Interview

James Franco Talks Poetry

How the actor, director, Oscar host, performance artist, and PhD candidate became America’s most famous poetry geek.
By James Franco interviewed by Travis Nichols (Travis Nichols)
Introduction
James Franco in The Broken TowerJames Franco as Hart Crane on the set of The Broken Tower. Photo copyright Jason Goodman.

A few days after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Franco would be hosting this Sunday’s Oscars, he took time out of his (insane) schedule to talk on the phone with us about his upcoming biopic of Hart Crane, the cinematic lyric, and how he came to love poetry.

A few days after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Franco would be hosting this Sunday’s Oscars, he took time out of his (insane) schedule to talk on the phone with us about his upcoming biopic of Hart Crane, the cinematic lyric, and how he came to love poetry.

* * *

Travis Nichols: You seem to read poetry that has a little more crunch to it than your standard “refrigerator door” poetry. I was wondering when you were able to make that leap—from historical, dorm room poetry like Neruda and Ginsberg to contemporary poets like Frank Bidart and Spencer Reece. Did you make the leap on your own?

James Franco: I came across Ginsberg and the Beats when I was in high school. And then I suppose my first intro to what I guess you’d call the opposite pole of the poetry world at the time—Lowell and Bishop and, in that tradition, Anthony Hecht—was when I went back to UCLA. I had a teacher named Jonathan Post who had been a student of Hecht, and so he taught a class that covered American poetry up until the ’60s or ’70s. But it really wasn’t until I went to Warren Wilson that I was exposed to contemporary poetry in a real expansive or in-depth way.

When I was at Columbia there were some great poets there, and I wanted to study with Richard Howard. I was in one of his lectures, but I wanted to take a poetry workshop with him, but they just said no [laughs]. You can cross over in the lectures and seminars, but fiction writers are not allowed to go to the poetry workshops. So I asked this guy named Ian R. Wilson, who taught me at UCLA Extension, what I should do. I had gone to UCLA when I was 18 to get my bachelor’s in English, and then I left after a year to act. I went back eight years later to finish, but before I re-enrolled, I took some classes through UCLA Extension. And I took a couple of writing classes with this guy named Ian R. Wilson.

It’s funny because the UCLA Extension writing classes have a great history—Michael Cunningham taught there, and John Rechy and Janet Fitch—so I took some classes there, and this guy Ian R. Wilson was my teacher. He wrote both fiction and poetry, and so when Columbia told me that I couldn’t take the poetry classes, I was pissed off. So I asked him, “Where should I go? I want a place so I can study poetry seriously.” Even though I am at Yale now, sure there are some classes on contemporary poetry, but not in the way that it’s studied at Warren Wilson.

At Yale, you study the Romantics, you study Whitman, but not contemporary poetry. Ian said, “For my money, Warren Wilson is the best poetry program in the country as far as the faculty goes and the way the program is run and the attention you get. You should go there.” And so I applied and they let me in. That’s where I was really exposed to everything. They have a wide range of features, but there is still a heavy emphasis on craft and less experimental kinds of poetry. It seems like maybe a place like Columbia—I don’t know, I didn’t get to take any of the classes, right?—but it seems like a place like Columbia would push more kind of experimental work or, I’m not quite certain, but maybe Chicago or Iowa might push more experimental stuff, more experimental than Warren Wilson. But Warren Wilson is very strong on contemporary poets.

TN: So is that where the idea of working on your film of Hart Crane came from?

JF: That’s a weird story. It actually didn’t come from classes there, although I did end up doing a lot of work on Crane while I was there. One of the things about Warren Wilson is that they put a strong emphasis on analytical work and craft analysis, which I appreciate. In the fiction programs I was in, you could get away with only doing creative work, which is fine, but it’s nice to have somebody who kind of kicks you in the ass to really figure out the nuts and bolts and the why of what you’re doing.

TN: Was that mostly Tony Hoagland, or was there another teacher there?

JF: You’re assigned a new teacher every semester. So I had Tony Hoagland the first semester, I had James Longenbach the second semester, Rick Barot and Alan Williamson. And now I have Ellen Bryant Voigt. You have to write a 40-page essay on some aspect of craft. I think it’s a lot easier to write a story that’s 40 pages long than it is to write 40 pages about craft, because craft almost becomes like mathematics. So I wrote about Crane’s poetry, comparing some of his early poems to some of his later poems. He did get much more dense there; consciously he made his work much more difficult. So that’s what I wrote about.

