James Franco's inauguration poem for Obama: Is this America's answer to EJ Thribb?

 

To celebrate Barack Obama's second inauguration, actor, writer and modern renaissance man James Franco was asked to write a poem to mark the occasion:

'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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Grange Retirement Home: Full Time Care Team Manager

£22,400: The Grange Retirement Home: This is a key role which requires a sound...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada