I’ve always liked William Carlos Williams’ book-length poem Paterson, so I was intrigued to see this trailer for a feature film inspired by it. It’s not, however, based on Williams’ poem in any sense, as the director explains in an interview with Time magazine:
In Jim Jarmusch’s thirteenth feature, Paterson, Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson who also happens to live and work in Paterson N.J. And like an earlier Paterson resident, physician-poet William Carlos Williams, he writes poetry in his spare time. During coffee and lunch breaks, and in the moments before he begins his route, Paterson writes poems inspired by everyday things. For example, a box of Ohio Blue Tip matches sparks a meditation on the pure, quiet love he feels for his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a charming, stay-at-home DIY dynamo.
Jarmusch, too, loves poetry. He’s a fan, in particular, of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, members of what’s commonly known as the New York School of poets. (The poems in Paterson, in fact, were written by New York School poet Ron Padgett.) Jarmusch has drawn on that love, and more, to make a picture that shows how art—maybe even especially art made in the margins—can fill up everyday life. Here, Jarmusch explains how Paterson came to be, describes his admiration for the work actors do, and offers a mini reading list for anyone out there who may be a poetry lover, but just doesn’t know it yet.
TIME: I understand that you came up with the basic treatment for Paterson a long time ago. Did you set out to make a film specifically about poets and poetry?
Jim Jarmusch: I went on a day trip to Paterson 20, 25 years ago. I was drawn there by William Carlos Williams, a doctor and a poet whose work I liked. I went to the falls there, and I walked around and saw the industrial parts of it. It’s a fascinating place: It was like Alexander Hamilton’s vision of a new industrial city, based around the power from the waterfall, kind of an intended utopian city. And it’s incredibly varied in terms of its demographics, the variety of people there.
[William Carlos Williams’] book Paterson, by the way, is not one of my favorite poems—in fact, it goes over my head, I don’t understand a lot of it. But at the beginning of it, a man is a metaphor for the city of Paterson, and vice-versa. And I thought that’s just a beautiful idea. I thought I’d like to write a little treatment about a poet, a working-class guy in Paterson who’s actually a very good poet but not a known one. So I had that little one-page treatment in a drawer for years. I kept remembering it, but I never really got to it until now.