James Franco, for better or worse

James Franco, multi hyphenate

Today’s poetry-in-pop-culture moment is brought to you by actor/filmmaker/writer/serial-degree-acquirer James Franco. Going by Franco’s occasional poem for the inauguration (you can read it here), he’s got some maturing to do as a poet, despite attending the best low-res MFA program in the country and having a book forthcoming from Graywolf Press. As the recent Details interview notes of Franco’s writing, “It’s a huge body of work, running the gamut from brilliant to unbearable, at times in the same piece.” Sample lines of a poem composed specifically for the interview:

Mostly at Columbia where the students are brats
And they pay so much money they want results

Instantly, so how can you blame them for hating
A Hollywood boy who gets his book published
Right out the gate, and gets to do movies, and date
Whomever he damn well pleases, like a one ton Pink
Elephant in the room, whom everyone wants to shoot
But no one does, because they’re all begging for peanuts.

On the one hand, I love that an artist can get a magazine like Details to write, even tangentially, about poetry. And Franco seems enthusiastic about art, and thinking about art, and I hate to bash those qualities. There’s nothing to be gained by overly harsh criticism of new writers.

On the other hand, the Franco poems I’ve read so far are wearyingly self-obsessed and gratingly unmusical. Franco reports of his time at Warren Wilson, “there is still a heavy emphasis on craft…” Too bad he doesn’t seem to have taken that emphasis to heart. In a culture that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to my favorite art-form, Franco’s position in pop culture gives his poetry incredible visibility. James, please: put better poems out in the world.

Because whether you like it or not, you’re representing.

Little cat feet

A fifteenth century manuscript in Dubrovnik, Croatia – with cat footprints. Antique “aaawww!”

Kitty feet. It's like iambic pentameter, only shorter.

And an appropriate poem I just became acquainted with. I love the internet.

Pangur, white Pangur, How happy we are
Alone together, scholar and cat
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me study.
Your shining eye watches the wall;
My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice, when your claws entrap a mouse;
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
Pleased with his own art, neither hinders the other;
Thus we live ever without tedium and envy.

– W. H. Auden

Emily Dickinson, solitude, gender – you know, the usual psychological thriller topics.

In which Emily Dickinson gets a shout-out on the radio, and I do a little fangirly squee-ing.

NPR's All Things Considered had an interview today with novelist Gerbrand Bakker about his novel Ten White Geese. 

Bakker quotes this Emily Dickinson poem:

Ample make this bed.
Make this bed with awe;
In it wait till judgment break
Excellent and fair.

Be its mattress straight,
Be its pillow round;
Let no sunrise' yellow noise
Interrupt this ground.

…and says of the poem, "It's a very short, but mysterious, poem. I think maybe it is really one of the reasons for me to write this book, to try to really understand, to really feel this poem."

The narrator of the book is a middle-aged woman, and Bakker goes on to say, "I am a strange man, maybe, but I think that there is no fundamental difference between men and women. A lot of people would say otherwise, perhaps."

That pretty much filled of my quota of awesome for the day.

Happy Singleton Appreciation Day

Isle of ewe
As a young child, Benna may have believed that it was all right for words or phrases to be almost correct, but as an adult she realizes that language has to be used accurately: “pears” are not “pearls,” “Satan” is not the same figure as “Santa,” and “igloo, eyelid glue, isle of ewe” do not convey the same meaning as “I love you.”

– Lorrie Moore, Anagrams

So long, and don’t let the door hit ya.

Here’s part 2 of the TV shows I finally kicked to the curb.


I really wanted to like Deception, not least because it has a surprisingly diverse cast. Alas, I am surfeited already with the subject matter by way of Revenge, which this feels like a dispirited copy of. The plot can be summed up as “rich people do bad things to each other and, eh, who cares.”


And speaking of Revenge

This show was unexpectedly fabulous in its first season. I enjoyed every minute of Emily being capably devious and Nolan swanning around in his layered shirts and unabashed bisexuality. This season, they’ve managed to displace the best elements of the show. Instead of Nolan as Emily’s confidante, we get some new guy. Nolan and Emily had a great, weird, compelling chemistry, and it is sorely missed this season. And instead of Victoria as the main antagonist, we get the members of The Initiative, which is Revenge’s version of The Shadowy Conspiracy. See, Victoria’s transgressions were driven by emotion – love for Emily’s father, devotion to her son, and conflicted feelings about her daughter. The Initiative’s bad lady lacks emotion and personality both. She can’t hold a candle to Madeleine Stowe’s barely reigned-in craziness, and I just don’t care about her motives. My feeling in season one was that Revenge really should be a single-season, closed-arc show. Nothing I’ve seen so far this season has convinced me otherwise.

Nolan and the technicolored Izod shirt


And a special, dishonorable mention goes to:

Shadowy Conspiracy

Want to elevate your primetime soap to “high concept” fare? Gotta have a Shadowy Conspiracy. Need to generate conflict? Insert a Shadowy Conspiracy. Not sure what your characters’ motivations are? A Shadowy Conspiracy will distract us from that too. I get that writing a TV show is hard work. Shadowy Conspiracy, when done right, gave us The X-Files and Lost. But compelling stories have to contain realistic conflict. I don’t mean the situations have to be realistic; but the emotions do. If you can’t make me care about the members of your Shadowy Conspiracy, then leave it out. And this is why I keep enjoying the hell out of Parenthood, week after week. I genuinely think it’s the best show on network TV right now, and better than plenty that’s on basic and premium cable too. And part of the reason is that families generate conlict consistently and reliably. It also doesn’t rely on a single romantic plot to carry all the narrative tension.

Parting is such sweet sorrow… without the “sweet” or the “sorrow” parts, that is.

So, network TV was my addiction these past two seasons, because a) I don’t have cable and b) looking for a job is depressing and escapism is awesome. People, I watched every new show that had even a smidgen of possibility. But I finally hit the wall of boredom with most of the new offerings of the past two years. Here’s what finally got deleted off my Hulu favorites list and why.


Oh Smash. I wanted you to be good. I really did. I watched your whole first season. I suffered through your endless awkward plotlines to get to your fun original songs. I put up with you telling me how special Katherine McPhee is in order to enjoy your dance numbers. I was delighted to discover Megan Hilty and see Jack Davenport on American TV, and for these, I thank you. But the time has come to let you go. Play me out, preferably with something from A Chorus Line.

Kiss this show goodbye—

Angelica and Megan.

They did what they had to do,

but I still regret

what I did for Smash, what I did for Smash.

Look, my eyes are dry,

which isn’t all that shocking

since I don’t give a flying fig

for Julia’s husband problems

or Tom’s search for love

or Ivy’s love for drugs.

Gone! Book of Mormon’s gone!

Avenue Q’s gone!

It’s Smash we’ll remember. (Sigh.)

Kiss this show goodbye!

And give me back my hour.

(Nashville’s waiting in the wings…)

Pointless plot, thanks a lot,

for wasting my time, Smash.

Mediocre Smash!

Soon re-booted, Smash


Once Upon A Time

I have no good explanation for why I watched an entire season and a half of this idiotic show. Well, I take that back. I have three explanations: Robert Carlyle and Lana Parrilla. And this:


Oh, Hook. Never have eyeliner and a prosthetic shepherd’s crook been so swoony. But Once is that worst of combinations, goofy but with no actual sense of humor about itself. This show single-handedly cemented my long-simmering hatred of all things Disney.


This show is getting a lot of good press from the sci-fi/fantasy community, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s torturously predictable, the chemistry between Oliver and Laurel is flat, and frankly, the hero is unlikable. I wrote recently that I never need to see another superhero movie. I guess I’ve hit a saturation point, and the drama of the superhero just fails to move me. So my lack of love for Arrow may be entirely on my cold dead little soul. If so, I’m okay with that. Plus, every time I see John Barrowman in these one-off roles, I just miss Torchwood.

Beauty and the Beast

I had a whole review of this re-boot a couple of months ago, but I was too apathetic to post it. This version in no way resembles the 90’s cult classic it’s supposedly modelled on. That show had pathos, romance, and Vincent’s vividly imagined underground world. This version? It’s like if that show were re-written by an overly literal marketing department.