Jenny Browne first began writing poetry an ocean away from home.
She was studying abroad in Sierra Leone, on Africa’s western coast, when she opened the one book of poetry she’d brought with her. Over the wavering flame of a kerosene lamp, the words of Pablo Neruda, Derek Walcott, and Seamus Heaney, among others, helped Browne make sense of her new home and how it felt to be there.
This January, Browne will make Belfast, Northern Ireland, home as the recipient of a six-month Fulbright Commission scholarship to teach at Queen’s University Belfast. She will write, lecture, and deliver public readings of her poetic work at the university’s prestigious Seamus Heaney Centre.
“I am humbled and thrilled to be able to go, and to really participate in an exchange that is both literary, but also cultural, as a citizen of poetry,” Browne says.
Browne—whose place-based poetry has earned her accolades as the 2016 poet laureate of San Antonio and 2017-18 poet laureate of Texas—will also spend her time abroad working on her fifth poetry collection, Until the Sea Once More Closes Over Us. This collection will highlight extreme and unfamiliar landscapes around the world, from Chile’s Atacama Desert to the U.S.-Mexico border, in an effort to help people imagine and understand places they may never see.
Additionally, the collection will contemplate the effects of climate change and how poetry offers readers a means to engage in conversation around a highly polarizing issue. While in Northern Ireland, Browne will visit the Giant’s Causeway (a series of basalt columns that rise up from the sea) to consider how this iconic formation “locates visitors in both ancient and current moments of carbon-based climate change,” she says.
“More recently, I have grown quite concerned about this place—the Earth—and how it feels to be living here,” says Browne, who has co-taught an interdisciplinary First-Year Experience course on climate change for the past three years at Trinity. “At some level, we turn to poetry to speak to things we don’t know how to talk about in other ways, and to ask these larger questions about what we stand to lose and what’s at stake.”
At the Seamus Heaney Centre, Browne will likely teach courses related to epistolary writing, poetry, and gender, and environmental writing. She is excited to work and learn from students who live in a country with such a “rich poetry tradition.” Browne also sees herself as a “poetry ambassador” of Texas and looks forward to developing connections with Queen’s University students, faculty, and Belfast-area poets.
Browne grows a growing cohort of Trinity faculty who have received Fulbright scholarships, including Jason Johnson, Randall Nadeau, Peter O'Brien, Bob Scherer, Dennis Ahlburg, Saber Elyadi, Erwin Cook, Norma Cantu and Gina Tam, among others.
“This is a tremendous honor not only for Professor Browne, but also for Trinity,” says Deneese Jones, Trinity’s vice president for Academic Affairs. “Having our faculty recognized for their achievement and selected for participation in this prestigious program is cause for celebration. I congratulate Jenny and look forward to reading her forthcoming volume of poetry.”
As she develops this collection, a “travel narrative,” Browne says it’s good to “get out of our comfort zones” and to step outside of our usual conversations. She hopes to better understand industrial Belfast—the city that birthed the RMS Titanic—and Northern Ireland’s history and current status as a part of the United Kingdom.
“What I’m really excited about is that my time in Northern Ireland can be really generative, and I’m looking forward to discovering what my time there might bring to this new book,” Browne says. “It’s a lucky position to be in—that I can be in a state of response and curiosity—and I’m grateful for the opportunity and Trinity’s support to go on this poetic and personal adventure.”