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Chances are you have rarely seen a movie that draws substantially on the work of a major American poet. But this can change if you find a theater that is showing Paterson. This conditional, however, only doubles the unlikelihood. Even in greater New York, the movie had limited appearances. As Hollywood turns out innumerable examples of stupefying violence, inane plotting, and simplistic characterizations, the unlikelihood of poetry on the big screen outstrips even the remotest possibility. Yet somehow we find ourselves tenderly watching Jim Jarmusch’s subtle masterpiece. One of my fellow viewers remarked how odd that the movie didn’t contain a single car crash or large explosion. Yet what it had in plain sight was something like the spirit of William Carlos Williams, often referred to as WCW, the great modernist poet and doctor who spent most of his life as a general practitioner in the once-industrial town of Paterson, New Jersey.

The movie shows us how the spirit of WCW’s poetry is embodied in a bus driver, played with taste and control by Adam Driver. The low-key plot proceeds with an almost structuralist clarity. As Driver goes through his week from Monday to Sunday, we see him fall into a strict pattern. He awakens without the benefit of an alarm clock, each weekday beginning with a glancing look at his wristwatch; the hour is between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. He arises, pulling himself out a bed made supremely normal and comfortable by the presence of his beautiful wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). There on a chair next to the bed is his driver’s uniform, washed fresh and ironed each evening by his solicitous helpmate. A short breakfast (some featuring Cheerios), and then, carrying a tin lunch pail, he walks along leafy suburban streets. Walks that is, until he passes through an abandoned run of brick factories and warehouses — until he arrives at the bus depot. There, before he begins his route, which takes him through downtown Paterson, he spares a few moments to jot down poems in a notebook, the words appearing on the bottom of the screen in a clear, evenhanded script. More… “Poets in Paterson

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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I once read that happiness plateaus after $75,000 a year. Before you get to the “magic number,” increases in income correspond to increases in happiness. After that, more money won’t buy you more happiness.

I believe it, but it’s hard to believe. By this metric, I should have already reached maximum happiness. And yet there are things I feel sure would make me happier if I could afford them.

One of those things is a bigger bed. My husband John and I have slept on a full-size (AKA double) mattress for almost ten years. This once seemed normal, but now it seems ridiculously small, though our sizes haven’t changed much. Over the past decade, we may have each gained five pounds. More crucially, John is 6′ 4″. A full-size mattress is 75 inches long. That makes him one inch longer than the bed. He’s also an insomniac (of the sleep-onset variety), a restless sleeper, and occasional snorer. I fall asleep easily, but wake up easily too, and in the early morning hours I find it hard to go back to sleep. I feel sure that we’d both get more and better sleep, and thus be happier, in a bigger bed. More… “Time, Money, Happiness”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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The origins of the limerick are vague
But the style came after black plague.
And in today’s modern age
This boyfriend may wage
Spats in rhyme, though his girlfriend may beg.
(Stylisticienne, The Smart Set)

Let’s take a critical eye to the profane and the obscene. (Los Angeles Review of Books, The Smart Set)

What’s the value of paper in the digital world? If you’re biting your nails over the imminent demise of the paper book, relax — technological doomsayers have been around for ages. And before you hit send on that e-résumé, consider putting your skills on paper. (National Endowment for the Humanities, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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I picked up the cordless in Andrzej’s room to telephone my husband that I would not be coming home this night. We’d both had affairs. Brutal honesty seemed like the only way to go forward. “I’m sleeping at Andrzej’s,” I told him.

“You’re what?”

But I wasn’t honest. Andrzej and I had planned to go to Chicago for the weekend. We boarded a bus and checked into a hotel and took pictures of each other in front of the baby orangutans at the Brookfield Zoo. When he wasn’t looking at me through the lens of a camera, he was gazing into my face. I loved the attention he gave me, the way he savored my opinions, as he followed my instructions on how to position his tongue to create open vowel sounds in English. We ate steamed lamb with cabbage and rode the elevated to a punk rock club in… More…

“That point doesn’t count,” Andy shouted as I jumped around the ping-pong table doing my victory dance. “You leaned over the table to hit the smash and that’s an illegal move. We have to redo the point.”

