Paterson….movie, poem, place.

At the beginning of this week I had never heard of the city, the poem, or the movie called Paterson. Nor had I heard the name William Carlos Williams. A couple of photos on a friends Facebook page changed all that.

The photos were of a building with a bridge behind it and a waterfall beyond that. The resulting river flowing toward the viewer and in the foreground a couple of green painted benches. The second photo was of rubbish bin with the words “City of Paterson” on it. And in the comments under the post it said “It was William Carlos Williams or Carlos Williams Carlos? Well it is Paterson one of the best movies from Jarmusch…”

And so a Google and a visit to the local library later finds me reading the poetry of William Carlos Williams – who was not only a poet of some renown, but also a doctor of pediatrics and general medicine. His epic poem Paterson began life as a 85 line poem but morphed over the years into 5 volumes of books.

The poem was published between 1946 and 1958 and was an account of the history, people, and the place – Paterson, New Jersey. Williams examined the role of the poet in American society and summarized his poetic method in the phrase “No ideas but in things” – originally a line from his poem “A Sort of a Song” but also used as a recurring theme in Paterson.

As I said earlier I had no idea who Williams was until this week, which is surprising as he mentored several other poets including ‘Beat’ poet Allen Ginsberg – who’s work I know well. He even wrote the forward/intro to Ginsberg’s first and probably most famous (or infamous) book “Howl and other poems” (1956).

Anyhow….back to Paterson. Now a movie, inspired by the poem. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and released at the end of December 2016. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at a staggering 96% – and frankly I must agree.

The blurb on the Rotten Tomatoes website reads ” Paterson is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey–they share the name. Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route, observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and overhearing fragments of conversation swirling around him; he writes poetry into a notebook; he walks his dog; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer; he goes home to his wife, Laura. By contrast, Laura’s world is ever changing. New dreams come to her almost daily. Paterson loves Laura and she loves him. He supports her newfound ambitions; she champions his gift for poetry. The film quietly observes the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.

There are numerous scenes in the movie shot beside the waterfall shown in my friends photo. It’s the place that Paterson, the bus driving poet, likes to sit and contemplate life. He cares about the city and he cares about the people who live there. It’s a beautiful and a quietly inspirational movie. It moves you in a subtle way…like all good poetry and good movies should.

Paterson – official trailer

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Only the Rain – A poem

8am Fine but cloudy

9am Possible shower

Says the screen on my phone

So much for meteorology

My cat looks forlornly through the cat-flap

It’s been raining for three days….solid.

Three days like a never ending firehose

In the yard

Water pools in the trailer

Water pools on the lawn

Worms, desperate refugees squirm toward high ground

As the ground squelches, sponge-like underfoot

Rain barrels overflow

Passing trucks hiss by sending washes,

Small Tsunamis down my driveway

Under lead grey skies

A bird seeks shelter under the eves

A lone walker struggles past, soaked

Wrestling his umbrella against the wind

And still it falls

Peach blossom can no longer cling to the branches

Submits to the rains power and floats

Pink, limp and exhausted

In the puddles on the lawn

Soggy leaves make fine dams

Gutters overflow, downpipes blocked

Everything feels damp

Smells damp

Tastes damp

Even the air here inside.

The rivered streets slick and shine like mirrors

In a mono-chrome world

I look out the window

For the cowardly sun

Still a no-show

The sky darkens further

Like my mood

Thunderous rain beats against the roof

And waves its opaque magicians cape

As the street disappears

Concealed from view

Only the rain

My constant companion

Only the Rain.

Earths Clock – A poem

Nature is Earth’s clock

The breeze in the trees its reassuring tick

Its changes mark the seasons

The horizon dips and rises

To greet and then farewell the sun

And mark each passing day

Its regularity is perfection

Its cycles keep us safe

Its predictability and stability is our truth

And its complexity a mystery

A wonder to be worshipped.

But WE know best

From air-conditioned corner offices

And laboratories under fluorescent lights

WE know best

We meddle and we tamper

We set ourselves apart from

And above nature

We play god with nature

Our experiment, life itself

We don’t KNOW natures complexity

Nor its inter-dependent layers

But WE know best

Can WE be gods?

We splice genes, change dna, IMPROVE on nature

HA! The vanity of our insanity!