But I had been interested in Crane before I was at Warren Wilson and before I had even gone back to UCLA. I was doing a movie in New Orleans, a weird movie called Sonny, and I was reading a Harold Bloom book. I’m not quite sure which one, but he mentioned Hart Crane. And then I got Crane’s poems and Bloom wrote an introduction to the collection that I bought, and in that introduction he mentioned Paul Mariani’s book, The Broken Tower. So then I found that. I remember reading it and thinking, “Oh, this is a great character. I’d love to play this character.” Crane’s life was the life of the quintessential struggling artist. I mean, James Joyce, he’s a great writer, but it would be hard to make his life dramatic. You could, but it’s just not readily dramatic. I guess you could say, “Oh, well, he went to Paris and his daughter was kind of crazy and he hung out with Sylvia Beach, then the war came. . . .”

TN: Crane makes much more sense. I mean, he was just a kind of streak across the sky.

JF: Yeah. So I had that in my mind, but at that time I didn’t know how to actually turn a book into a movie or even how to get a movie made. I was still fairly early in my career, and so I just kind of let it sit. I told people about it, and then I just waited. Finally, after going to NYU, I had made some films on my own without looking to people with experience to help me. Everything turned out okay, but it could have been better. I mean I know I was learning, but I’ve learned since that it is a very good idea, at least for me, to get advice and to work with people who I admire and who can help me develop my ideas.

TN: So did you have that kind of support with this film version of The Broken Tower? Did you feel like you were finally able to kind of get that group together?

JF: Well, what happened is I went to NYU Film School. At NYU, the program requires you to make a series of short films. So the first short films—that’s a whole long story I can go into if you want—but the short version is I needed to come up with a subject, and I had read these Anthony Hecht poems when I was at UCLA, and there was one in particular, “The Feast of Stephen,” that for whatever reason struck me at that time as something that would be cinematic. And so when I was required to make a short film, that came back to me and I thought, “Yeah, why not make that now? This is my chance. “I wouldn’t have wanted to expand it into a feature film, but somebody was pushing me to make a short film, and this poem was perfect.”

So then that led to “Herbert White,” which was a Frank Bidart poem I had stumbled across at Warren Wilson. A poet named Gabrielle Calvocoressi brought it in to a seminar, and it just hit me full force and I thought, “Oh, that would also be very cinematic.” So then I made that film based on “Herbert White,” and then I made a film based on Spencer Reece’s poem “The Clerk’s Tale.” All of that got me thinking, “Well, of course now is the time to make The Broken Tower.” I thought, “I know how to do it now, and it will be the perfect next step after making these short films based on single poems. I can do the whole life of a poet and have multiple poems in the piece.” So that’s how that came around.

TN: “Herbert White” and “The Clerk’s Tale” are both character studies and in some ways dramatic monologues. But Crane is very much a lyric poet. I mean, you find a lot of lyric juxtaposition and parataxis and just great flights of language in Crane’s poetry. It seems actually like a pretty big leap to be able to go from doing the short films that are based on these kinds of character-driven pieces to something like Crane, who is very much the poet’s poet. Did you find that hard?

JF: Actually, my approach to poetry this semester under Ellen Bryant Voigt is going to be dealing with examining the difference between lyric poems and narrative poems through a cinematic framework. For me, like I said, I’ve only been studying contemporary poetry seriously for, I guess, two and a half years now, so I still feel like I’m just learning the lay of the land. I don’t know the extent of it yet. We’re using this kind of cinematic frame that I’m much more familiar with to approach poetry. And so you’re right: I’m doing something different with The Broken Tower. When we adapted the single poems, I ended up not using any of the text of the poems in the films. Originally with the Hecht, I couldn’t use any dialogue; it had to be all non-diegetic sounds, so you couldn’t use any sound that you recorded on location. I thought, “All right, I will shoot the images and then I’ll record the poem over the top of the images.” But then I realized that the movie had translated the poem. It existed on its own. It was its own thing, so it was almost like translating it into a different new language.

With the Crane poems, because they’re more lyrical, I’m not really trying to translate them in the same way. You actually get the text of the poems in The Broken Tower, at least four, maybe five of them, in different forms. It’s almost like the anti-Howl, meaning the movie Howl. I love that movie, but Jeffrey (Friedman) and Rob (Epstein) had a different approach than I used. They put the poem at the center. The movie is really about the poem, but they did everything they could to illuminate the poem, to make it more clear, at least on one level, mostly kind of a biographical level, or an autobiographical level. Each section helped the viewer approach the poem, so you get the first reading, you get Ginsberg talking about the poem, what inspired the poem, what certain sections meant to him, you get his contemporaries, some of his contemporaries’ responses to the poem in the courtroom, you get a visual interpretation with the animation. . . .

Crane wanted his poetry to be difficult. He wanted it to be read in a different way than people normally read. So when I started developing the movie, I thought, yes, it will be a biopic of sorts, but I wanted to have the texture of his poetry. He wrote this essay “General Aims and Theories” about his work because he knew it was difficult, and he talked about how the meaning of the poems could be found in a way that the metaphors played off each other, like the tenor of the metaphors were all resting on this upper level, relating to each other. And that was the meaning of the poems, rather than the meaning you might get on the surface level.

