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Straight James/Gay James by James Franco

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 60 pgs.
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Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is a chapbook of poems, though many of these read like notes left on napkins and goofy missives that would be in a diary, never to see the light of day.  Initially, the collection seems to start off with an examination of isolation and being different in poems like “Dumbo” and “Mask,” exploring the struggle to fit into the boxes we see around us.

Dumbo

Dumb is me,
As a young elephant I was shy,
From too much attention,
So, speak I didn’t.

A young animal:
At age thirteen, life plunked
Me down in junior high,
Like Dumbo in the circus.

As I grew,
Isolation followed me
And the only recourse
Was to drink hard with the clowns.

Pink elephants
Paraded and sloshed
Through my youth
Until I became a sinister clown,

With a smile painted
So thick
I looked mad-happy, always.
And I never flew, 

I never flew.

Evoking a pop culture icon from childhood — Dumbo from Disney — readers will be drawn into the comparison, showing a poetic sophistication and a knowledge of how poetic devices can be used. As an actor and a director, the choice is not unexpected. In “Mask,” he dons a persona, one that earns him money, and it is this persona that he has a love-dislike relationship with. It is not that he dislikes the persona, but the fact that it is so loved by the media and even fans — those who pay him, providing him with the money he uses to make art. It is this art that he pushes through the envelop of preconceptions and those categories that he sought to fit into in the first poem of the collection.

I want to stop here for a moment. Anna pointed me to this article in The Washington Post, which asks if it is “possible to be fair if we simply, irrationally just don’t like” a certain actor? In my case, this is James Franco. I don’t dislike him per se, but I don’t really like him either. Perhaps I don’t understand his art or his humor, but for a poetry reviewer, it’s hard to set that aside when his poetry is another form of art.

With that being said, a lot of this collection is inconsistent, reads like nearly stream-of-consciousness scribbling, and in some cases, it is the ravings of a drugged out person (or so it seems). He’s trying to be avant-garde, at least that’s what it seems like. Some of this is even merely backstage commentary.

The title poem, “Straight James/Gay James,” is an exercise in the ridiculous, in which his sexuality is not really explored, but skirted, and his main focus seems to be how much he loves himself. Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is an oddity that might have needed more editing and/or focus.

RATING: Epitaph

About the Author:

James Franco is an American actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author, and painter. He began acting during the late 1990s, appearing on the short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks and starring in several teen films. In 2001 he played the title role in Mark Rydell’s television biographical film James Dean, which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film.

Mailbox Monday #371

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Dodgers by Bill Beverly, which I received from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.

Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran, a surprise from Simon & Schuster.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

Tomorrow’s Bright White Light by Jan Conn, a surprise from Tightrope Books.

Acclaimed poet Jan Conn’s latest book, Tomorrow’s Bright White Light, offers poems as phenomenological guides to an approximation of a future “truth.” The collection includes poems about odd, secretive childhood events and poems that visit the badlands of adolescence from both male and female viewpoints. Some poems deal with the struggles of contemporary life in its many guises, while others derive from Conn’s time in Latin America. Obvious or not, all of the poems in this stunning collection are linked, creating a personal mosaic of the poet’s many lives and experiences.

Tourist by Lara Bozabalian, a surprise from Tightrope Books.

Opening with an aubade for the labyrinthian corners of Bombay’s largest slum, Tourist is a collection that is unafraid of shadows, and aims to unearth the unseen. Set across time and landscape—modern day Michigan, 1970’s Cambodia, WWI England, the kaleidoscopic mindscape of an Alzheimer patient – these poems draw us into lives that, initially, seem foreign, yet provoke our solidarity in the face of disorientation—a boy facing his first bankruptcy, an Elephant facing destruction at the hands of poachers. The book culminates in ‘Beethoven Walks’, an elegiac war cry from a man who wades in and out of darkness like a modern day Odysseus, and the churning resilience that sets him free.

Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer, a surprise from Tightrope Books.

In her astounding third collection, poet Lori Cayer takes on the juggernaut role of steward of human nature and subsequently explodes the myth of happiness through a multi-faceted lens of anthropology, socio-biology, sociology, psychology, archaeology, medicine and philosophy. Hinging on erasure and found material, Dopamine Blunder investigates these fundamental questions as our millennium enfolds with equal uncertainty and trepidation.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard from NetGalley for review.

Legendary photographer Art Wolfe presents an intimate behind-the-scenes guide to the experiences, decisions, and methods that have influenced forty years of stunning images captured around the world. Wolfe and co-author Rob Sheppard transport readers on a global journey, while carrying on a dialog about photography, tools and process, world travel, close calls, and photographic opportunities both taken and missed. From the rich sights and smells of the Pushkar Camel Fair to the exact moment when a polar bear and her cubs leave their arctic den, Photographs from the Edge represents the instances when circumstance, light, and subject miraculously collide to form an iconic image. Many of these photographs can never be duplicated as cultures and landscapes are transformed and wildlife diminishes or disappears all together. No matter his subject, Wolfe regales us with the stories behind the photographs and helps us experience life on the world’s most unique photo safari. Photographs from the Edge is a lifetime of experience distilled into a rich photographic education.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford for review from NetGalley.

London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.

Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living.

Straight James / Gay James by James Franco for review from NetGalley.

Actor James Franco’s chapbook of poems explores the different personas he uses in his writing, art, acting, and filmmaking. The poetry varies from the imagistic to the prosaic. Franco’s poems delve into issues of identity, sexuality, private and public life, being a brother, a son, an artist and actor. The chapbook also contains an interview of Gay James conducted by Straight James. Yes, Straight James asks the overwhelming question: Are you gay?

What did you receive?