I looked up at him making my puppy dog eyes, knowing they would work as usual.

“You know I can’t reach if I don’t lean over it. I’m short and little,” I said.

“Oh no, your cuteness isn’t going to work on me this time. I’m not losing to a little girl.”

His words angered me to no point. I had been practicing over the last year with my brothers so I would be a real challenge and he still saw me as a little girl. “I’m six, I can’t not be cute,” I shouted as I threw my paddle at him and stomped up the stairs out of his basement — and… More…

We were like Thisbe and Pyramus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying goodbye through a chink in the wall, only this was an ever narrowing door that was closing between us, neither one of us having the heart to turn around.

Ahem had asked me to ride in the university’s van with him to the airport in Cedar Rapids, and I didn’t want to. It was too much. I knew I’d make a scene, if not in the van, then out on the tarmac where I’d try to stop his plane or smuggle myself aboard. Buying a ticket and flying back with him to Indonesia never occurred to me. At least I credit myself with that. I was stupid and naïve and continued to be stupid and naïve for the next year while I schemed for ways to see him again, but I knew enough not to return with him from… More…

I always seem to fall for unavailable guys. What can poetry tell me about unrequited love and the (long) wait for the real thing? — S

 

Sometimes I catch a scent of that guy’s cologne — my mind takes off down some turbulent trail I’m ashamed to be on, even for a brief moment of nostalgia, since I am married now. It sounds like you need to pick up a copy of Kim Addonizio’s What Is This Thing Called Love.

“So What?”

Guess what. If love is only chemistry— phenylethylamine, that molecule that dizzies up the brain’s back room, smoky with hot bebop, it won’t be long until a single worker’s mopping up the scuffed and littered floor, whistling tunelessly, each endorphin cooling like a snuffed glass candle, the air stale with memory. So what, you say; outside,… More…

I’m in a long distance relationship with a swell guy and he penned me a poem for my birthday. It was very sweet but also quite bad. Can poetry help me tell him I appreciate the thought but not the actual poem? — Shannon

 

I hope so. But because chat or email can propagate misunderstanding, let me also underscore the importance of using emoticons, smileys or hearts in your case. I’m not sure why that works, especially when you give him a poem — far more nuanced and thoughtful than a colon-hyphen-closed parenthesis mark — but I read somewhere that you should do that in online communications with personal relationships. Anyway, it seemed fitting to look through Ted Kooser’s book, Valentines, where I found a poem that could help you tell him this (though it won’t, unfortunately, do… More…

My girlfriend and I have had a serious relationship for about five years. The both of us lack significant dating experience, so recently we decided to make it an “open” relationship. We’ve both been dating other people, but I’m starting to feel weird about it. I think my girlfriend likes this arrangement, but I want to go back to the way things used to be. Can poetry help? — Mr. S

 

Yes, poetry can help!  Poetry can help you convince your girlfriend to return to the more traditional relationship, but poetry can also help you accept this arrangement — it depends on what you’re looking for. I found some poems by the 15th-century Indian poet Kabir in The Kabir Book: Forty-Four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir translated by Robert Bly that could argue for both sides. I’ll… More…

I think of poetry as a boys’ club. Do female poets have to learn to write in a “masculine” style to gain any praise for their poems?

— Sarah, Malden, Massachusetts

P.S. Do you know of any good poems about female relationships?

You’re right, to some extent: Poetry is a boys’ club, as are many professions. This is something that I have noticed more and more as I’ve lived, but maybe I’m being too sensitive. After all, I did just buy an anthology of female poets writing about birth and childrearing (Not for Mothers Only published by Fence Books), but anthologies like that seem to exist almost on the fringe. Maybe some women feel that they have had to alter their style to gain any credence for their poetry. From personal experience in writing workshops, my narrative poems — which are more straightforward — receive much more praise than… More…