So I thought, okay, if there is some equivalent in cinematic language that I could achieve, that would be interesting because you’ll get some incidences from his life delivered through something that feels more like his poetry.

Originally Published: February 23rd, 2011

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. February 23, 2011
     bryan

    Dear James Franco,

    I think you are probably a nice guy. Please
    stay away from poetry.

    The last thing we need is for people to
    actually start liking it.

    Sincerely,

    Bryan Coffelt

  2. February 23, 2011
     Klara du Plessis

    Are Franco's short poetry-films readily
    available? If yes, where?

  3. February 24, 2011
     Belinda

    Ya gotta love this guy!

  4. February 24, 2011
     Charles Coté

    In Crane's own words:

    I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
    With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
    Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
    Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

    I will hasten to again all of Franco's films.

  5. February 24, 2011
     thomas

    It is reassuring to think that all of my favorite writers and poets may be spared cinematic adaptation thanks to their undramatic lives. If only the same fate would befall my favorite actors.

  6. February 24, 2011
     Cayla

    I enjoy James Franco as an actor, he's always picked diverse roles and I absolutely can't wait to read his poetry.
    :)

  7. February 24, 2011
     Noah Cohen

    Dude, the facility and dexterity with which
    Franco lays down his narrative cards is
    sexy as hell. He talks with this papery,
    formal modesty; it's a very "renaissance
    man" demeanor for someone so young to
    assume. I'm more eager than ever now to
    follow Franco's career.

    To Mr. Coffeit: Ha! I like that. I'm sanguine
    about having Franco as an American
    representative of poetic sentiment, though.

  8. February 24, 2011
     Caroline

    Dear James,

    Let's get together.

    -Caroline

  9. February 25, 2011
     Anna Grace

    James Franco,

    Looking forwards to reading your book on Palo
    Alto, and any poetry you have written. I admire
    you for going back to college to study poetry, it's
    rare to see an actor decide to do more in life
    besides acting. But you have it all covered-
    acting, painting, writing..ect. This last year, we
    read Ginsberg's Howl in school and I thought you
    were absolutely wonderful! Good luck hosting the
    Oscars, we all think you should win Best Actor!

  10. February 25, 2011
     Kennedy

    I can't imagine that any editor would ever
    reject James Franco's poetry. The bragging
    rights are just too good.

  11. February 26, 2011
     William

    The Hart Crane movie should be interersting. But I'd like to see Mr. Franco play either Jeff or Tim Buckley should they ever make a film bio of either of these two underated song writers

  12. February 26, 2011
     Sam

    Why the hell must everything be made into a movie with this guy? Not to mention how godawful his fiction book reads. "Palo Alto" is a smattering of pop culture and bad writing. Dear Lord, someone save us from James Franco. What hot wind in the skull. "writer's come from both spoiled and depraved lives. the well groomed square will often outwrite the professional hippie, and i have witnessed the unsettling fact that fine novels come from men and women with so little personality they are not even annoying."

  13. February 26, 2011
     Walser & Company

    I don't know much about Yale, but Nancy
    Kuhl and Richard Deming are there.
    Hannah Zeavin. Peter Gizzi visited in the
    Fall. Piotr Sommer is visiting now?

    James Franco and Bryan Coffelt should
    read at Flying Object.

  14. February 26, 2011
     Mark Leidner

    so much contemporary poetry -- for all
    its diversity of procedures and forms --
    is written by people with low awareness
    of the problems and possibilities of fame
    -- as well as first-hand experience
    manipulating the dominant narrative &
    lyric form of our century, film -- the two
    most alluring subjects in the history of
    right now -- in terms of content it seems
    like james is sitting on a poetic goldmine

    that's exciting -- novel content is the
    spark that eventually generates forest
    fires of technical renaissances

    would love to edit this manuscript

  15. February 26, 2011
     Ron

    I'm torn about Mr. Franco. I like that there is a Hollywood actor who goes to bat for literature (especially poetry). He's generating a lot of interest in the art form, even if it is a limited interest. However, his writing is a bit of a slap in the face to other writers. While his short fiction pieces are certainly better than other celebrities' efforts at writing (compared to, say, Jimmy Stewart's, Jewel's, or Billy Corgan's poems), they're still short of the mark. Let me address this opinion from all angles so that it doesn't come across as envy, spite, or any other silly theory. It's a slippery slope for him, to be sure. Trading on his namesake is an unavoidable problem. However, I get the impression that a work of real value would be recognizable. Think of all the actors or directors who are also screenwriters, and the very few who we recognize as "talented." But we recognize their brilliance in both fields because of its singularity (Kubrick). Seemingly, the same logic would apply to celebrity poets, writers, and painters. (Julian Schabel, for example, is roundly acknowledged as an excellent painter, writer, and director.) I don't see this type of originality coming from Franco. If his short fiction is indicative of the depth of his thought, then it's pretty clear that he's doing all of this (studying/practicing literature) simply because it's an easy option for him and because no one is willing to tell him he's not up to par. I apologize if this is harsh, James, but work as hard at writing as the rest of us, do it under a pseudonym, and see how many stories or poems gain public acceptance. This is the only way to really prove you're not being accepted simply for your name. I say this while supposing I'm not the only one whose ever said this in writing. I also say this knowing that his easy defense may be "but it would be dishonest to write under another name." Of course, no, it wouldn't. Other writers (who aren't celebrities) have written or do write under pseudonyms for various reasons (including artistic honesty, avoidance of persecution, etc.). But the public will believe an excuse of "honesty," will want to believe this because it's easy and because it allows them to believe in the genius of celebrities. But Britney Spears "wrote" a book or two, yes? I hope all of this occurs to him/has occurred to him. If Franco purports himself to be a thinker and intellectual, surely these thoughts have crossed his mind. It would be wonderful if he actually attempted a pseudonym--it would really show some integrity on his part. But it may involve a little rejection, which isn't so fun... I guess I really want to believe in him, as both a writer and an artist with complete integrity. I know a further defense of his work might be "he's just starting out/he's doing the same thing as all beginning writers." But that's not true, is it? Most beginning/MFA writers have a difficult time getting stories published in Esquire. In fact, it's completely unheard of for a writer without a few novels/a few major awards to be accepted at a very prestigious magazine (like Esquire, the Atlantic, New Yorker, and so on). So, yes, it's just an oddity that a celebrity even tried to write a short story, and even more so that they are putting on a public performance as "earnest student of literature." Honestly, this is the role I really, really wish he was playing, rather than "writer in training." Literature does not need as many celebrity practitioners as it does professional "appreciaters." Think of all the good he could do as a critic and student who DIDN'T feel the need to write stories and poems. But this isn't a reality, and I don't want to say he should be kept from an artistic outlet. Of course, the impulse to share your work with the public is a somewhat different impulse than the need to create for yourself...can an actor separate these two things? Yes, but it may be slightly more difficult when you have unlimited resources. For instance, how hard is it for Mr. Franco to publish a book? If he wanted, he could found a publishing company just to put out his own book... I appreciate his desire and effort, but it's not enough. Try the pseudonym. And I know the counterargument to this is "don't all writers trade on their names in some way? Don't they make connections with editors, other writers, and agents, using their names and relationships as collateral for publication?" First, not all writers do this. It's a giant myth--most writers start from nothing and move forward anonymously. Second, there is a huge gap between somebody who is a household name and a relatively unknown writer trying to make connections. These aren't comparable levels of notoriety. Any celebrity can publish a book. Most have. I implore James Franco to be better than that, to help all of us believe in him as an artist, and I implore people to expect better from him and celebrities like him. We need somebody who is truly brilliant to bring literature closer to mainstream culture. But you have to work for it. You don't have to keep a pseudonym forever, just long enough to remove doubt that you're the real thing.

  16. February 26, 2011
     SPMackin

    Franco should read Ellman's biography of Joyce. There is enough dramatic content in its pages to fill 10 lengthy films, at least that.

  17. February 26, 2011
     Henry Mccarthy

    I am glad Charles Bukowski is
    no longer around ..After reading this ..he
    would stay in his room and drink for
    days....

  18. February 26, 2011
     Manny Cartola

    Yes I read Palo Alto. Franco should try publishing a book (or showing his paintings) under a nom de plume to see if his celebrity has anything to do with his success. Seriously Mr. Franco try it.

    But all this being said I do appreciate that Mr. Franco is doing so much positive work on behalf of poetry and literature in general. I am a fan of his film-work though he's not exactly Fellini.

    James, take my advice though. I know these teenage girls love anything you do but don't be like Keanu Reeves and every other actor who thinks he can just start a band and people will actually like it for the music. Don't be one of those guys...

    Manny

  19. February 26, 2011
     Janet Landis

    It's always interesting to see how threatened people can be when a famous actor "dares" to have an interest in something besides acting. The human lives we are have on this planet are short and there is much more to learn and experience than anyone can hope to accomplish in his/her lifetime. I'm glad Mr. Franco is filling his life to the brim with learning. It's a refreshing change from the alcohol, drug and sex addictions that too often accompany fame and good fortune. I wish I had half his energy, let alone talent. If his fame helps to bring more attention and financial support to poetry, then it seems like a "win-win" situation to me.

