This week we take a purposeful yet leisurely stroll through Paterson, NJ—home of the great American doctor and poet, William Carlos Williams, among other notables; and home of the fictional American bus driver and poet, Paterson, subject of Paterson, the 2016 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. We never find out if Paterson is the bus driver’s first name or last name. In fact, we learn very few facts about him except that he’s never driven a fire truck and he once had a grandfather. Yet by the end of the film, we feel as though we’ve walked in his skin and seen his corner of the universe, for a few fleeting moments, through his eyes.
I love Paterson. It’s a poetry movie (#pomo) that captures on film something I can never quite capture in words: what it feels like for me to try to move through this world as a poet. Part of the problem with describing that, of course, is how embarrassingly cringy it sounds. “Move through this world as a poet” sounds like something one can only do wandering barefoot through a field of daffodils, dressed like Stevie Nicks.
Jarmusch balances Paterson’s narrative, image, and character to amplify the idea. As for narrative, there’s very little “plot” here. The movie takes place over the course of a week during which at least three major “plotty” things could happen, but don’t. In my column on HOWL, I talked about “aboutness”—Paterson’s “aboutness” is not weighed down by a bunch of stuff happening, and that’s the point. “No ideas but in things,” the poet Williams writes in his famous poem “Paterson,” a line repeated like a mantra by a young rapper (played by Method Man) we overhear practicing his flow in a laundromat. The line is not “things happening” – it’s just “things.”
Finally, there’s the character of Paterson himself, as played by Adam Driver. (A guy named Driver plays a driver named Paterson in Paterson? YES, and whether or not you think that’s delightful may help determine whether you enjoy this film.) I find Driver always interesting to watch. He stays just on the pleasant side of the uncanny valley: he’s physically big but can be convincingly understated; his unconventional looks register simultaneously as odd and handsome. I think he’s terrific in Paterson—we believe what he shows us, but we know he’s not showing us everything. He’s on screen for 98% of the film, so the role needs an actor that can bring that kind of depth, who we can watch wake up in the same bed over and over, who can be ordinary without ever being dull.
WILL MOVIE LOVERS LIKE THIS #POMO? This movie was very well received and well-reviewed. Plus, almost any film about one art can clock to another, so substitute “film making” or “film watching” for poetry, and there’s a lot here for movie lovers to love. A CAVEAT: Reading reviews of Paterson, you’ll notice words like “deliberate,” “lyrical,” “the camera lingers,” “unhurried,” etc. These are all code words for “SLOW.” Do I find it slow? Nope. BUT I READ POETRY. Your mileage may vary significantly.
FINAL LINE: A beautifully shot film about a person trying to wring the extraordinary from every ordinary moment. That’s worthy work. As Williams also writes, “it is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.”
Here are some poems/poets that movie lovers may want to check out:
“This is Just To Say” -- In Paterson, Paterson reads this WCW classic aloud to his wife. You probably read it in high school English but you should read it again. Then write a poem-note to your significant other! C’mon! Do it! You have time! Share it with us in the comments! Or don’t, it’s okay. #acceptance
I Found It at the Movies: An Anthology of Film Poems. Have I read this anthology? No. But I read the table of contents and it looks really cool! Some good names I recognize among the poets represented. My birthday is in June!
Anything by Chicago poet Chris Green. He’s fantastic. Like Paterson, Green has an uncanny ability to find the sublime in the everyday. His latest is Everywhere West; to read his poem “In the Locker Room I Introduce Myself to a Naked Mickey Rourke” you should pick up Epiphany School, or get The Sky Over Walgreens to read “Ode to Julie Christie.”
*breeding/lilacs out of the dead land