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Alumni Spotlight: Brianna Noll '05

Brianna Noll '05
February 1, 2017

Growing up, writing poetry was a hobby to Brianna Noll ’05, something she did to try to make sense out of her feelings or express her creativity. It wasn’t until she took her first poetry writing workshop at The University of Scranton, however, that the Larksville native suspected she might be able to become a professional poet, a suspicion that paid off when Noll, a current resident of Chicago, learned the Chicago Review of Books had selected her first collection of poetry, “The Price of Scarlet,” as one of “The 10 Best Books to Read This January.”

“I could not believe it,” Noll said. “My press didn’t tell me they were doing this, the Chicago Review of Books didn’t tell me they were doing this, so I happened to stumble upon this article.

“I think I may have even shouted from my living room when I saw it, so I was really excited about it.”

Noll began working on the collection in 2010 as part of her Ph.D. dissertation at the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is currently a postdoctoral fellow in teaching and mentoring in UIC’s Honors College. While she said she doesn’t consider herself a part of a poetic movement or school of thought, she said her work most closely resembles that of Wallace Stevens and Brigit Pegeen Kelly.

“One way to talk about the collection is to say that I’m interested in uncertainty,” Noll said. “I’m really interested in what happens when we’re uncertain, when we’re doubtful, or when we face our limits.”

Noll said many of the poems were inspired by the frustration she experienced trying to translate Japanese without the benefit of fluency.

“There are a number of poems that tackle this issue of translation,” she said. “For example, there is one poem that thinks about the first person pronoun. In English, we have one. To talk about yourself, you say, ‘I.’ But in Japanese, there are a bunch of different first-person pronouns, so depending on which one you choose, it says something very particular about the person speaking.

“There is a poem that considers, ‘Who is this speaker that uses this word to speak about herself?’ So it’s asking these kinds of questions to not only think about the issue of translation, but also how do we understand ourselves based on the words that we use?”

Noll said the title comes from one of the poems in the collection that focuses on the modern farming practice of producing bright red tomatoes.

“(People) are more inclined to buy a bright red tomato than they are to buy a tomato that is a little more orange in color,” she said. “So, the people who grow tomatoes work really hard to grow this bright red color because they sell better.

“When you do that and you cultivate these really bright red tomatoes, you sacrifice the flavor of the tomato. You get this really beautiful color, but it doesn’t taste as good as a tomato that has not been manipulated in this way. The poem is about what we sacrifice for something that looks more beautiful or more appealing.

“What are we willing to sacrifice in order to get what we want?”

Noll said she has enjoyed writing from the time she was a child.

“My mom tells me I would write these little stories … about cats,” she said. “They would have these adventures and what-have-you, and I guess at some point, poetry just started speaking to me.”

At Wyoming Valley West High School, she fell in love with the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath. When the time came to apply to colleges, Noll said the University was her top choice for a very specific reason.

“I was really interested in a Jesuit education,” she said. “I was very familiar from growing up in the area with Scranton and the kind of education that it offered.

“It spoke to my complex interests in English, philosophy and theology.”

Noll credited professor and director of creative writing John Meredith Hill with encouraging her creative endeavors through independent studies that exposed her to a wide variety of poetry while inspiring her to write.

“Through that, it came to seem as though I really could pursue this,” she said.

Noll advised current students interested in poetry and creative writing to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them.

“Read as much as you can,” she said. “Reading, more than anything else, makes a person a better writer. Read broadly, read widely, read poetry that you love, but all kinds of things.

"Form a community of writers. Find other people who are also interested in writing and form a writing group, or a group where you share ideas, or a book club. … Sharing your writing with other people helps you to grow and mature as a writer.”

Noll plans to continue to write. She recently completed a second collection of poetry inspired by philosopher John Locke’s notion of “the commons”

“When Locke talks about ‘the commons,’ he’s talking about property, public lands or national parks, something we all share together as a society,” she said. “The poems in that collection are interested in imagining what else would constitute a commons, in looking beyond nature and property into things like language and culture, maybe even art – what else would be a commons? I’m excited about it.”

For more information on Noll, visit briannanoll.com. For more information on “The Price of Scarlet,” click here.

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