  20. February 26, 2011
     david brydges

    A broken hart a broken bridge
    bridged by cinematic steel stealing a little past to implant the future.
    A crane rises up from ashes long asleep on nostalgic pillows.
    Yahns at the tidy universal before it ties its shoes for another walk across "the bridge."

  21. February 26, 2011
     Guy Pettit

    Walser & Company should moderate a
    discussion at Flying Object between
    James Franco, Mark Leidner, Hannah
    Brooks-Motl, Ellen Bryant Voigt, & Peter
    Gizzi, to start, in May, 2011.

    This should be quite obvious considering
    that we have an overhead projector & a
    Vandercook 4T & Creeley's copy of Jack
    Spicer's Book of Magazine Verse, Poor
    Claudia chapbooks, Action Books books,
    SUPERMACHINE #3, a shower, and some
    days, a waffle maker.

    But that's not the half of it.

  22. February 26, 2011
     Larry Blumenfeld

    It is a pleasure to see a young artist such as James Franco delving into the pure creative arena that poetry is and merging it with this astonishing medium that film art has become.

  23. February 27, 2011
     tabithatwinkles

    dear poetry foundation and mr. franco, phd candidacy is something that requires a series of rather difficult and time consuming achievements, such as the completion of all your coursework-- sitting for hours upon hours in lectures and seminars--and the necessary 20 to 30ish page papers that compliment and complete the course work. i presume that mr. franco has yet to pen those papers or fully complete whatever "creative projects" he has been assigned. seminar talks, teaching dozens upon dozens of snarky undergrads, and grading innumerous composition essays are also part of the bill. oh, wait, i forgot the most important and excruciating part: passing your phd exams (which are, as the proverb goes, hell on earth) and writing the prospectus for your dissertation, again no walk in the park. then, by around your 4th year of graduate school, (that is if you haven't already spent 2 to 3 years at a different university obtaining a master's degree in something else to go along with the one you've just finished at your current university) you are allowed to call yourself a phd candidate, because before that moment you are simply a phd student. advancing to candidacy is a big freaking deal (!!!) so don't confuse it with earlier stages in the academic process. pretty please. ps. you should ask mr. franco about the film project he did at ucla about vikings invading malibu. it is a gem. of sorts.

  24. February 27, 2011
     K. Hedden

    Thanks for the interview, very interesting and such a nice insight into Franco's dynamic artistry.

  25. February 27, 2011
     jfhaley123

    To Sam -
    In answer to why "everything must be made into a movie with this guy"... perhaps because he's an actor and filmmaker among other things.
    And try not to sound quite so "I'm into poetry and find film very blase" in your comments. The false intellectual preening only makes your banality shine through.
    James Franco is a great artist, in many forms. Becoming popular at ones art does not mean the art is no good - contrary to what many seem to feel.

  26. February 28, 2011
     Thelma

    Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if all MFA candidates got so much national attention? This probably sounds bitter, but, a lot of us are doing the same thing (MA/MFA/PhD) without the funding of Hollywood behind us. James Franco will never lack publishing opportunities, not for skill or craft but because of Spiderman. The rest of us actually have to rely on the strength of our work.

  27. February 28, 2011
     Dan

    Sorry James, I stopped reading when the interviewer referred to Pablo Neruda as "dorm room poetry."

  28. February 28, 2011
     jaffray

    Hi, Brother why would you want to go to
    such lengths to try to explain what Crane would want you to do with his poetry? and how do you know Crane wanted it to be difficult? Its like those who stand at art galleries and try to analyse what the artist probably had no
    idea as to what he was creating. I think
    you merely need to read a poem without seeking some method as to the why's how's of the one who wrote. Merely express the sound of the words
    and let the ausience read with their ears!

  29. February 28, 2011
     Ann

    Jaffray is right. Artists don't like to have their work anaylzed to the nth degree. Just enjoy it...you didn't do it. Same way with poetry. Everyone has favorites. I adore poetry but don't always "get" what poet is saying.

  30. March 1, 2011
     Albert B. Casuga

    Franco is a Renaissance man. As an artist, he is free to pursue any art form. That he is pursuing an academic degree is a bonus for him. That, too, is a class act. Publication is not the only measure of a creative artist. That Franco has gone into fiction, movies, film-making, and into poetry in addition to his PhD work is nothing to sneer or sneeze about. As a young poet, I, too, admired Hart Crane. Even applied for a Fulbright scholarship to study his work. Anyone who could tackle Crane's poetry deserves a second look. Not many readers have gone even past Joyce Kilmer. Oh, Franco reminds me so much of James Dean, an idol of my lost years. (I can claim that now that I am in my dotage, eh?) Both Franco and Dean love poetry, so go easy on him. He will not only bring Dean back to our fading memories; he'll do one grandly better---a creative artist to boot. (William Bass once wrote that Dean loved to quote lines from The Little Prince and Wordsworth.) How can a movie actor who is also a poet go wrong? No pseudonyms to get through the initiation rites --- you've gone past that, James Franco. Stand or fall on your name (or dagger?). Unless you are using one of those screen names, too. Bravo, Franco. I liked seeing you "cut your limb with a dull knife in "127 Hours", no sense listening to those who'd cut your literary cojones, too.

  31. March 2, 2011
     Brandon Bourgeois

    Be happy for the man. Franco is doing what he wants to do. Time will tell as to whether any of the writing is "great" or not. Also, there are so many wonderful writers and poets who are actually doing good things. Just read their work and not Franco's if you feel inclined to dislike him (before or after reading his work). To those who bemoan the fact that their own eventual (hopeful) fame will spring from the quality of their work: of course it will! But here is the problem with MFAs. They (though of course not all) look at the whole endeavor as "craft", as work born out of skills obtained from clubs closely resembling the structures of medieval guilds. (cf. most articles by Elif Batuman; also, "The MFA/Creative Writing System Is a Closed, Undemocratic, Medieval Guild System That Represses Good Writing" by Anis Shivani in Boulevard, Fall 2010, Vol. 26, Nos. 1 & 2: http://www.boulevardmagazine.o... ani2.pdf ) Poetry and Fiction will be written and appreciated regardless of professional organizations and MFA degrees, as long as human beings still have a written language and are around to grab a utensil. There are very few among the best writers of any generation who have not been autodidacts. So why get an MFA? To have your work seen, heard, referred to?---Show your work to your friends! I'm sure many with literary aspirations have intelligent peers and/or colleagues. Does the earning of a "professional" degree in "the craft of poetry" stem from the secret and inextinguishable desire to be famous one day? to be anthologized? If your concern is to become famous, and you are determined to follow all the "steps" to success, I wish you much luck. But lets take from the blue the example of Phillip Larkin: The man was a librarian. He had no MFA. Only books, his head, and his hand. Oh, and a pen. If you are curious as to my aspirations: they are literary--poetry, fiction, non- fiction. I do not care about becoming famous. It would be nice. It would be grand! But in the end: Who cares? Just write. And read it aloud. And its not difficult to get published nowadays (or to do the publishing yourself). It, of course, is difficult to get published in places like Poetry. But if you are looking at literature as a profession and not a calling, it may not be for you. In fact, just post your poetry on the comment boards after interviews. I've enjoyed reading some of what I've come across above. As for myself, I do not plan on getting an MFA. And I apologize. I cannot make you famous.

  32. March 2, 2011
     J.J.Brown

    James Franco, always interesting, uncovers
    dark hidden adolescent places in his new
    Palo Alto stories that I found disturbing and
    haunting. Now he's made me want to read
    Crane. Your great interview shows a depth
    in his search for education in literature that
    amazes me, and in an already successful
    man this is so deeply moving. Thanks
    Poetry Foundation, thanks James Franco.
    J.J. Brown, scientist, author.

  33. March 2, 2011
     Elena Toledo

    This is amazing to hear about James Franco writing poetry. So happy to hear this, I write poetry and love it..Poetry is to me like a healer of the soul and body..I love James Franco hes a sweet guy.

    Thank you

  34. March 3, 2011
     LKMarshall

    More power to you, Mr. Franco.

    Enjoyed the youthful exuberance of you and Miss Hathaway at the Oscars.

    I've always thought of good writing in terms of "this would make a great movie."

    Wonderful to think of a young actor studying poetry to the extent you are.

    Again, more power to you!
    from an old English teacher

  35. March 4, 2011
     Bryan Roth

    Is it too much to ask that misspellings be
    excised from article descriptions on a
    literary website?! (Mr. Franco is, I'm
    guessing, a "performance artist" rather
    than a "peformance artist.") Thank you!

    Signed,
    Your Friendly Neighborhood Curmudgeonly
    Editor

  36. March 5, 2011
     Terry Gibson

    James Franco is fascinating on so many dimensions already. To now discover his love of poetry--what can I say? I love this guy. You single, James? I bet many want to know. (@bookmark_terry on twitter).

  37. March 5, 2011
     Joanne Theodorou

    Thanks for keeping the rich poetry of Hart Crane alive...such fine writing, nearly forgotten. Where will you show you short film on Crane?
    Admire, respect, and envy your renaissance life!
    I wonder why your " Tristan" was so over looked? Delighted in the whole earthy approach to this production, and did not mind the changes in the legend...the flavor of the middle ages was apparent. How are you going to do "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" this Fall with so much going on?

