Caxton Club’s most recent guest was not really a guest at all. Gina Franco is a Professor of English at Knox and author of The Accidental. This book of poems tackles the ultimate question: What is meaningful? Split into two sections — “the Accidental” and “the Substantial” — the book was inspired by a Thomas Aquinas quote on what is incident and what is essential in life. The poems cover a wide range of topics, from natural disasters and drive by shootings to lynchings and the Wall.
Franco was introduced by James Cook, senior, who had no lack of admiration for the professor. Cook pointed out how easy it is for Franco to find beauty in the little things, recalling the time she got excited in class because she found multicolored chalk. This same attention to the seemingly unimportant is found in The Accidental.
“Beauty is found in the darkest moments,” Cook said.
Beauty and poetry have always been things that interested Franco. She has been scribbling down poems and playing with a typewriter for as long as she can remember. What originally drew her to poetry was the idea that if someone picked up her journal at school, they would be baffled by it and unable to interpret what it meant. While Franco used to think poetry was an obscure art, she now knows that’s not true.
“It’s the opposite; (poetry is) full of meaning rather than empty of meaning,” Franco said.
As far as inspiration for her poems go, Franco simply writes about her experiences. Many of her poems are her trying to cope with things that have happened in her life.
“I’m both a skeptical person and a religious person. I really needed the writing to help my through my perplexity,” Franco said.
The Accidental was published in September of this year, but the Caxton event on Nov. 15 was Franco’s first reading of the book. She read roughly 10 poems from the novel, starting with the “Accidental” section and ending with a prose poem from the “Substantial” section titled “The Wall”.
According to Franco, just getting the words down on paper and starting to write the book was the most difficult part.
“I hate the feel of the first draft,” she said.
But afterwards, she was able to pick out “the jewels” and all the things she liked, resulting in The Accidental.
Ultimately, Franco uses poetry as a tool to grow as a person. We are constantly gaining new information that changes how and what we think, and art is a part of that.
“If you put art into the service of you becoming a person, then it helps you be contemplative,” Franco said. “We don’t have a lot of spaces in life where we can be reflective.”
Sophie Swan, freshman, was among those who attended the reading. She has not been able to have a class with the professor because Franco went on sabbatical this term. However, Swan thinks that having staff from Knox read at Caxton Club events is a one-of-a-kind way to be introduced to her professors.
“Especially being someone who isn’t yet familiar with the English Department, it’s cool that I can start getting to know (them) in a really unique and intimate way,” Swan said.
Even though The Accidental was only recently released, Franco is still working on a new book, tentatively titled Throne. Calling inspiration from James Hampton’s art display of a throne made out of trash, the question Franco seeks to answer in her new poems is: “Beneath the glitter and gold, is it a wasteland?”