NEOMFA Student Spotlight | Akron Poet Holly Brown, Burnishing the Mundane

words and photo by Claude Christensen

Holly Brown is a food-lover who has written for The Devil Strip since the beginning. As “The Wanderer,” she has regaled readers with mouth-watering details about the most flavorful tacos, the juiciest burgers, and the freshest sushi in Akron.

But, it so happens, Brown is also a poet. And a pretty good one, too.

From a suburb just north of Boston, Brown just graduated this past May with an MFA in creative writing from the NEOMFA program. Her poems, including “When Everything is Stagnant,” “On Having Bad Vision, Sea Monkeys, and Maternal Instincts,” and “Look at Me Like an Emergency,”  have appeared in such literary journals as “decomP,” “Jellyfish,” “Rockhurst Review,” and “H_NGM_N.”

Brown draws on mundane items, events, places, and her own body to fuel her poetry. A lawnmower, a convenience store, and a pair of feet all make appearances in Brown’s work. An underlying rage and evocations of physical pain are able to transform what was once dull and uninteresting into something beautiful, mysterious, or deadly.  The aforementioned lawnmower has “teeth,” a narrator’s body “is a highway convenience store.”

There is purpose to these superficially uninteresting objects and details, Brown’s poetry seems to say. Beneath a dull exterior is a reality of fear, death, or unending torpor.  And sometimes a ragged, but redeeming, sense of hope.

In person, Brown is ebullient. And she is effusive in her praise for the NEOMFA and her experience as an MFA student in the program.

Brown always knew she was going to be a writer, but it was her introduction to Sylvia Plath’s poetry in high school that first made her consider becoming a poet. For Brown, Plath’s writing could pierce the superficial notion that “Everything is okay” and find a deeper, possibly painful truth underneath. There is a bit of that Plath in Brown’s poetry.

Later, while earning her undergraduate degree in English, Brown attended a poetry reading by Mary Biddinger. Biddinger is an American poet and professor of poetry for the NEOMFA program and the University of Akron. Brown loved Biddinger’s poetry, her public reading style, everything. They connected, were mutually inspired by each other, and, once Brown got in, Biddinger became her mentor in the NEOMFA program.

Biddinger and NEOMFA professors Caryl Page and Catherine Wing combined to comprise the “three badass lady poets” who guided Brown throughout her final thesis. She could not have asked for better teachers, she says.

Sadly, Brown’s graduation also coincides with the publication of her last “The Wanderer” article for the Devil Strip. At least for now.

Brown remembers her time writing about food in Akron fondly. She will miss it, but is excited about what the future holds. In the fall she will go backpacking across Southeast Asia before returning to pursue teaching. And she has a chapbook coming out, possibly titled “Wandering Bruise.” The future is looking pretty good for Holly Brown.

And she really likes Akron. A lot. “I love, love, love it here,” Brown says.

She’ll be back.


Claude Christensen has a soft spot for speculative fiction. Among his favorites are Stephen King’s “It” and Octavia Butler’s “Xenogenesis” trilogy (aka “Lilith’s Brood”). Not terribly afraid of clowns, he isn’t fond of them either.