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Finding the Poetry in 'Paterson'

The film chronicles beautifully banal life in the New Jersey city.
Paterson walks through the remains of the city's factories en route to work.
Paterson walks through the remains of the city's factories en route to work.Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Can post-industrial, working-class urban life in America be enjoyable and fulfilling—even poetic? Jim Jarmusch’s new film, Paterson—the tale of a man named Paterson who drives a city bus in Paterson, New Jerseyanswers that question with a definitive “yes.”

All of those “Patersons” may seem like an indie film affectation, but they’re an homage. Paterson, who writes poetry when he’s not ferrying passengers, has a favorite poet: William Carlos Williams, who worked in the nearby town of Rutherford during the first half of the 20th century. Williams is probably best known for his simple, elegant poem, “This is Just to Say.” But he also wrote an epic, five-part poem called, yes, “Paterson.” In a 1943 letter to the author and poet Robert McAlmon, Williams declared that “Paterson” the poem would be “a psychological-social panorama of a city treated as if it were a man, the man Paterson.”