Spotlight on: Paterson, the poet, the poem and the place

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! Eternally asleep,
his dreams walk about the city where he persists
incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.
Immortal he-neither moves nor rouses and is seldom
seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his

drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring

animate a thousand automatons. Who because they
neither know their sources nor the sills of their
disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly

for the most part,
locked and forgot in their desires — unroused.

~ Paterson, by William Carlos Williams [1]

It was Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson, that alerted me to the poetry of William Carlos Williams, a medical doctor, poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright. He wrote ‘Paterson’, a compendium of five books arranged around the themes of three major symbols—man-city, river, and mountain, or feminine principle, a major work which is about the city of Paterson in New Jersey and the lives of its residents. Williams himself, was a resident of Rutherford, New Jersey.

Today was the perfect day to take in the falls and seek sustenance at one of the many Turkish restaurants in town. This post is a work in progress and I may add to it in the future, given that there are too many themes I wish to weave into this one and I really know, I shouldn’t. So I’ll go with the short version today.

The Great Falls, Paterson
About Great Falls Park

Paterson the movie is about a bus driver named Paterson, played by Adam Driver who also happens to live and work in Paterson N.J and writes poetry. I believe, there couldn’t have been anyone more suitable for the role of a stoic poet, than Adam Driver. It’s a movie that struck me, because of the way Paterson the poet in Paterson the movie, breathes in the city of Paterson to evoke the multi-faceted protean hero of Carlos’s epic poem Paterson, who also wanders over the landscape of the city suggested in the poem, all the while observing, seeking and living his life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody.

In this scene of the movie at the Great Falls of the Passaic River, Paterson (Adam Driver) sits watching the falls as a Japanese man (Masatoshi Nagase) takes a seat beside him. He begins talking about poetry after Paterson notices that the man is reading Paterson by William Carlos Williams. [2] Photo ~ screenshot of the movie trailer.
The movie is replete with red brick buildings; here is an image of one I shot today

It is Ron Padgett though, who wrote four original poems for the movie [3]. A winner of the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, Ron Padgett is an American poet, essayist, fiction writer, translator, and a member of the New York School.

When you’re a child 
you learn
there are three dimensions:
height, width, and depth.
Like a shoebox.
Then later you hear
there’s a fourth dimension:

Another One by Ron Padgett for Paterson the movie

It’s what Williams Carlos Williams says in his book length poem, that appears strangely prescient of Paterson the poet in the movie, “Eternally asleep, his dreams walk about the city where he persists, incognito’. Paterson is driven by routine, he finds comfort in it, a day that is spent working at his job driving a bus and writing poetry. His wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) on the other hand, lights up their existence in a kaleidoscopic fashion, even as they love and support each other through their stark differences. Alissa Wilkinson at Vox actually called it one of the best films of 2016 and even devoted an article to the philosophical musing of its poet protagonist [4]. It was Williams who wrote, “— Say it, no ideas but in things- nothing but the blank faces of the houses and cylindrical trees bent, forked by preconception and accident- split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained —secret— into the body of the light!” It is a rapper, Method Man, who Paterson hears in a laundromat practicing in front of a spinning washer, that mutters to himself the words of Carlos Williams , “No ideas but in things, no ideas but in things.” Williams was a poet of the imagist movement that strove for clarity in language and precision in descriptions, like in the movie, the poet Paterson does too. The author of the article went as far as to posit that Paterson’s life mirrors the dictum of Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology. Phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience [5]. The movie is about this lived experience, detachedly noticing the tiny details, yet it all is profoundly touching to the viewer as they go through the motions of a poet’s existence. I think Paterson’s love poem would best illustrate this view [6].

Love Poem 

We have plenty of matches in our house
We keep them on hand always
Currently our favourite brand
Is Ohio Blue Tip
Though we used to prefer Diamond Brand
That was before we discovered
Ohio Blue Tip matches
They are excellently packaged
Sturdy little boxes
With dark and light blue and white labels
With words lettered
In the shape of a megaphone
As if to say even louder to the world
Here is the most beautiful match in the world
It’s one-and-a-half-inch soft pine stem
Capped by a grainy dark purple head
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

All this will we give you
That is what you gave me
I become the cigarette and you the match
Or I the match and you the cigarette
Blazing with kisses that smoulder towards heaven

Some articles I found online delved into the poetic aspects quite neatly and I find no need to replicate their insights but here is one that discusses cinematic poetry [7] and another that does a commendable review of the film [8].

S.U.M. Great Falls Power Plant, preserved through the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund

What I noticed as I wound my way through Paterson the place, the poem and the poet, is that the movie turns out to be a smooth confluence of poets, in this case, William Carlos William, Ron Padgett and Paterson. All three poets, one of them virtual, use imagism and are clear in the manner they imbibe their environment to translate it into a satisfying narrative of one that is driven to see the world as it is, bereft of angst or fantasy. Yet, Carlos’ earlier poem alludes to the ennui of an unroused life, in the automatons that walk through it, not noticing the significance of the mundane. I believe Ron Padgett has the last word here in a poem he wrote [9] that would be the kind of poem Paterson would write as a listicle for life, a poem that Carlos Williams would surely attest to as the method of a roused man, his man-city Paterson.

How to Be Perfect 
Everything is perfect, dear friend.

Get some sleep.

Don't give advice.

Take care of your teeth and gums.

Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.

Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.

Make eye contact with a tree.


Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball

Be loyal.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance
and variety.


Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.

When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.

As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Excerpted from
First City of Innovation founded by Alexander Hamilton
The man himself, Alexander Hamilton











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