By Jessica Mookherjee

Each week I write something about Cinema’s use of poetry. Taken together, I believe it leads to a deeper understanding of both film and poems. This week I tackle Jim Jarmusch’sexcellent film, Paterson, and– notably two poems from the film “Love Poem” and “Waterfalls” by Ron Padgett and William Carlos Williams’ poem “Patterson”.

I’m not going to give a plot synopsis here – or any spoilers. If you want a great review of this film I recommend this film site. http://straightfromamovie.com/paterson-movie-review/

This is the film to watch if you want to know what poetry is. An ordinary and extraordinary man (Adam Driver) called Paterson lives a simple life with his supportive girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) who is a little nuts but not Betty Blue nuts. His life is filled with quiet beauty in an ordinary town; Patterson, New Jersey. Adam Driver (Paterson) loves the famoes local poet William Carlos Williams (Red Wheelbarrow) who wrote “Paterson”, an epic modernist waterfall of a poem about characters in an ordinary place, with cascades of language that rush with simplicity and history. Why all these Patersons?

Maybe because Paterson stands for more then the poet, he stands for the poetry of a place, the breath, a name, a location inspiring the life that poetry can give a person’s mind. The role of poetry in the creation of a poetic myth is explored.

Jim Jarmusch frames the tale by circling around all the Patersons. He shows us the art of poetry. He sweeps a camera to a picture from Paterson’s past, a soldier in uniform, before he became a bus driver. The shot falls to a book of matches, echoing his book of poems, which then ignites Paterson’s poetic mind as he starts writing a poem about the sparks.

The poetry in the film is Ron Padgett’s work. He is a poetry legend, a student of William Carlos Williams and Frank O’Hara, great American School poets. Padgett wrote the poems for this film using specificity and detail expanding into a hugeness. Here is the end of “Love Poem” which Patterson writes – for his girlfriend. 

“I become the cigarette and you the match
Or I the match and you the cigarette
Blazing with kisses that smoulder towards heaven”

The film turns the ordinary into extraordinary. Paterson hasno typewriter, smartphone, computer, just his notebook, pen and ability to notice. Jarmusch also shows the poet’s desire to commune and communicate. This is shown by Paterson’s relationship in the film with Laura (Farahani). She wants him to keep duplicates, send his poems away, not be forgotten. She is an embodiment of life force, energy of otherness and a little bit of hubris that every artist needs to believe their work is worthy to touch another.

Connection is explored in the film many times, notably when Paterson meets a small child who also writes poems. She reads her poem to him. They connect, this strange ordinary Bus Driver and a little girl, over their love of poems and awaterfall. He meets a kindred spirit.


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.
It falls on the roof of my house,
It falls on my mother, and on my hair.
Most people call it rain.

Padgett has written a deceptively simple poem for the film’s little girl scene. She writes like him, Paterson thinks, and a bit like William Carlos Williams, who also writes of Waterfalls in his epic poem Paterson.

Like the apparent simplicity of this poem, Jim Jarmusch, sends a deceptively simple story into a huge world. Paterson is a tribute to those ordinary working people, he is a bus driver. Jarmusch warns us not to underestimate the poetry in the everyday. Paterson’s hero, William Carlos Williams was a doctor and in between the day job is the poetry job – of experiencing the world and giving it back to us transformed. Here is a short youtube of Jim talking about poetry https://youtu.be/-61vwMxEmuY

This film led me to read William Carlos Williams and his poem Patterson, which is both epic and everyday. I was struck by how close Jim Jarmusch kept to it’s spirit. It was a joy to discover Padgetts’ poetry and go deeper into William’s poems. It helped to remind me that America is more then the current Trump era power games, it is people, details of life and fractures set in the beauty of a vast landscape. 

From Patterson by William Carlos Williams (Part 3: 97)

“to find – a child burned in a field, 

no language. Tried, aflame, to crawl under

a fence to go home. So be it. Two others,

boy and girl, clasped in each others’ arms

(clasped also by the water) So be it. Drowned

wordless in the canal. So be it. The Patterson 

Cricket club, 1896. A woman lobbyist. So

be it. Two local millionaires – moved away.

So be it. Another Indian rock shelter 

found – a bone awl. So be it. The 

Old Rodgers Locomotive Works. So be it. 

Shield us from loneliness. So be it. The mind

reels, starts back amazed from the reading. 

So be it.”



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