James Franco, “Directing Herbert White”
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Every poet has their obsessions and for James Franco they are childhood, gender, sex, innocence, and the work place he knows best: the film industry. Within these poetic frames we’re introduced to various voices, landscapes nearly worn out with elegy, and a repertoire of imagery that is both tender and violent. Franco is our poet of earnest grotesquerie, favoring clarity to vagueness as he depicts the bizarre zones of early experience that crash against poems of adulthood that occupy spaces most readers do not have access to: film and celebrity. However, Franco’s poems seem to argue that a kinship exists between the world of the adolescent and the world of a movie set. In his poems, we see the intersection of both and the distinctions between sincerity and artifice are blurred and complicated by a speaker who seems simultaneously anchored in both of these perceptual districts. In addition to Franco’s fidelity to the bramble of childhood memory and glittering industrial complex of show business, his poems are deceptively musical, employing internal rhymes and capturing the tiny voltage of music inside every syllable, creating a sonic landscape one might miss if you don’t read the poems aloud. When the book Directing Herbert White (Graywolf Press, 2014) was first published, it made a big splash in the otherwise small pond of the poetry world, and it reminded me of what Franco does best: challenges society’s notions of the artist and the dynamic – and at times rigid communities – they inhabit. During out chat we talk about the relationship between childhood and violence, the creative writing workshop as a site of instruction, his various poetic influences, and so much more.