week, New York Magazine published a list of actor-writer-film
director-producer-painter James Franco’s favorite poems.
“It has been found again.
What ? - Eternity.
It is the sea fled away
With the sun.”
I can remain silent no longer. What stirs my heart
is what stirs my heart. While any attention to poetry is necessary and good and
a long time a-comin', James Franco is making us look bad, my dear human race. And poetry is not the virgin sitting
hopeful in the corner.
It used to be that each man and woman did one thing
apiece. Joseph was a carpenter. Left Eye does the rapping. Chili and T Boz do
the singing. A guy named Mungo was a rapist. The world made sense. Each person's
task was performed with love and affection or anger [Mungo]. But then there are the exceptions:
Lynne Cheney, Leonardo Da Vinci. The Renaissance Man, The Renaissance woman.
Sure, it can be argued that the female sex is itself Renaissance, able more
easily to multi-task than those with dicks, but that's not my point.
There are certain professions we can digest as fitting alongside another. "A poet who teaches" tilts the scales of many poetry magazine biographies. "Car mechanic-racer." "Actress-singer" “Yoga instructor-vegan chef!” These dualities make us nod and smile. We get it. We live in a monotheistic society. One nation under God -- singular. Hell even the Christian God supposedly divides his duties into three so he won’t appear to be too overloaded with work.
But hey, wait, aren't our celebrities sorta/kinda also our national gods and demigods? Don't Americans look toward Jennifer Aniston still to find out whether it's OK and how to suck at romantic relationships? And don't we still check in with Britney on occasion to make sure how not to do our hair? Isn’t the whole point of Alec Baldwin’s brother Daniel to be fatter and in AA? And so, another profession emerges "singer and mentally ill person" or "actor and philanderer." And what about those fascinating to watch because they are so grand and even talented: Lady Gaga, Oprah: the "singer-activist" and "talk show host-humanitarian."
It’s exciting when someone steps and walks freely outside of their comfort zone and succeeds. But James Franco, isn’t there a limit? I don’t write this as a “hater” or “player hater” or to diminish Franco in any way. I’m just shocked. They call him an endless hyphenate and you know what, America? He’s making us look bad.
Here: look at me. I’m a poet who teaches. It makes sense.
This is what writers do.
Other writers do it.
Here’s an entirely inappropriate and illogical analogy that will prove my point. Look below at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Well obviously, James Franco sates all of these needs. James Franco invented this triangle. Are you hungry? Try some Franco! Feeling unsafe? Try Franco as a personal bodyguard. Feel unloved? Pop in Milk! What a doll! Don’t feel high off all that weed? Smoke this weed that Franco says he doesn’t smoke. Need some recognition? Oh – watch this film or read this story. Franco made them and they’ll make you feel like you’re part of something.
Ha ha funny. I know that made no sense and was off topic, but I couldn’t resist. And besides, I’m a teacher who writes and there are a few things that I’m not terrible at like camel posture in yoga…..and making coffee….and ….uh…….
In May of this year I was on my way to Amherst, Massachusetts from New York for my little sister Carol’s college graduation. I took Amtrak. Amtrak is way overpriced, but it’s also convenient. I boarded the train and considered sitting next to one woman but she had a dog as I had planned on staring off into space uninterrupted for like four hours so I sat two seats back. Onto the train comes James Franco (not kidding) with his girlfriend. He lifts a smile and suddenly the woman with the dog moved back a seat [smiling like a fool as if she’d been foolish to consider that she and her dog should be afforded their own seat] and he and his girlfriend were now safely stationed within my purview until they got off in Springfield, Massachusetts.
At some point Franco got out of his chair and headed to the loo with a copy of Robert Hass’ Human Wishes, a book I adore. Here’s a photo of me in reaction to this happening:
<Thought bubble over my head.> Wow. What poem does James Franco like the best? Should I have knocked on the bathroom door? My fist was clenched but I didn't move, so we may never know. But just like a high school crush, I reread Human Wishes in the following weeks and decided without question that James Franco and I would obviously have the same favorite poem: Paschal Lamb. RIGHT? I even wrote a whole poem after the line “The vice president started to cry” to commemorate this feeling. Surely the concept of the sacrificial lamb would appeal to anyone in a position of societal authority. 2 cute 4 words.
We poets are not desperate people who should just be thankful that poetry or a few poems are given just an itsy bitsy weensy bit of attention. American Poetry is not the shy virgin in the corner. And yet…
[This] one can’t help looking up some poems that James Franco recommends. He’s so cute. He’s flipping it. Don’t you see, America? He isn’t doing the expected thing that young male writers are doing. His young American writer correlate is sitting on a filthy couch in Williamsburg high off his ass in disbelief that he’s not famous already. His correlate, America, has had his stories rejected from magazines that Esquire readers have never even heard of. His correlate, America, has paid some ridiculous amount of money on an MFA. His correlate, America, is broke and disenfranchised. And no, his correlate isn’t as cute.
But that’s not important. Here’s what’s important. Imagine you and I are sitting on barstools beside one another with Franco’s picks in front of us. Are these the new poems that you’re reading right now? No. These are the safe picks. Are they on the cutting edge of what so many writers are doing now? Of course not. As a writer, aren't you just as informed by the poems of your peers and friends? It is wonderful that Franco chose three O’Hara poems. And wonderful for many reasons, the least of which is this quote when considered in parallel to the fact that Kerouac and Ginsberg (who Franco just played in a movie) were friends:
Kerouac: You're ruining American poetry, O'Hara.
O'Hara: That's more than you ever did for it, Kerouac.
But what do I know?
I acknowledge that I am
giving James Franco an amount of credit as a part of the conversation of
American letters. People used to shit on Bono for his ceaseless media whoring,
but you know what? AIDS in Africa is a problem and the guy was using his
authority for good. And who am I
to shit on Franco for being a part of the conversation? Plus, like I said a few times already,
he’s eternally cute.
I'm in the woods far away from New York Magazine. Far away from the movie theater and the magazine rack. To my left are four writers tinker words, sip coffee. I like this kind of influence better.