The following excerpts are from an interview with Jim Jarmusch published in Film Comment on the eve of Paterson’s wide release in theaters.
“Frank O’Hara wrote this very beautiful manifesto called “Personism” in which he says: “Don’t write poetry to the world. Write poetry to one other person. Write a love note to someone you love, or write a little poetic letter to someone you know.” So that’s been really inspiring to me and I’ve tried to make films that are not shouting out from the mountaintop to all of the world, but more like little letters out to someone I care for.”
“…the auteur thing is nonsense. Film is so collaborative, and especially in my case, because I have artistic control over the film. That means I choose the people I collaborate with—we’re making the film together. I use “a film by [Jim Jarmusch]” in the credits to protect my ability to choose my collaborators in this world of financing and using other people’s money. But we’re collaborating all the time, so the film is evolving each day we scout, and then each day we shoot, and then if we rehearse, whatever that might mean, it’s just changing, changing, changing.”
“I’m a self-proclaimed dilettante, and it’s not negative to me, because I’m interested in so many things, from 17th-century English music, to mushroom identification, to various varieties of ferns, to all kinds of stuff. How can I, in one lifetime—I could be like Adam and Eve in Only Lovers, I wouldn’t be a dilettante, because they actually know. He knows how to build a generator, and she knows the Latin identification of everything. But I’m a dilettante because I don’t have enough time. And there are too many incredible things that I get attracted to, and so my head’s always spinning around. But that’s okay. Being a dilettante is helpful if you make films, because films have all these other forms in them.”
“My thing is dilettantism, amateurism—I believe that I’m an amateur, because amateur means you do something for the love of a form, and professional means you do it for your job, you get paid, and nothing against that!—and variations. That’s my holy trinity lately of what my defining priorities are: being a dilettante, being an amateur, and appreciating variations in all expression. Because I love variations. To me, it’s the most beautiful form, to accept that all things are really variations on other things.”
Please read the entire interview here.
This is a repost of Beth Orton’s beautiful rendition of Sisters of Mercy by the dearly beloved and departed Leonard Cohen. His poetry and his life spoke to and through so many who carried his words with them into their own work.
David Remnick in his profile on Leonard Cohen shares this coda as Cohen discovers his early career muse, lover and long time friend, Marianne Ihlen, is on her death bed.
In late July this year, Cohen received an e-mail from Jan Christian Mollestad, a close friend of Marianne’s, saying that she was suffering from cancer. In their last communication, Marianne had told Cohen that she had sold her beach house to help insure that Axel [her son] would be taken care of, but she never mentioned that she was sick. Now, it appeared, she had only a few days left. Cohen wrote back immediately:
Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
Two days later, Cohen got an e-mail from Norway:
Marianne slept slowly out of this life yesterday evening. Totally at ease, surrounded by close friends.
Your letter came when she still could talk and laugh in full consciousness. When we read it aloud, she smiled as only Marianne can. She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind, close enough to reach her.
It gave her deep peace of mind that you knew her condition. And your blessing for the journey gave her extra strength. . . . In her last hour I held her hand and hummed “Bird on the Wire,” while she was breathing so lightly. And when we left the room, after her soul had flown out of the window for new adventures, we kissed her head and whispered your everlasting words.
So long, Marianne . . .
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit
But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He just doesn’t have the freedom
He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube
Without my sorrow
To where it’s better
Without my burden
Behind the curtain
Without the costume
That I wore
He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I need him
I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
Which is to SAY what I have told him
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit
Jim Jarmusch, who has a unique cinematic vision, has a new film that has had its debut at Cannes this week titled ‘Paterson’. For me most of his recent films have a poetic aspect to them in that they paint a picture involving the characters that inhabit each of them as opposed to being structured in a strictly narrative form. This latest effort continues in that vein in that it is a story of a bus driver who quietly listens and observes his surroundings with the heart of a poet. Partially influenced by the work of contemporary poet Ron Padgett, the character Paterson composes poems based on the small details of life.
Here is an example of Padgett’s work
“The morning coffee.I’m not sure why I drink it. Maybe it’s the ritual of the cup, the spoon, the hot water, the milk, and the little heap of brown grit, the way they come together to form a nail I can hang the
day on. It’s something to do between being asleep and being awake. Surely there’s something better to do, though, than to drink a cup of instant coffee. Such as meditate? About what? About having a cup of
coffee. A cup of coffee whose first drink is too hot and whose last drink is too cool, but whose many in-between drinks are, like Baby Bear’s porridge, just right. Papa Bear looks disgruntled. He removes his spectacles and swivels his eyes onto the cup that sits before Baby Bear, and then,
after a discrete cough, reaches over and picks it up. Baby Bear doesn’t understand this disruption of the morning routine. Papa Bear brings
the cup close to his face and peers at it intently. The cup shatters in his paw, explodes actually, sending fragments and brown liquid all over the
room. In a way it’s good that Mama Bear isn’t there. Better that she rest in her grave beyond the garden, unaware of what has happened to the world.”