  38. March 6, 2011
     Katie F P

    I am writing merely to confirm my support of this SCANDALOUS(-yet-now-that-you-mention-it-so-very-obvious) suggestion that Mr. Franco join a discussion at Flying Object. People would commute from as far away as Austin, Texas, to participate in such a thing, even as silent, bowled-over observers.

  39. March 7, 2011
     go owls you rock

    This has helped me with some project that i am doing. I am going to tell all of my friends about this web site there going to love it:)

  40. March 7, 2011
     Shavahn Best

    It's not about a star new-comer. Franco
    wanto meet an old timer? Steve Cannon
    at Gathering of the Tribes/285 E. 3rd st/
    NY, NY 10009. Poetry meets voice meets
    sound, light, scape. Meets life blood.

  41. March 8, 2011
     Toby

    James Franco is a talented young guy who wants to make stuff. He reminds me of me fifty years ago. He will no doubt learn, if he hasn't already, that taking the trip is the real trip. The destination is nothing.

  42. March 8, 2011
     Rose Kelleher

    All that and brains too. What a doll!

  43. March 8, 2011
     Tinfish Press

    Hart Crane is wonderful, though he did say (contra Franco) that he wanted people to understand his work, and thought that they would. Kudos to Mr. Franco for beginning that process, again.

  44. March 8, 2011
     Jimmy Jazz

    This reminds of a recent incident. The nerdy, right-wing Prime Minister of Canada went to a semi-public event where he played piano and sang a Beatles song. Suddenly, people are saying, hey this guy isn't all bad - he sings Beatles songs. From what I have read (reviews) of Franco's stories, he is a mediocre talent - but, he can't be all bad, he's a star - sort of the reverse of the above story.

  45. March 8, 2011
     gillian

    I humbly take back my judgements...

  46. March 13, 2011
     The Phantom of the Opera

    I do not want to be harsh or malignant to Mr. James Franco just because he is an actor, but on the other hand I do not want to give him the key to the city just because he is star in Hollywood. If he had true aspirations to be an actor/poet/director/Oscar host combination, than why just not act natural about it. Why must he act as if he were the only person on the planet to have ever written a poem. From what I can tell from his works he isn't that great. Granted it took many trials and tribulations for other fabulous poets. I do not want to sound one sided on the subject so I will say that Franco is a incredible actor when he sets his mind to it. Advice I would gladly give to him for his writing endeavors. Signed, The Phantom

  47. March 14, 2011
     Sandra Evans

    Apparently some people are not only
    familiar with the kind of venom existent
    in some MFA programs, they are the
    Vipers. Huzzah to Mr. Franco who seems
    to be a fairly serious student. I am
    proud of my thesis --a 94 page
    manuscript with 12 page artists
    statement--but I would love to go back
    and make a film of Mark Doty's "A
    Display of Mackerels", not because I
    find anything lacking on the poem, but
    because I am in love with it, I would
    love to find a way to interpret it other
    than literary analysis, which I've done. I
    think poets need to pay homage to their predecessors and expand the way they
    see the possibilities of art. Participating
    in the world is not a literary sin.
    I would love to see your film on
    another of my favorite poems, Spencer
    Reese's "A Clerk's Tale" so please do let
    us know if it is available.

  48. March 15, 2011
     John Shuck

    After you have mastered Shakespeare, you can move on to some of the other lesser poets. That's my shtick and I'm shtickin' to it.

  49. March 21, 2011
     Darrell Parker

    I like to write poetry (pick a form and
    subject and I will create something), I
    love reading it; however I cannot for the
    life of me imagine analyzing it.

    I have work shopped writing for a
    number of years and have yet to write
    an in depth analysis without feeling like
    I have torn apart the soul of a fragile
    mind.

    Sure anyone can write poetry, but doing
    it well is a matter of perspective.

    Poetry is like peanut butter, some like
    creamy, some like chunky and some
    are so allergic it can kill them.

  50. April 1, 2011
     ali

    I agree completely with Ron. pseudonym or NO FRANCYOU. his fiction is epileptic. I can't find any of his poetry online, but as a 25 year old who has devoted her..studies... chance for a cozy life...sanity...etc for the heart break of rejection and all else that comes along with practicing poetry, THIS GUY INSULTS ME. I've come to appreciate hard work and even the constant refection, the faith that I've developed to cope with it all. But Louise Gluck is my favorite poet and James Franco talks about her with the animation and depth of understanding of someone who has stolen words from someone else. FRANCO, you can't do everything at once because nothing you do will ever be any good. quit stuff then write.

  51. April 7, 2011
     Sara

    It's great to hear from a true modern Renaissance man. Geek power!

  52. April 22, 2011
     DN

    Amazing, the amount of venom being poured out. The personal threat felt and vocalized in some of these comments.

    The man's doing something; go do something.

