Fall 2011 / Spring 2012

Photo: McCory James
Photo: McCory James
“We wanted to publish good poems that just happen to be written by women, to address those disparities, and to get more women out there,” Homan says. “We thought there needed to be a place for us, too.”

City Slicker, She Ain’t

From the cornfields of Iowa to the mountains of Colorado—by way of the MFA Poetry program in the Department of English—Brandi Homan has carved her own way in the worlds of poetry and publishing. And she hasn’t forgotten where she came from.

Cornfields have a certain mystery about them. It’s the stories, whether they’re mythical or not. Stories about the scarecrows that come alive at night. Stories about the teenager who grew up in some small town in the Midwest, detasseling corn, yearning for something more.

Brandi Homan (MFA ’07) knows something about these stories. Born and raised in Iowa, this poet, fiction writer, and publisher often draws from the experiences of her formative years to write poems that romanticize and celebrate her youth, the Great Plains, and the people who live there:

          Write your poems about fields
          and farmers and quiet, how

          you can see the stars every night.
You’ll never love them like I do.

Since graduating from the Creative Writing–Poetry graduate program in 2007, Homan, 35, has established herself as a serious poet who approaches her craft with vulnerability, honesty, and finesse, writing poems that, according to renowned poet Joan Larkin, “ride language like a daredevil, talking tough while they strip down to their unabashedly hungry heart.”

Homan is also the cofounder of Switchback Books, an independent, Chicago-based feminist press, for which she was Editor-in-Chief for four years; she’s the author of two volumes of poetry, Bobcat Country (Shearsman, 2010) and Hard Reds (Shearsman, 2008); and she penned a chapbook, Two Kinds of Arson (dancing girl press, 2007).

As a teenager, Homan discovered poetry through a professor at the University of Iowa who introduced her to the work of Sandra Cisneros, Sharon Olds, and others. “It was the first time I realized I could write about my sister, boys, and my body, and that it was okay to write about this stuff,” she says.

For Homan, who also holds an MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the motivation to enroll in the Creative Writing – Poetry graduate program in the Department of English at Columbia stemmed from her desire to advance in creative and professional ways. “I absolutely knew I wanted to publish a book of my own poems,” she says. “It was the best decision for me, ever, in terms of who I met, the experiences I had, and the whole program. The faculty, I think, was the strongest point. They were very open to different aesthetics. David Trinidad was really good at accepting what everyone was trying to do.”

Although she worked full time in the advertising world while she attended Columbia, Homan immersed herself in the graduate Poetry program, and new doors opened for her. She met fellow MFA students Hanna Andrews and Becca Klaver, and the three ventured into the world of publishing.

Homan remembers the exact date Switchback Books came to its inception: February 27, 2006. A short time before, the editors of Action Books, an independent press, came to Columbia to give a reading and answer questions about running a publishing company. Homan says the editors noted that the most challenging aspect of keeping a press going was finding designers who would work for little to no pay. Because of Homan’s connections in the advertising world, that didn’t seem like a problem to her. “Every person I knew was a designer,” she says.

Upon discovering that women were represented far less than men in both local and national writing scenes, Homan and her fellow publishers decided to make it their mission to provide a platform for emerging women poets, while simultaneously honoring the achievements and visions of their poetic predecessors. “Skirting the Status Quo” became their objective and motto for Switchback. With that, a feminist press was born. “We wanted to publish good poems that just happen to be written by women, to address those disparities, and to get more women out there,” Homan says. “We thought there needed to be a place for us, too.” Switchback is now a nonprofit that publishes about two books of poetry a year.

With an MFA in Poetry from Columbia, two books of poetry, a chapbook, and the successful launch of an independent press under her belt, Homan is pursing new projects and interests in Denver, Colorado, where she currently lives. She blogs, is working on some new poetry, and, when she isn’t grinding out her nine-to-five in the communications world, she substitutes her cowboy boots for rollerblades and competes in an all-female, Denver-based roller derby group—an interest she picked up from a former hairdresser of hers. “It sounded like a lot of fun, and all-female sports are great,” she says. “And who doesn’t like roller skating?”

Life in the big city may have its perks, but Homan hasn’t forgotten where she came from: She’s currently writing an “Iowa-related” book of fiction. The project, she says, is inspired by the summers she spent detasseling corn, and she sees the book as revisiting her roots. “Most people who aren’t from the Midwest haven’t heard of detasseling before, but it’s a great way for kids in the ‘corn belt’ to make money,” she says. “The people I worked with detasseling had pretty significant effects on my life. The Iowa fiction feels like I’m definitely coming full circle.”