen in 2014, he was a 2015 “Joy of the Pen” competition winner at the Topsham Public Library, and received the Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award for “Beyond Cold.”

Although Breen had released two chapbooks, or smaller books of poetry, “Undertow” is a collection – or “tide pool,” as the subtitle states – of all his 75 poems. They involve a variety of subjects: climate change and politics, for example.

Gary Lawless, a poet himself, owns Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, where Breen’s book can be found. He among the judges to choose Breen’s work in the Topsham competition.

“To see his poems coming out of an Irish, working class but well educated, big-hearted tradition is really refreshing,” Lawless said Monday. “His poems come from both the head and the heart … he is honest, refreshing, and straight from the heart, but also with a little gift of the gab, a little blarney.”

“It is really wonderful to see this well-made, lovely book collecting his poems for all of us to read, but even better to hear his voice,” Lawless said, “to hear the Ireland and Boston in his soul.”

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