James Franco Is Bad at Poetry

Note:  This is a poem from the Inauguration, which I know was a few weeks back.  It just took me a long time to process this and I really didn’t want to read this whole poem again.

My brain is broken.  James Franco has broken my heart and brain.  I love poetry.  Therefore, I now hate James Franco.  He has called himself a poet, somehow joined many graduate programs in creative writing, and he is demeaning poetry consistently.  This is what happens when you give a spoiled child the means and praise he’s received.  He thinks he is a good poet.  He is so, so wrong.

As a person who writes poetry, I find him offensive. There are real poets, full-time poets out there who write incredibly beautiful, meaningful poetry that is art and not simply narcissistic rambling. In some ways, he may help bring people to poetry, but if he uses his notoriety to write sub-par, high school-level prose-poems, he isn’t doing the field any favors. People already scoff at poetry; he’s giving them more reason to do so. This is the poetic equivalent to painting a circle on a canvas and charging $100,000 for high art.

If James Franco represents poetry, then poetry is dead.

Randomly, even if verbally, pointing to things in a room doesn’t make your poem illustrative.  It just means you looked around a room.  Poetry is more than a listing of thoughts, or the action of hitting “Enter” on your keyboard.  Poetry is supposed to be art, and this does not qualify.  This is a the live-journal of James Franco pushed onto thin, tall pages.

Art is not an annotated bibliography and vice versa.  James Franco seems to think that he is smart, talented, and unique enough to justify his thoughts alone as art.  Just because you write it and you think you are great doesn’t mean you’ve made something good.  It barely means you’ve made anything at all.

From Kate: “This isn’t even pragmatic or pretty prose.  This is what would happen if poetry had an abortion.”

We must pay special attention to the poem’s end; not just because he gives himself an Oscar for a black-face portrayal of Obama’s “core goodness,” but also because he tells us that “[He’d] let the writer put in all the political crap.”  By saying this, it is as if Franco might actually be aware that he’s not a real writer.  Sure, he’s discussing a fake future movie that someone would write about Obama and then actually cast a white stoner…  But, he doesn’t seem to get that he is “writing” at the moment.  He took the time to google Asheville, but he didn’t take the time to google the president.  Here are some of the last lines about this movie: “I’d let the writer put in all the political crap, / And the specific things that he was up against, / All that stuff on CNN and the Huffington Post, / And I’d say the lines that were written, just like Obama / Reads his lines, but what would really put the role over / Would be the goodness at its core. / That’s what will be remembered. / Yes, his race, no one will forget. But the soul too. / I’d win the Academy Award if I just captured that.”

The vagueness of these lines enrages me.  Poetry is not vague.  He sounds like a person with no knowledge who has randomly decided to pontificate about President Obama.  “All that stuff on CNN and the Huffington Post…”  What stuff?  Which issue?  Are you speaking of his race, his policies, his debate performance, war, economics, anything?  Also, he says that he would “… say the lines that were written, / just like Obama…” almost as an afterthought, as if we, the readers, are supposed to assume that Franco is such a gifted actor, he could easily say lines “just like” the president.

Key Features of Narcissism and Overall Badness:

  • The poem features a striking lack of imagery.
  • The poem lacks rhythm, meter, and music.
  • The poem consists of the thoughts of an easily distracted, wannabe-educated, possibly high hipster with a grandiose self-image.
  • The poem seems to have to remind itself that its purpose is to honor the 2013 Inauguration of President Barack Obama.
  • It’s basically an encyclopedia entry (think wikipedia in a book).  He just explains to us what is significant about Ashville.  He seems to think that every detail of his life and the things that he knows are interesting.  He is wrong.  “Asheville is the place where the Black Mountain College once stood / And helped birth Rauschenberg, Twombly and Johns, / Cage and Cunningham.”
  • He talks about Obama knowing him from the Spiderman movies: “He [Obama] knew me from Spider-Man.”  I’m sure Mr. President was trying to polite; it’s not like he’s your biggest fan.  Get over yourself.
  • Celebrity name dropping without reason.  We’re all excited for you that you got to meet President Obama, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, and Claire Danes.
  • The poem ends with James Franco winning an Oscar.  That means that when James Franco thinks about other people, he quickly finds a way to think about himself.
  • The whole poem is about James Franco thinking about how James Franco is like or related to President Obama.  If I were to write a poem about a tree and I kept comparing that to my acting career, I would be a douche bag.  My point is that James Franco is ruining poetry and he’s a douche.

