'Paterson': A Love Poem To Poetry, From Director Jim Jarmusch Paterson's main character is a bus driver who writes poetry on his lunch breaks. It was inspired, in part, by an epic William Carlos Williams poem.
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'Paterson': A Love Poem To Poetry, From Director Jim Jarmusch

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'Paterson': A Love Poem To Poetry, From Director Jim Jarmusch

'Paterson': A Love Poem To Poetry, From Director Jim Jarmusch

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Director Jim Jarmusch treats cities like characters in his films. He did that with New Orleans in "Down By Law" and Memphis in "Mystery Train." Jarmusch's latest film, "Paterson," takes that idea a step further. It's set in Paterson, N.J. Paterson is also the name of the main character, and the film celebrates poetry. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, the director drew inspiration from a particular poem named "Paterson."

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: "Paterson" unfolds like the stanzas of a poem. Every morning, Paterson, played by Adam Driver, wakes up and goes to work. He drives a bus around the New Jersey town that shares his name and writes in his notebook on his lunch break. Then he comes home to his wife, Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani.


GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI: (As Laura) How was your day?

ADAM DRIVER: (As Paterson) The usual.

FARAHANI: (As Laura) Get any writing done?

DRIVER: (As Paterson) I did a little, yeah - working on a poem for you.

FARAHANI: (As Laura) A love poem?

DRIVER: (As Paterson) Yeah. I guess if it's for you, it's a love poem.

ROSE: Then Paterson heads out to walk the dog and stops by the local bar for a beer. He does the same thing every day.

JIM JARMUSCH: Routine is very liberating and nurturing for him to be a poet and to drift around and observe small things, overhear conversations, you know, whatever strikes him.

ROSE: Writer and director Jim Jarmusch says he got the idea for the script more than 20 years ago when he took a trip to Paterson, where one of his favorite poets set one of his most famous poems. William Carlos Williams worked as a pediatrician in nearby Rutherford, N.J. Much of his work draws on the lives of his working-class patients. Here's Williams reading from his 1927 poem.


WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS: "Paterson" - (reading) Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls, its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He lies on his right side, head near the thunder of the waters filling his dreams.

JARMUSCH: The beginning of the poem "Paterson" has a metaphor of a man being the town and the town being a man, you know? And I took something from that, a small idea of, maybe someday I'd make up film about a man named Paterson who's in - lives in Paterson who's a poet and, like, a working-class guy.

ROSE: There are other ways that William Carlos Williams is woven into the film. One of his business cards is tacked up behind the bar that the main character frequents, and there's a line from one of Williams' poems - "No Ideas But In Things."


WILLIAMS: (Reading) Say it - no ideas but in things.

ROSE: That same line turns up in the movie spoken by a rapper practicing his craft in a laundromat. He's played by real-life rapper Clifford Smith, also known as Method Man.


CLIFFORD SMITH: (As Himself) No ideas but in things, no ideas but in things. (Rapping) They call me Paul Lawrence Dunbar, a paradox of straight shots and gun bars. I shoot to give, no gun charge. I run yard.

ROSE: That phrase, no ideas but in things, became a sort of mantra for some 20th century poets who focus less on big abstractions and more on specific objects and images.

RON PADGETT: That dictum has always kind of been in the back of my head when it comes to writing.

ROSE: Ron Padgett's poems are featured in "Paterson," though initially he says Jim Jarmusch just asked him to be an adviser on the film.

PADGETT: He said, well, I just want to make sure I get things right from the point of view of a poet.

JARMUSCH: It was a sneaky way to get him to read...


JARMUSCH: ...The script.

PADGETT: It was a very slow seduction. He said, you know, if you - you don't have to do this, but if you want to write anything special for the movie - I said, no, no, no - too much pressure. I can't handle it (laughter). And as soon as we hung up, I started thinking, why not take the challenge, you know?

ROSE: Padgett wrote original poems for the film. It also includes one of his older works, "Love Poem," read by the main character, Paterson.


DRIVER: (As Paterson) Here is the most beautiful match in the world, so sober and furious and stubbornly ready to burst into flame, lighting perhaps the cigarette of the woman you love for the first time. And it was never really the same after that.

ROSE: Poetry has turned up in Jarmusch's films before. There's the character named William Blake in "Dead Man" and a joke about Robert Frost in "Down By Law." Jarmusch himself wrote a poem for "Paterson" read by a young girl the character meets on his walk home from work.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Water falls. Water falls from the bright air. It falls like hair, falling across a young girl's shoulders. Water falls, making pools in the asphalt, dirty mirrors with clouds and buildings inside.

ROSE: Jarmusch says he's been an avid reader of poetry since high school.

JARMUSCH: And I saw these people are like innovators and rebels. They deal with changing your consciousness. Their form is not a commercial one. Show me a poet that does it for the money, you know? I still think poets are like - for me, like rock stars. They're kind of magical people. They should just be given whatever they want.

ROSE: Maybe Jim Jarmusch can't give poets everything they want, but he has delivered his own love poem to their work. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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