Paterson: poetry in everyday life

“I breathe poetry”

This is the third time I’ve seen Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson and it just keeps getting better in my eyes. Paterson is a salute to the little things in life, focusing on ordinary details most of us overlook. The overly simple tone of the whole film was created by recurring themes, offering everyday poets like myself a silent nod of mutual understanding and acceptance.

I have included some clips of the poems in case you would rather listen to them. 

Who exactly is a poet? I think this is a question that the film makers posed at the very beginning of the movie. Paterson is a bus driver who spends his time observing his surroundings looking for inspiration for his poems that he keeps in his little “secret book”. I feel like everyone who writes poetry has one of those books (I sure do). One of the main factors I identified with was Paterson’s apparent detachment from the world. He is there, he observes, he listens, he writes, but he never participates. That and many other features made the film real and surreal at the same time.

The poems are kept minimalist, but add to the film in an incredible way. They make the mundane more mundane, if that’s even possible. Adam Driver’s performance was spectacular, he seemed to be so in-tune and in-sync with the poems.

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

In Love Poem, Paterson compares the love between himself and his girlfriend Laura to Ohio Blue Tip matches. The thing that struck me as interesting is that he doesn’t really need the matches. They add to his life in an unspectacular way and are easily replaceable with a different brand, yet he chooses to stick with that specific one.

Another One

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:
Then some say there can be five, six, seven…
I knock off work
Have a beer at the bar
I look down at the glass and feel glad

All of these poems were written by the American poet Ron Padgett, who actually initially declined Jarmusch’s offer to write some original poetry for the film. Luckily, he changed his mind. Another One is as simple as it gets – but that’s the beauty of it. Paterson’s daily routine remains pretty much the same throughout the entire film. He goes to work, drives the bus, writes poetry in his lunch break, goes home to his wife, takes the dog out for a walk and has a beer at the bar. The poem emphasises the continuous cycle of his everyday life.


I’m in the house
It’s nice out
Sun on cold snow
First day of spring
Or last day of winter
My legs run up the stairs
And out the door
My top half here writing

I would divide Poem into two separate moods, both generating opposing atmospheres. The first part sounds very welcoming, cordial even. What I like about the poems in Paterson is that they cause the observer to imagine the scenery – they produce a very clear picture of visual surroundings.

The second half creates a sharp contrast making himself seem almost mechanical, single body parts pieces of a machine – himself. “My legs run up the stairs” suggests that he has difficulty controlling his actions, his life and the happenings around him. His top half, however, always writes – it stays in one place even though the other isn’t. Writing seems to be a constant rock in his life, the only thing unwavering. And so his relationship with writing is revealed in a single verse.

Here are some more poems (but I recommend you just watch the movie!):

It is a rare occurrence that poetry is the central theme in a story, so seeing this in action was an absolute delight. I also think that it showed that poetry doesn’t have to be this complicated craft – anybody can do it. Nothing remarkable happens in Paterson’s life but he still draws inspiration from those events every day.

As a side note I would like to add that poetry took on many forms in the film. I loved that they portrayed rap as poesy – because it is in my opinion. As seen here:

There is a lot of misconception surrounding poetry. The majority of people (especially in my age group) have a hard time understanding why I enjoy poetry so much. I think that the way schools introduce poetry gives students the impression that only people like Shakespeare or Burns (two old dead men) can write poetry. I was once told by a teacher that poetry is outdated. If poesy was truly explored in classrooms I think many would perceive it differently. Take for example if teens for instance were made aware of the fact that rap can be categorized into poetry – I think that alone would change a lot. I like to think of rappers as modern-day poets.

It’s a shame that the written word seems to have less and less significance amongst children and teens. For it’s one of the most effective ways of storytelling; and everybody, even nowadays, appreciates a good story.


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