*********************************************************************************

Obama in Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina, is the birthplace of Thomas
Wolfe and the sometime residence of F. Scott Fitzgerald
When he visited Zelda at her institution;
He stayed at the Grove Park Inn, a grand stone edifice.

On the phone once, Cormac McCarthy lamented
The two added wings and the spa, and marveled
At the original structure, They pulled the stones
From the mountains and brought them down on mules.

Soon after his fortieth birthday, Fitzgerald attempted suicide
Here, but couldn’t shoot his own head, drunk, I guess.
Later, after he was actually dead, from alcohol,
Zelda perished in a fire at her institution, one of nine.

*

Asheville is the place where the Black Mountain College once stood
And helped birth Rauschenberg, Twombly and Johns,
Cage and Cunningham; now I think it’s a Young Men’s Christian Association.
On the wall of the Grove Park, they have pictures of the famous guests;

I’m not up there, but Obama is. I was asked to write something
For the inauguration of his second term, but what could I write?
I was in Asheville, studying writing, but not the political sort;
I write confessions and characters, and that sort of thing.

I wrote my friend Frank about what I could do, but he was unresponsive.
I went to class and then the little burrito place where they know me,
And finally at night I got Frank’s email on my phone and pulled over
On the side of Warren Wilson Road, past the school barn with the WWC —

That I couldn’t see in the dark — right before the school entrance;
A little spot where there’s a path that leads to a lake called Snake Lake.
First I called my class at UCLA, and told them to watch Apocalypse Now,
And that it used Heart of Darkness as a model, and that we’d watch

Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness, the making-of, the following week.
Then I read Frank’s note. He said he was sleeping twenty hours a day,
With no symptoms except that he desired sleep
And just a little more sleep. He’s in his seventies.

Then he said that my poem was a difficult task.
How to write about a man written about endlessly;
A man whom everyone has some sort of experience of;
How to write so that it’s not just for the converted.

*

I met Obama once, in D.C., the Correspondents’ Dinner.
I was the guest of Vanity Fair, guided through D.C. by the wife
Of Christopher Hitchens, when he was alive. We went to Hitch’s place,
He had books from floor to ceiling, and said he had read

To Borges, when he was blind, Old Icelandic Eddas—
Then we waited in a private room with the likes of Tom Cruise,
And Katie Holmes, and Claire Danes. When Obama entered
The crowd converged. Finally, I got to shake his hand,

He knew me from Spider-Man. I asked him for advice,
I was scheduled to give the commencement speech at UCLA
And there were some undergraduate knockers against me;
He had been denied the usual honorary degree by Arizona State

Because he hadn’t accomplished enough, so I wondered
How he dealt with detractors. He smiled his smile and said,
“Humor.” Well he’s damn right, and I wonder how much
That stand-up comedian is laughing in the face

Of this big country. Because he is one man and we are many,
And a great servant of the people—he’s a president, not a king—
And doesn’t need to face what King Charles once faced.
(Frank suggested I examine Marvell’s semi-inauguration poem for Cromwell:)

That thence the Royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn:
     While round the armèd bands
     Did clap their bloody hands.

That most famous stanza, and then:

But bow’d his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.

And he was beheaded, good-bye Charles.

*

If I were to act in the film about Obama,
All I would need to get down, aside from the outer stuff—
And I know that’s important—is his essential kindness,
I’d let the writer put in all the political crap,

And the specific things that he was up against,
All that stuff on CNN and the Huffington Post,
And I’d say the lines that were written, just like Obama
Reads his lines, but what would really put the role over

Would be the goodness at its core.
That’s what will be remembered.
Yes, his race, no one will forget. But the soul too.
I’d win the Academy Award if I just captured that.

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