We create or destroy at will

Burn fossil fuel, tear down trees

Do whatever the hell we please

WE want to be god, in our own image

We pollute, wipe out other species

They don’t matter and we don’t care

We clothe the globe in plastic

We change natures balance

In our ignorance

But WE know best

We crave our excesses

A need for greed

All balance gone

Water undrinkable

Air we can’t breathe

Food that won’t nourish

Our “intelligent” creation – more greed

We use people, and we love things

We ARE our own gods

And WE absolutely without a shadow of doubt

Know best

But we can’t save ourselves

When we’re put to the test.

After we are no more

And millennia pass

And nature once more becomes

The timepiece of the Earth

Will we again slither

From primordial ooze

To wreak havoc on earth

Or will we be wise enough

To know our place

And be one with nature

Because NATURE knows best.

A poem

An explanation will follow after the poem.

After we stop pretending that everything’s alright

After the lies have all been told

After we realise that day may no longer follow night

After our children’s future has been sold.

Will we show remorse, beg forgiveness, be sad?

That we chose THINGS over their hopes and dreams

Will our kids understand, or will they just be mad?

That their parents didn’t love them enough, it seems.

The Earth, abundant in nature, wore a smiling face

But we traded it, in our greed for money

Nature is the loser in our in-Human Race

A toxic broth is our reward, instead of milk and honey.

When we were one with nature, just like insects birds and trees

And the gods of the forest were our guides

Everything was perfect, nature met our needs

But we traded it for status, shiny things, and lies

We ignored our forest gods and worshipped god in the form of man

Declared ourselves above and separate from the natural world

And that sadly, is where our troubles all began

And we’ve been fucking things up ever since!

I make no apologies for the final line. This poem follows on from my previous post also titled “After we stop pretending” about how we continue to pollute and destroy and how it may be too late to make the changes we need to make, to save our own lives. I have tried to give the poem rhythm and rhyme all the way through until the final line. It’s abrupt….doesn’t rhyme….and represents our disconnect from the rest of the natural world. I have never felt so angry, or so impotent to change things….to make things right.

Whether you believe in man made climate change, or whether you think it’s simply a natural cycle, that creates the rise and fall of global temperatures, what is undeniable is the fact that we – by which I mean you, me, the folks next door, the people down the street and most of all the people who have become rich and powerful – are responsible for polluting and destroying our natural world. And we covet our baubles and shiny possessions so much that we are content to allow the destruction of the thing that gives us life, and what would guarantee that our kids and grand kids had a future. If ONLY we had the courage to stand up and say ENOUGH! But we don’t care enough about nature and we DON’T love our kids and grand kids enough to have the balls to protect them. It’s sad….it’s really quite pathetic….but it’s the truth. Otherwise we’d be on the streets demanding change in an unstoppable show of public disobedience – displaying unselfish courage.

We watch what’s laughingly called “the news” on our TV’s at night and the lead item SHOULD be about how we are destroying the earth and more importantly what we are, or should be, doing to turn things around. But instead we allow them to distract us with stories of Donald Trumps tweets, or about which celebrity has had Botox, or arse implants, or which politician has been cheating behind their spouse’s backs. Anything to avoid the real issue. Anything to put off switching off the consumer driven growth economy and changing our own comfortable lifestyle. It seems that we love money more than life itself. We deserve our fate.

Quotes on Poetry

I’ve been frankly amazed and somewhat relieved at how well my few attempts at poetry have been received. Thank you so much for the likes and positive feedback. It’s not something I intend to do a lot of (writing poetry) but I will be inflicting the occasional poem on you from time to time, if the inspiration hits me.

Here are a few quotes about poetry from the famous.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words – Robert Frost

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility – William Wordsworth

What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music – Soren Kierkegaard

and finally one that resonates with me…

I wrote some of the worst poetry west from the Mississippi River, but I wrote. And I finally sometimes got it right. – Maya Angelou

Poem – Where do we go from here?

Sometimes I think that we’ve lost the humanity that defines us as Humans. We’ve lost our way in the grand scheme of things…if a grand scheme ever existed. We’ve adopted systems that don’t work for everyone. Systems that divide and conquer and build wealth for the few. That value material wealth over the wellbeing of our lives and of our planet. We’ve been fed the lie that we are more intelligent than other species and therefore ride rough shod over them, and nature as a whole. How can we be more intelligent when we are on the brink of destroying everything, including ourselves? I was sitting here, this morning pondering the mess that we’ve allowed to happen and wondering to myself “where do we go from here?” This poem just kind of flowed out as I sat and wondered if the future brings hope or despair.

