James Franco talks poetry, 'Broken Tower,' and a whole lot of higher learning

James-FrancoImage Credit: Jon Furniss/WireImage.comJames Franco sat down with the Poetry Foundation to sound off on his latest poetry obsessions, including gay modernist poet Hart Crane, who he played in the upcoming biopic The Broken Tower (he also directed). Reading Franco’s lengthy, detailed responses, you can detect not only the caffeine that he undoubtedly needs in order to function—the man has a lot going on—but also a deep knowledge and genuine geek-fandom of his poetry heroes.

While Franco’s proves himself a discriminating poetry connoisseur, he seems equally opinionated on the finer points of the many institutions of higher learning he’s attended. Naysayers might have taken issue with his admission to Yale’s English PhD program, but the Ivy League doesn’t bow to his every wish just because he’s a movie star—Columbia wouldn’t even let him take poetry and fiction classes at the same time. But at this point, we know there’s so stopping this guy from getting educated:

James Franco: 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.

Yeah. And he hasn’t even named all the schools he’s attended or taught at. It’s all very admirable, but is there a word for an addiction to education—maybe pedantiphilia?

Comments (7 total) Add your comment
  • keith

    Sometimes I just don’t know what to make of him.

    • Ziggy

      I agree; is he for real or is this “performance art from celebrity”? I think he wants to be good at many things, but not giving each thing a meaningful attempt. I don’t know…but I do enjoy his comedic acting, he’s got great timing.

  • tracy bluth

    He’s got some pretty good taste in poetry.

  • Celimene

    There’s a tendency among the highly gifted to become interested in many different subjects and study them obssessively. I think it’s wonderful that Franco finds things – and projects – that turn him on intellectually.

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