Spotlight: Rick Cannon

“How Great it is to Be Writing”
By Courtney McNamara

Writers are idealistic by nature, but in the year 2011 most are wise enough to focus on at least some sort of professional success from their endeavors. Whether it be publication, or tangible recognition from colleagues and esteemed writing critics, the work of writers is meant to be shared. However, it is important to reflect on the good old days, when the beginning writer got natural endorphins just from putting the pen to the page. It is imperative to treasure the ability to write, the possession of the key to a world unknown to many other adults. Professor and published poet Rick Cannon remarks on this simple joy when he shared, “that wisp of a thought that gathers me whole – when I begin in the dark and look up and it’s light – is great enough.”

These words exemplify the bona fide attitude Georgetown graduate Rick Cannon has toward his own poetry, inspiration, and writing in general. But don’t think once that this man steers clear of distribution of his poetry. Rick confessed the discernment when it comes to selecting poetry ready to be read by editors, with a little advice for overzealous young writers.

He was quite candid when he remarked, “It takes me a while to accurately assess a poem I’ve written – most are not as good as I first think – and even thought I eventually pulled them and revised or discarded them, I had damaged my reputation with some magazine editors.” This retrospective observation can serve as a recommendation for those writers living by the ideology that more is always better. In the world of poetry publications, it is better to be sure than shamed.

Steering away from the business and politics of publication, Rick got raw with me about the beginnings of his own path as a writer. A humble man, the winner of best poem of the year by Catholic Press Association a few years ago, was flattered to be referred to as a ‘great writer’, but questioned the ambiguity of the phrase.

As he commented, “When Frost’s work is reduced to a half dozen pieces in a 21st Century anthology, what does ‘great’ mean?”

That is a ‘great’ question, Rick. In a world where the written word is permeating our lives in a more comprehensive manner than ever before (the Kindle application was pre-installed on my new phone), perhaps sometimes it is necessary to pull back and remember those initial writing experiences that kept you coming back for more.

For Rick, a high school Advanced Composition class held such a memory. He recalls, “I experienced for the first time that nearly addictive daze in which the clock would seem to fly forward in two and three hour leaps. I loved that. It was such a refreshing loss of self-consciousness.” Talk about getting back to basics. This loss of self-consciousness is so innate to the satisfaction of writing that it is easy to see how organically Rick can be inspired to write.

Poets are no strangers to inspiration from nature, but Rick Cannon spoke about this phenomenon in a way that maneuvered away from the trite exaggerations often associated with this point of view. He draws inspiration from many evenings in his car while driving; his frame of mind is altered.

Cannon describes this altered state by explaining, “my mood seems more open and more able to take chances. There is something divine about the land and sky. They seem by themselves to be an answer, though in an arcane language.”

Cannon was not afraid to speak candidly about this fascination, as well as his spiritual surroundings. As a Catholic raised, educated, and now teaching within range of the faith, his surroundings have naturally led to an almost innate paradigm of visual and linguistic images associated with the church finding its way into his poetry. His poem “Of Little Faith” won best poem of the year by the Catholic Press Association, and Cannon himself is often preoccupied with this concept.

Whether it be 2011 or centuries back in time, the element of faith seems to be an ever-prevailing theme. For Cannon, “faith is doubt’s shadow, not the other way around as I would wish; so maybe it’s imagery begging the ideology to be true.” As a teacher at Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C., it can be assumed that discussions like these are not uncommon between Cannon and his aspiring scholars.

It all comes back to the simple pleasures of the craft; even published poets like Cannon can sit back and say, “I’ve come to appreciate how great it is to be writing.”

Brief Bio:
Rick Cannon, graduate of Georgetown University and the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, has taught English at Gonzaga College High School and as an adjunct at Trinity University for the past 35 years. He and his wife of four decades are the parents of five children and live in Silver Spring, MD. His poems have appeared in dozens of periodicals. In 1992 he was awarded Best Poem of the Year (“Of Little Faith”) by the Catholic Press Association; in ’95, ’01, and ’11, Maryland State Arts Grants in Poetry; and in ’96 a Pushcart nomination by Poet Lore. He’s published three chaps: The Composition of Absence (Pudding House), What We Already Knew (Sheltering Pines), & Questions for My Father’s Killer (Pudding House). He’s served for a half-decade as co-editor of Poet Lore and on the Maryland State Poet Laureate Selection Committee.


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