Paterson

Rewatched Paterson (2016) the other night. Still can’t think of another movie that does accurate justice to anything like what it’s like to be a poet. My favorite quote by Bashō bears repeating, always:

“In this mortal frame of mind, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something can be called, for lack of a better name, a windswept soul, for it is much like thin drapery that is torn and swept away by the slightest stirring of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always waving between doubts of one kind or another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of the court, or at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to become a scholar, but it was prevented from either by the unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore it hangs onto it more or less blindly.”

Paterson is about a poet bus driver and the “secret notebook” in which he pens his poems. Adam Driver’s name is Paterson in the movie and like Bashō he has “taken to writing poetry,” implying a beginning, a fledgling poet. Like many newborn poets, he is infatuated with one of the old giants of the tradition: in this case, predictably, William Carlos Williams. Whose preoccupation with the everyday Paterson emulates. His poem comparing different brands of matches exemplifies this down-to-earth approach in the starkly “honest,” or plain, style of poets like Jack Gilbert. It’s astonishingly direct in a dreamy, Romantic sort of way. The poet, and his life, deeply intertwined. This blur of person and poem we find in poets like Frank O’Hara, whose name comes up in the movie.

Years ago I would have described this as “authenticity.” Alas for the dead god of the authentic. Even as far back as 2009 at Calvin I had Klatt saying artifice, it’s all artifice, and my first great love affair with a contemporary poet, Franz Wright, ended when I found out just how many drafts he had to tweak to create that slapdash spontaneity his poems are famous for.

I recently wrote a book in the Paterson mode. Well, I composed it on my iPhone reading my way through Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi. The result was probably too personal to publish, though I have been mining poems for imagery. Too personal turns out to be a thing with respect to those that are near and dear, their secret lives, the way in which you are yourself inextricably culpable.

The movie reminds me of an innocence that precedes much exposure to the work of other poets. 2010-2011 I lived and taught in Yantai with my father. I proceeded in a procedural way through the following poem: A) “There is a chair beneath the cherry tree,” B)

“Velvet red
upholstery peeling
off the yellow foam,”

C) “There are no cherries left, and no one in the chair.” D) “Two emptinesses, therefore, … (This part varies, draft by draft), E) “I would sit but, look, the seat is wet with August rain.” Like the poems in Paterson, this one of mine is minimalist and very commonsense, this is, logical. It has this inexorable logic that pulls you through the poem and there’s something very comforting about these baby steps. My own, though, lie far behind. And I want to forget. I want to get back to my notebook and the good things about today.

Feel I’ve fallen into the gulf between myself and my work.

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