In 2019, I curated the first RHINO *Graphic* Review. The issue was unique because each reviewer explored a book of their choice and expressed their comments in both words and images.
The result was phenomenal! The NewPages, many editors, and publishers commented on the issue; in addition, the second issue was launched in 2021 along with many visual projects at RHINO Poetry.
Then wonderful things happened. Because of the awareness, I started receiving information about poets who work with visual / graphic elements. They are all fantastic and super interesting. Therefore, I approached them about writing craft essays in 2020, which was the start of my blog, "WORKING ON".
I started hearing about Frances Cannon from many sources in late 2019. Her graphic reviews were published in the Green Mountains Review, with her newest review being featured the Iowa Review. These led me to her book, Walter Benjamin Reimagined A Graphic Translation of Poetry, Prose, Aphorisms, and Dreams from MIT Press. The editor at North American Review also personally emailed me to check out her work!
Now, I am so thrilled to learn her poetic style and hope to work with her in future projects. It is so exciting to share Cannon's creative brain blueprint.
By Frances Cannon
It is to my detriment as well as my benefit that I have an insatiable hunger to create. My cup of creativity runneth over and is creating a mess. I have too many projects, too many ideas, too many journals, notebooks, sketches, paintings, poems, scribbles, manuscripts-in-progress, too many irons in the fire; I hope that this isn’t misread as boasting, rather—my overactive production limits my capacity for task-completion, as well as career focus.
I will elaborate: due to my interests in art, writing, and teaching, I spread my energy equally into these fields, rather than diving headlong into one and achieving ‘greatness,’ by my own definition.
Perhaps it is the double capricorn in me (sun and rising), or the fact that both of my parents have PhD degrees and my grandparents were tenured and beloved professors, but for whatever reason, I’m an ambitious animal. My goals are becoming increasingly difficult in our current economy: to publish a whole shelf of books and secure a tenure-track full professorship at some prestigious university; good luck, and get in line!
Instead, I am juggling three part-time teaching jobs, and haven’t had time to complete any major personal undertaking in a few years. Perhaps my scatterbrained approach makes me a less-than-ideal candidate for any straightforward position: I’m not an expert in American literature, nor an expert in copper engraving, nor in culinary arts—I dabble in each of these crafts, and many more half-developed skills. My mediums blur together. Whenever I sit down to write another book, I can’t help myself, I sneak in an illustration, then two, then three, until my prose manuscript becomes a graphic hybrid, and then I don’t know how to categorize it, and neither do the publishers.
There is a similar pattern in my teaching habits—in all of the teaching jobs that I currently hold as well as all of the previous teaching jobs—I start off in one clear discipline, and over time, I drift into an in-between zone of genres—a ‘medium medium’ so to speak, as in, a mode in the middle. For example: when I taught in the English department at the University of Iowa, I began by teaching introductory writing and literature courses, then queer literature, then graphic literature, and I began adding comics and drawing workshops on the weekend, until I drifted all the way out of the English department. In other words, I moved on.
Similarly, while pursuing my master’s degree in Iowa, I pitched a graphic novel thesis project, and met much resistance and confusion. The powers that be didn’t know how I would fit my unwieldy hybrid genre manuscript through the narrow slot of accepted forms. My round peg didn’t fit into the square hole of academic expectations. I doubled my thesis committee to include a bookmaker and artist, but in the end, my primary advisor, a nonfiction writer, suggested that I leave the drawings out and submit the prose alone. I didn’t want to abandon my drawings, so I split my thesis in half and wrote two books at once: my prose thesis, as well as a graphic novel. In an ironic twist of fate, the graphic novel got published, and the prose manuscript sits in a file on my desktop, untouched.
All of this is to say, my hunger to create, and my interdisciplinary, hybrid inclinations often produce more obstacles than successes. I am lost in a labyrinth of my own design. On the bright side: I am never bored; I am always bursting with ideas; and I have published a small stack of books, as well as many articles, essays, and art. And, I have three jobs, which is tiresome, but better than the alternative: unemployment.
I am grateful, and I would never want to dampen or reign in my over productive imagination, to set aside one of my three vocations (art, writing, or teaching) in order to ‘focus’ on one. So, I try to keep up with all three: a triathlon of creative disciplines.
Here is a dizzying map of my brain, enter at your own risk.
FRANCES CANNON is a writer, professor, and artist currently living in Vermont, where she teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Champlain College, and the Vermont Commons School. She has an MFA in creative writing from Iowa and a BA from the University of Vermont. She is the author and illustrator of several books: Walter Benjamin: Reimagined, MIT Press, The Highs and Lows of Shapeshift Ma and Big-Little Frank, Gold Wake Press, Tropicalia, Vagabond Press, Predator/Play, Ethel Press, and Uranian Fruit, Honeybee Press.