A subject that long ago captured my creative spirit has been making quiet waves in the cinematic world this year. Paterson, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and set in Paterson, New Jersey, concerns an enigmatic bus driver—also named Paterson, played by Adam Driver—as he observes his world and takes notes in poetry. The beautiful ritual of everyday life is underscored by Driver’s brilliant performance as someone quietly satisfied with his lot in life, as expressed via the poems used in the film, written by New York School poet Ron Padgett. In honor of Paterson, here are my favorite books of poetry from the New York School. (For more examples of this rich poetic style, visit the Poetry Foundation’s vast (and freely available) database here.
Can You Hear, Bird, by John Ashbery
I strive to be as playful and scholarly with language. Ashbery is always serving a wry point. All is offered in conversational tone. Understanding can come later.
Fair Realism, by Barbara Guest
Guest was certainly one of the most prolific poets of her time. Her work mastered the painterly style of writing often attributed to the New York School. To paint in verse is quite an accomplishment, as evidenced in this collection.
The Green Lake is Awake, by Joseph Ceravolo
Ceravolo, like the main character in Paterson, toiled away in a day job as a civil engineer. His poetry is the direct opposite of pragmatic; I would describe it as a warm, sun-filled room.
How Long, by Ron Padgett
One could dismiss Padgett’s poetry as understated, maybe even frivolous. Of course, the same could be said of an ordinary life.
Lunch Poems, by Frank O’Hara
Frank O’Hara was the curator of the Museum of Modern Art during the height of Abstract Expressionism. He wrote poetry on his lunch breaks—a good practice for any poet. This is the result.