Brown and Womer share debut poetry collections

Julie Phillips Brown and Visiting Assistant Professor Brenna Womer read original poetry for students


“The Adjacent Possible” and “honeypot” are available for purchase online and in the W&L Bookstore. Photo by Emma Malinak, ’25.

Emma Malinak

Two local writers, Julie Phillips Brown and Brenna Womer, shared original poetry from their debut collections in the Science Center Atrium Feb. 2. In the first event hosted by the Glasgow Endowment in 2022, Brown and Womer joined forces to create a vulnerable space and share their written work with students and faculty at Washington & Lee University.

Every year, the Glasgow Endowment funds are used to promote the art of expression by hosting public programs involving language artists, poets, dramatists and fiction writers.

“Poetry offers a promise of persistence and survival,” said Brown on the importance of telling stories through the medium of poetry.

Brown – a poet, literary critic, painter, book artist and professor at Virginia Military Institute – kicked off the event by reading poems in her first collection, “The Adjacent Possible,” which won the 2019 Hopper Poetry Prize for Environmental Writing.

Brown describes her first book as an “investigation of consciousness and how our feelings, thoughts, memories and sense of identity arise.” 

Her work explores the complexity of this emergence through theories of consciousness and Buddhism. The poems are presented mainly in hybridized forms such as tanka, renga and haibun, which combine various formats of traditional Japanese poems. The book is arranged by season in order to maintain a sense of presence in each scene.

Whether observing a duck or contemplating her place in the universe, Brown’s selected poetry readings explored the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the natural world. 

As an undergraduate student, Brown said she attended local poetry readings, which helped her find her calling and shape her career in writing.

“[The readings] gave me a sense of where I wanted to go and how to get there,” said Brown. “Now, it’s fun for me to give back.”

Brenna Womer, visiting assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University, took the podium next and read from her debut poetry collection, “honeypot.”

With Womer’s unique queer and Mexican heritage perspectives, honeypot offers a vulnerable personal account of existing as a woman in this world. 

“It’s amazing hearing a diversity of voices,” Womer said, commenting on the importance of hosting two female writers in one powerful reading.

Each of Womer’s poems took on a new form and a new gripping narrative, exposing audience members to different genres and styles of poetry.

Although the poets each have a unique creative lens, they both read work that explored family dynamics and the joys and hardships of familial life.

Brown’s anecdotes about her six-year-old son, her grandmother who suffered from dementia, and her mother’s parenting habits united the audience with shared experiences.

Maggie Frankel, ’22, found connections with Brown’s family poems and expressed that poetry is an important unifier.

“Poetry allows you to be vulnerable. It’s a safe space,” Frankel said.

Womer further cultivated this safe space by sharing a dynamic prose piece that contrasted her simple joys of childhood with the difficulties that arose in her nuclear family. The piece describes how Womer navigated the stress of having a mother with depression, a father in the military and unstable finances.

“It’s interesting hearing from a W&L professor in a vulnerable context,” said Caroline Foster, ’25.

Foster further explained that it is beneficial for students to know professors in a “peer-to-peer relationship through poetry.”

After the event, Womer and Brown offered their books for sale and were available to discuss their collections and careers.

“For a lot of early-career writers, like myself, it’s huge to have this type of event because we don’t have giant publishers setting up book tours for us,” explained Womer on the importance of sharing her creative work with an audience.

For both authors, their debut collections offer an opportunity to share their unique stories and perspectives, embodying a line from one of Brown’s poems: “There is always more than one way to tell a story.”