So it's been all over the news for months now (the poetry news, that is) that Graywolf Press (seriously, fucking Graywolf!) is going to publish James Franco's book of poems. I'll admit to having mixed feelings, but what I don't have mixed feelings about is the amount of loathing that's bubbling up across the poetry world in reaction to Mr. Franco's success (If you haven't seen the way we poets embrace our fellows yet, you can check out the comments here: http://www.akashicbooks.com/literary-lions-13-questions-with-james-franco/).Seriously friends, your bitterness is making us all look like assholes. First of all, the man is smart and creative and he's enrolled in top-notch creative writing programs (what, like 8 of them, right?). Now, I don't think that creative writing programs can (or should) teach you to write, but I do think they can force you to engage with the history and contemporary landscape of your chosen genre. Having an MFA in poetry will not necessarily make you a poet, but it will mean that you're fluent in the language. If nothing else, we can assume that Franco won't be publishing a book of light verse, but something that at least resembles, or attempts to be, actual poetry.
Second, we're talking about Graywolf Press, hands-down, one of the finest independent presses in the country. I can see them embracing a kind of wild opportunity, but I can't see them throwing their reputation under the bus. I mean, the work has to have some redeeming qualities, right?
Third, this wild opportunity for Graywolf is an opportunity for poetry. He brings his own audience. Will most of them become avid readers of poetry? Probably not. Will they buy a lot of his books and will this hopefully mean that Graywolf is flush to publish more great work by the Catie Rosemurgys of the world. Probably. I'm cool with that. I'm also not of the opinion that there is only a finite amount of success to be had in the poetry world and that Franco has just usurped a big chunk of it.
And c'mon, the guy's a movie star. He's rich and famous and ridiculously handsome, and what he's aspiring to now is to be a poet? That's adorable. I love that.
That said, I'll admit that I went looking for his work. There don't appear to be any journals publishing him. Is he submitting to journals? Because if he's not, that's kind of not cool. (I'm assuming someone with his money and time constraints would hire a service. I don't care if he does the depressing work of submitting, but I do care that he cares about getting published in journals.) I did, however, find a chapbook on Amazon and I checked out some of the poems in the preview. I can't say that I loved them. We would probably not publish these poems in burntdistrict. (Oh, who am I kidding? If James Franco sent us poems, we would publish the hell out of them, not because we lack integrity, but because, have you seen him? He is gorgeous. Just delicious. And Jen and I are kind of gross like that.)
Still, I can name, off the top of my head, dozens of successful poets who's work I hate way more than Franco's (actually, these poems of his didn't inspire loathing in me, they just sort of didn't inspire more than "eh," which is, honestly, on par with at least 70% of the published work I come across). I wouldn't name off these other poets though, because to call them out like that would prove nothing aside from the fact that I am obviously an asshole, and honestly, just because I'm not the audience for a certain person's work doesn't mean that they don't deserve an audience.
Honestly, friends, we're all fucking struggling here, and I get that none of us are getting the recognition we think we deserve, but to direct all of our collective anxiety and rage and crap at one poet, to try to strip him of whatever satisfaction he might otherwise have? It's beyond shitty. It's fucking cruel.