Here’s what was supposed to happen: Actor and alleged poet James Franco was to read from his recently published book of short stories, Palo Alto, in the main hall of the New World Symphony while an enrapt packed house wondered to itself why God makes some so pretty and others just eh. Instead, a confluence of vicissitude — persistent rain and President Obama vetoing the airspace above the Magic City as Air Force One left Miami International — made it so Franco’s plane sat on a runway in Orlando two hours after the O, Miami event was scheduled to start.
Disaster, right? Not exactly. As you can see from the above photo, the Green Goblin did eventually make it, and though he was conspicuously in no mood to flash a smile at hundreds of starry-eyed strangers and sign whatever they put under his pen, he did exactly that for more than an hour.
But that wasn’t what saved the evening.
No, it was an impromptu performance by poet Dave Landsberger (below), an FIU grad with a rare hybrid-penchant for verse and ferrari. Thrown up on stage to keep the crowd entertained while O, Miami’s organizers converted from one religion to another in the hope that some benevolent god would avert the disaster of a Franco no-show, Landsberger seized the moment, delivering odd, original poetry that had the hall echoing laughter for almost an hour. (Check out Landsberger’s work at Floating Wolf Quarterly.)
And it was Tony Hoagland (below), who literally taught Franco much of what he knows of poetry as his professor at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. Hoagland came on after Landsberger and promised to reveal confidential stories about Franco until his former pupil arrived. He broke that promise, but made up for it with a slow-paced, soft-spoken reading that put the kind of hush on the crowd that seems to whisper, This is the place.
Of course, this is Miami, and celebrity worship is alive and well here. So a few pretty things in short skirts and high heels clomped out of the hall when O, Miami director P. Scott Cunningham announced Franco was still in Orlando. But to Miami’s credit, almost everyone stayed and few grew visibly restless or predictably petulant. And there were quite a few for whom Hoagland, one of America’s great living poets, was enough to justify the
$20 $30 ticket.
After the readings, the audience spilled out into the lobby and waited patiently for Franco’s promised arrival. Honestly, I didn’t think he’d show. The guy hosted the Oscar’s — what was it to him to blow off a book-signing after a harrowing day of travel (or lack thereof)?
But some time after 10, a black SUV pulled up to the New World Center and disgorged Franco, looking as annoyed as you would after sitting on the tarmac for a couple of hours. A line hundreds of ladies and a few gentleman long awaited inside. There were even scores of people literally stuck on the outside looking in. This girl, for example, who wept as she watched her favorite poet meet and greet the less deserving.
So in the end, one god or another intervened. Miami got its Franco and its poetry. Personally, I’ll take the latter every time.
In this video, Hoagland reads his poem “Romantic Moment”. I should also mention that local poet and literary guru Campbell McGrath joined Hoagland on stage and did what I hear was an amazing reading himself. I wasn’t in the hall at the time.
One more glimpse of Franco, himself glimpsing a seemingly endless line of signature-hungry fans.
Learn more about O, Miami, which ends TONIGHT, on omiami.org.