When it comes to American indie director Jim Jarmusch, we tend to think right away of the importance of music in his films, what with his collaborations with Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. (Jarmusch is himself a musician who has released two studio albums and three EPs under the moniker Sqürl.) But Jarmusch’s most recent film, Paterson, is an ode to poetry, drawn from his own love of New York School poets like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. Set in Paterson, New Jersey and featuring a main character also named Paterson (Adam Driver), the film aims to show, writes Time magazine, “how art—maybe even especially art made in the margins—can fill up everyday life.”
Jarmusch was drawn to Paterson, the town, by William Carlos Williams. The modernist poet called the town home and published an epic poem called Paterson in 1946. Although that dense, complex work is “not one of my favorite poems,” Jarmusch tells Time, he namechecks Williams as one of his favorite poets.
I think we can see the influence of Williams’ spare visual imagination in Jarmusch films like Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, Ghost Dog, and Broken Flowers. Jarmusch goes on in the course of his discussion about Paterson, the film, to name a handful of other poets he counts as inspirations. In the list below, you can find Jarmusch’s favorites, along with links to some of their most-beloved poems.
--William Carlos Williams (“Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” “4th of July”)
--Wallace Stevens (“The Man with the Blue Guitar,” “The Snow Man,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”)
--Dante Alighieri (Canto I of the Inferno)
--Arthur Rimbaud (“The Drunken Boat,” “Vagabonds”)
--John Ashbery (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”—read by Ashbery)
--Kenneth Koch (“In Love With You,” “One Train May Hide Another”)
--Frank O’Hara (“Steps,” Various Poems)
As we read or re-read these poets, we might ask how they have informed Jarmusch's stylish films in addition to the influence of his cinematic favorites. Several great directors have contributed to his peculiar visual aesthetic. The only filmmaker he mentions as a hero in his Time interview is Bernardo Bertollucci, but you can read about Jarmusch's top ten films at our previous post--films directed by such luminaries as Yasujiro Ozu, Nicholas Ray, and Robert Bresson.