We’ve turned our backs on refugees

They don’t look the same as you and me

Their religions are a blasphemy

Where do we go from here?

We’ve declared war on foreign lands

We’ve played and then died on the sands

We’ve both burned books and had them banned

Where do we go from here?

We’ve polluted water, earth and air

Killed off species, don’t seem to care

Have security cameras everywhere

Where do we go from here?

Dictators, Despots, Socialist States

Autocrats who watch and wait

Who lie to divide us, we take the bait

Where do we go from here?

We’re obsessed with our material world

Pledge allegiance to the flag unfurled

On-line petty insults hurled

Where do we go from here?

We allow pipelines across sacred lands

We turn away from outstretched hands

‘Cause we’ve got our friends here on broadband

Where do we go from here?

We allow all this but won’t be shamed

To possessions and baubles we are chained

Can common sense yet be reclaimed?

Where DO we go from here?

Of poems, walls, family and a poet called Frost…

I guess it’s not simply by chance that I enjoy reading the poems of Robert Frost. Not only do we have the same family name (Frost) but also share a love of the outdoors, of nature. Many of Frost’s poems are set in the natural world – in woods and fields.

Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874, but after the death of his father – when Robert was just 11 years old – lived much of his life out east, first in Massachusetts and then, after attending Harvard university (where he dropped out after 2 years due to health issues), in New Hampshire. Here, surrounded by nature, his writing really took off although it was not well received by publishers and rejection letters became the common reply to his submissions.

In 1912 at the age of 38 Frost moved his family to England and within a few months had found a publisher for his works. All of a sudden his poems were popular and sought after by publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. During his time in England he met Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas who both gave positive reviews of his work, boosting Frost’s popularity. One of Frost’s most popular poems, The Road not Taken, was written as a kind of joke about Edward Thomas’s lack of ability to make choices and then second guessing himself, although at the time many readers (Thomas included) failed to get the joke and took the poem at face value.

His 2 years of living in England were extremely good for his writing, but in 1914 at the outbreak of The Great War (world war one) he was forced to return to the USA, settling again in New Hampshire. Here he met up with publisher Henry Holt who would be his publisher for the rest of Frost’s life. Many of the publications that had turned down his poems before he left for England were now begging to publish. He sent them the same poems that they had earlier rejected and this time they all found their way into print. I guess this is a message for all writers, not just poets, to never give up, never lose faith in your writing.

Getting back to the whole point of this post….what started me off on this post about Frost’s poetry was….I’d been reading his poem Mending Wall…..(excerpt below)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there…….

It goes on about how he and his neighbour go about rebuilding the wall, stone by stone and how he needs to know what, or who, is being either kept in, or kept out, by the wall, where as his neighbour simply likes it as a boundary between his property and theirs. “Good fences make good neighbours” is the neighbour’s mantra.

All of this reminded me of my grandfather George Arthur Frost, who was a builder by trade – mainly of houses – but who also used to build dry stone walls around the farmers fields in our village. We lived in what was the west riding of Yorkshire but is now classified as South Yorkshire, where there are very few wooden or wire fences and most are dry stone walls. These walls are put together by careful selection of rocks and stones, cleared initially from the fields, and stacking them in a way that requires no cement or mortar of any kind. All the pieces are self supporting and lock together. It’s an art form really. And a way of life, a skill, that is slowly disappearing.

Usually because of the length of the walls being built and the need for speed, most walls around fields are built with rocks and stones found close by, which are used in their natural form….not chiseled into shape. BUT walls built as garden walls (as in the second picture above) are taken more care with. Some of the stone would be reclaimed from previously built houses, extra stones are shaped more or less rectangular by the builder as he goes along, taking his time, building a wall that will last for centuries.

I felt it only fitting to follow in another Frost’s footsteps and pen my own poem to dry stone walls and the men who build them. So, inspired by Robert Frost, this is for my grandfather George Frost, from me Malcolm Frost.

George built walls straight and true
From stones found here and there
A firm foundation slowly grew
He stacked layer upon layer.
He worked hard through rain and sun
Through stillness and wind blow
Stepping back to see what he’d begun
And how far he had to go.
The rough stone made his fingers bleed
But George didn’t seem to mind
Sweat on his brow began to bead
As he got the wall aligned.
His wall will last a hundred years
And then some way beyond
This poem’s for George and all his peers
And stone walls of which I’m fond.