Prose Poem (‘The morning coffee.’) Ron Padgett
Jarmusch in an interview described the relationship portrayed in the film between Paterson and his wife, who spends her days in creative pursuits as
“ a portrait of a very tender love of people who accept each other for who they are. Only Lovers Left Alive was very much the same. The pure form of love is letting people be who they are. It’s a Buddhist thing to be accepting.”
In the same interview he does not ignore the larger world we inhabit but leaves this small tale of two lovers as a poignant reminder of how we can bring beauty to our world even as catastrophe is upon us.
“There are things wrong in this world. The way people treat each other. For us human beings, time is limited on this planet. There are too many people and nature is soon going to rectify this. It is going to be difficult and tragic. We are already in the 6th mass extinction of species. We have to be very grateful for very small details of life. Like this moment here. Here we are talking about a film and it is just a ridiculous thing.”
Please read the rest of the interview here.
Finally it is always a treat for me to hear Jarmusch and his ensemble discuss the films. His graciousness and thoughtfulness toward his partners and those who ask or comment ab0ut his films is very inspiring. For those who enjoy press conferences, please see the short video below.
“See, when they got off the boat, they didn’t recognize us. They said who are you and we said we’re the people, we’re the human beings. And they said, oh, Indians, because they didn’t recognize what it was to be a human being.
I’m a human being, this is the name of my tribe. This is the name of my people. But I’m a human being.
But then the predatory mentality shows up and starts calling us Indians and committing genocide against us as a vehicle of erasing the memory of being a human being. So they used war textbooks, history books, and when film came along, they used film.
You go in our own communities, how many of us are fighting to protect our identity of being an Indian. And 600 years ago, that word Indian, that sound was NEVER made on this hemisphere. That sound, that noise, was never ever made, ever. We’re trying to protect that as an identity, see, so it affects all of us. It’s reached the point evolutionarily speaking, we’re starting to not recognize ourselves as human beings.
We’re too busy trying to protect the idea of a Native American or an Indian, but we’re not Indians and we’re not Native Americans. We’re older than both concepts. We’re the people. We’re the human beings.”
John Trudell (1946 – 2015)
“Hedgespoken is our dream – we’ve thought long and hard about how best we want to live our lives, how to do what we love doing in a way that serves our communities and fulfills our dreams of living close to the land in a creative, sustainable way. Hedgespoken is our best shot, our way of taking our skills and our love of story, of art and magic, and living in a way that means we’re using all of that, all the time. And, it’s our promise, to ourselves and to our children, that we will refuse to live half-lives. Hedgespoken is a gamble – to live on the road is to embrace uncertainty and certain kinds of insecurity, after all – but it’s a gamble that we have to take, because we dreamed this in the week that we first met and we knew then that we had to find a way to make it real. With your help, we’re getting there, in Hedgespoken style, living lives that are full, not empty, nor half-lived or hollow – with your help, we’re already creating something beautiful, allowing something of the magical world to be born.”
Sketch By Rima Staines
“Hedgespoken is our attempt to try and live our dream right here and now in this life, fully and heartily and with all the colours available to us. It matters because of the flame that burns in all of us to really live our dreams, despite all those voices – inside and outside – telling us that that’s not possible. It matters because by sharing soul-nourishing arts with others in this way, we are re-weaving a tribe of those who yearn for this old magic that feels at once delightfully strange and very familiar. It matters because sitting under the stars by firelight together is a fundamentally old and human thing to do, and because when we sit there in the woodsmoke and owlsong and crackle of darkness, we Remember…”
Photo by Andy Letcher
This video, narrated by Barbara Fischer, Director of the University of Toronto Art Centre, explores the recently opened exhibition of photographs by Allen Ginsberg at UTAC. Organized in collaboration with the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, the exhibition comprises over 150 photographs taken by the legendary Beat poet and activist. The photographs are drawn on the collection of close to 8,000 prints recently donated by The Rossy Family Foundation to the Fisher Library and the University of Toronto Art Centre.
“As [Beat] poet and photographer Allen Ginsberg told an audience at the Sackler Lecture Hall [in March 1988] “we are continually exposed to the flashbulb of death,” cameras flashed away and a roar of laughter rose from the crowd of nearly 200 people.
Poetry and photography came together in that instant, and the connection of the two was the topic of Ginsberg’s speech on photographic poets in the second of three lectures sponsored by the Friends of the Harvard Art Museums called Focus on Photography.
“Photographers fix the shadow of the moment and preserve it,” said Ginsberg, who also praised the 20th century imagist poets such as William Carlos Williams for their attentiveness to detail and for “seeing a decisive moment in a glimpse on the street.”
In the question and answer session which followed, a man known as Brother Blue praised Ginsberg saying, “you are the living poem.”
