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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

EYFS Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require an ex...

Year 3 Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home