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.

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