“All of us with ordinary minds have the capacity for not living in eternity. Out of sensitivity [to the others with whom we also suffer], we find the bold head in front of us luminous,” said Ginsberg in response.”
Photo by Jill Krementz
“If one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty”
“When I was packing in Los Angeles, I had a sense of unease because I’ve always felt some ambiguity about an award for poetry. Poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers. So I feel somewhat like a charlatan to accept an award for an activity which I do not command. In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from I would go there more often.
I was compelled in the midst of that ordeal of packing to go and open my guitar. I have a Conde guitar, which was made in Spain in the great workshop at number 7 Gravina Street. I pick up an instrument I acquired over 40 years ago. I took it out of the case, I lifted it, and it seemed to be filled with helium it was so light. And I brought it to my face and I put my face close to the beautifully designed rosette, and I inhaled the fragrance of the living wood. We know that wood never dies. I inhaled the fragrance of the cedar as fresh as the first day that I acquired the guitar. And a voice seemed to say to me, “You are an old man and you have not said thank you, you have not brought your gratitude back to the soil from which this fragrance arose. And so I come here tonight to thank the soil and the soul of this land that has given me so much.
Because I know that just as an identity card is not a man, a credit rating is not a country.
Now, you know of my deep association and confraternity with the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. I could say that when I was a young man, an adolescent, and I hungered for a voice, I studied the English poets and I knew their work well, and I copied their styles, but I could not find a voice. It was only when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca that I understood that there was a voice. It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice, that is to locate a self, a self that that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence.
As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.
And so I had a voice, but I did not have an instrument. I did not have a song.
And now I’m going to tell you very briefly a story of how I got my song.
Because – I was an indifferent guitar player. I banged the chords. I only knew a few of them. I sat around with my college friends, drinking and singing the folk songs and the popular songs of the day, but I never in a thousand years thought of myself as a musician or as a singer.
One day in the early sixties, I was visiting my mother’s house in Montreal. Her house was beside a park and in the park was a tennis court where many people come to watch the beautiful young tennis players enjoy their sport. I wandered back to this park which I’d known since my childhood, and there was a young man playing a guitar. He was playing a flamenco guitar, and he was surrounded by two or three girls and boys who were listening to him. I loved the way he played. There was something about the way he played that captured me. It was the way that I wanted to play and knew that I would never be able to play.
And, I sat there with the other listeners for a few moments and when there was a silence, an appropriate silence, I asked him if he would give me guitar lessons. He was a young man from Spain, and we could only communicate in my broken French and his broken French. He didn’t speak English. And he agreed to give me guitar lessons. I pointed to my mother’s house which you could see from the tennis court, and we made an appointment and settled a price.
He came to my mother’s house the next day and he said, “Let me hear you play something.” I tried to play something, and he said, “You don’t know how to play, do you?’
I said, “No, I don’t know how to play.” He said “First of all, let me tune your guitar. It’s all out of tune.” So he took the guitar, and he tuned it. He said, “It’s not a bad guitar.” It wasn’t the Conde, but it wasn’t a bad guitar. So, he handed it back to me. He said, “Now play.”
I couldn’t play any better.
He said “Let me show you some chords.” And he took the guitar, and he produced a sound from that guitar I had never heard. And he played a sequence of chords with a tremolo, and he said, “Now you do it.” I said, “It’s out of the question. I can’t possibly do it.” He said, “Let me put your fingers on the frets,” and he put my fingers on the frets. And he said, “Now, now play.”
It was a mess. He said, ” I’ll come back tomorrow.”
He came back tomorrow, he put my hands on the guitar, he placed it on my lap in the way that was appropriate, and I began again with those six chords – a six chord progression. Many, many flamenco songs are based on them.
I was a little better that day. The third day – improved, somewhat improved. But I knew the chords now. And, I knew that although I couldn’t coordinate my fingers with my thumb to produce the correct tremolo pattern, I knew the chords; I knew them very, very well.
The next day, he didn’t come. He didn’t come. I had the number of his, of his boarding house in Montreal. I phoned to find out why he had missed the appointment, and they told me that he had taken his life. That he committed suicide.
I knew nothing about the man. I did not know what part of Spain he came from. I did not know why he came to Montreal. I did not know why he played there. I did not know why he he appeared there at that tennis court. I did not know why he took his life.
I was deeply saddened, of course. But now I disclose something that I’ve never spoken in public. It was those six chords, it was that guitar pattern that has been the basis of all my songs and all my music. So, now you will begin to understand the dimensions of the gratitude I have for this country.
Everything that you have found favorable in my work comes from this place. Everything , everything that you have found favorable in my songs and my poetry are inspired by this soil.
So, I thank you so much for the warm hospitality that you have shown my work because it is really yours, and you have allowed me to affix my signature to the bottom of the page.”
Listen to one of LC’s latest songs here –
“your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
– ‘The Laughing Heart’