‘Paint’ actor Owen Wilson on Jim Moore’s poetry

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Owen Wilson and Elvis Mitchell at KCRW HQ. Photo by KCRW

Actor and screenwriter Owen Wilson acknowledges he wasn’t big on poetry before being introduced to Jim Moore’s work at a bookstore in Atlanta. The star of the comedy Paint was surprised by the clarity and accessibility of Moore’s poems. He thinks of them as akin to prayers.   

Wilson, whose co-screenwriting credits include Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, recommends checking out Moore’s 2021 collection of poems Prognosis, his 2014 book Underground, and his other works.

More: Paint’ actor Owen Wilson on the beauty of embracing failure

Note: This interview took place prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The way that I came across [Jim Moore], I was in a bookstore in Atlanta. A lady asked me, “Do you like books on poetry?” I said, “Yes, of course!” Who’s going to say, “No, I don't like poetry.” Even though I don't think I've ever bought, from a bookstore, a book of poetry. But she said, “Well, you might like this.” And (almost to be polite) I said, “Okay. Yeah, let me get this.” 

I was surprised when I opened it, and read one that I instantly understood and responded to. Because I find sometimes with poetry that it's too abstract, or I can't quite figure it out. With this, I could really understand it. There [were] just so many great poems in his books, and I have since gotten a lot more. 

Fear And Love
by Jim Moore

I wish I could make the argument that a river
and a sunset plus a calm disregard of the ego
are enough. But whatever comes next must include
tents in the parking lot, that homeless camp
on the way to the airport,
and the hole in your cheek
from the cancer removed yesterday.
I said last night,
in the few seconds before I fell asleep,
You do realize, don’t you, everything
is falling apart? You said, OK,
I’ll try to keep that in mind. And now it is
starting to be late again, just like every other night
for the last seventy-five years. Fear and love,
a friend said in an impromptu speech
at his surprise birthday party,
we all live caught between fear and love.
He tried to smile as he spoke, then sat down.
Yesterday you saw the moon
from the operating table
where they were about to cut you.
Look! you demanded, and the surgeon bent and turned
to see it from your angle,
knife in hand. 

-- (from Jim Moore’s 2021 poetry collection Prognosis)  

Some of it doesn't even seem like poetry, where it's kind of rhyming [in a similar way to] Robert Frost: “whose woods these are, I think I know…” It's not necessarily that, even though that's a great one. It's something different. But they're really beautiful. And they're almost, to me, like little prayers. 

“Legend of St Francis: 5. Renunciation of Worldly Goods” by Giotto di Bondone. Image source Wikimedia Commons

But [there’s] one that I really found moving. He is in Italy, and he's looking at a famous painting by Giotto [di Bondone], who did one of St. Francis before he's become St. Francis. He's from a wealthy family, and he's renouncing all that, and to show how serious he is, he's taking off his clothes. He's naked, and there's a hand reaching down from the heavens. In Jim Moore's poem, he talks not about Francis, but about the father of Francis who's there in the painting. You can see the love and the suffering… Because imagine if you have your son who's taking off all his clothes and saying that he's renouncing everything and choosing this life of poverty. It was such a beautiful idea that [made me think] about my own relationship with my dad… We certainly — my brothers and I — put him through the wringer. 

Everybody knows who Francis became. He’s St. Francis of Assisi. But the idea that before he's become that… the human moment of what it would feel like… I just thought it was a great take that Jim Moore had on it. That wouldn't have occurred to me until he pointed it out. When he did, it was very beautiful, and I just loved it.



Rebecca Mooney