    And he's a young man -- so he's not blowing your brains out with his brilliance, so what? Maybe you're wrong; you certainly seem neurotic. But maybe you're right, and in ten years he'll be better.

    How much does that thought scare you?

  53. April 24, 2011
     grover

    What an inane interview...

  54. April 25, 2011
     Seth Tucker

    Dear James, please do the right thing and submit your poetry to
    magazines, journals, presses, and contests, under an alias--if you
    don't do this, I am afraid we will have to read your poetry, much like
    we had to read Jewel's poetry. If you can't make it in the poetry world
    with your artistic ability, please don't take some other, more talented,
    poet's place in the literary canon simply because you have an acting
    pedigree.

    Seth Tucker

  55. July 6, 2011
     Sam

    Many people want the Baptist Heaven, but few are willing to do the
    Baptist time. zingah!

  56. July 8, 2011
     Kym

    When so many people spend their lives doing nothing...and then criticize someone who is doing something, that is amusing to me. However, when someone who is working hard to become something then spends time criticizing someone else who is also working hard to be more and learn more, that is completely pathetic. As an academic community, I find these insults toward a fellow poet disheartening and mean-spirited. I tend to be optimistic and think that educated people are nicer to their fellow man than the masses, but I guess I am wrong. This article was informative, not argumentative, but in this age of internet, everything becomes an argument. sigh.

  57. May 4, 2012
     Aldrich

    That it was great to read through your posting. I actually enjoyed the couple of minutes that I put in reading through it and needed to leave a comment to state that....Cheers

  58. November 2, 2013
     Geraldo

    I don't understand the debate, that James Franco is a hackneyed
    dilettante and unworthy of legitimate consideration seems to be the
    consensus of all sane critics . His film of Hart Crane shows him for the
    vapid booby that he is.

  59. January 29, 2014
     Stanley Gemmell

    The sun shines very brightly this morning as snow covers
    the ground in Southern New England. The glare seems
    omnipotent. But of course, it is not, the sun will set,
    darkness will come like a scourge of demons. In that
    darkness will be harbored deceit.

    A series of words may be scrawled in the snow. As if
    the earth itself were to speak, perhaps it was child's
    play, else it was the deep spirit of life awoken from
    slumber. Life knows no cease.

    I wander inside myself, my heart heavy and filled with
    burden. The snow is white but within me bloodflow's
    hot. The tinyest details urgent and (yes) incessant
    (and yes) true.

    Each to the terror, each to the horror. What are we
    here for? My heart is an expansive hospitality, and
    when sorrow, like a madrigal, like the loss of a friend,
    visits, who am I to judge? To deny? To fester...

    So I step carefully, I visit myself outside myself, I
    expect friendship, the one place I look.
    Disappointment. Harrowing. The scent of blood which
    attracts tigers.

    What happened? A creature spoke out against Death and
    was outcast for it. I remember I did that once, barely
    escaped with my life. Now, whenever I see it happen I
    freaking go nuts. I run inside and grab whatever's
    handy and, belee dat, I go to work.

    Franco's poetry manipulates contemporary culture codes
    with sure and deft strokes. A pervasive elegance of
    form persists. Restraint, the hallmark of any great
    artist is not only on display but quite effective. When
    the words push, you move, when they halt, you find
    yourself stop(ping/ped). In this malicious world where
    evil moves with such surety that even such formerly
    gentlemanly and gentlewomanly agreements such as the
    invention and use of promisary notes (or paper money, or
    cash) have become abstractions so difficult to follow
    that the majority of good hearted folk turn away
    sickened, an honest voice becomes that much more
    important.

    In Kreator's work, lyrics such as "Pleasure To Kill" and
    "Take Their Lives" death is seen as the only freedom
    from the despair of living. This is the natural scene
    of life we have inherited. Our Savior has not returned
    in two thousand years, longer for other traditions and
    religions. Best we got at the moment is a thriving
    yogic culture (Thank Goodness). Irony satire backbiting
    and nothingness pervade our spiritual-philosophic-
    artistic-common.sensical ideations. When we use our
    heads - especially in conjunction or harmony with our
    hearts - we need to move against the inherited weight of
    hopelessness and bitter disappointment. Last century
    saw bloodshed on an epic scale and if we recall, it
    started over petty arguments involving status and/or
    fascist so-called ideologies.

    Mr. Franco, in providing a fresh voiced perspective for
    an under-represented and vitally important mind-set or
    personality-escenography is more than a tourist in the
    domain of Fine Art. Hollywood is a dirty word when in
    reality it is nothing more than a work in progress. I
    laud the fledgeling inter-disciplinarian and further, I
    deeply appreciate the cogent sensibility which draws him
    to steer attention Poetry's way.

    Stanley Gemmell
    1/29/2014