Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Day the World Ends by Ethan Coen: Review

Have you ever read a book that, more than anything else, sparked insane curiosity about the author?

If not, take a gander at lauded writer-director Ethan Coen's newest poetry collection The Day the World Ends.  You might be surprised by the persona this collection appears to convey, and I guarantee you'll be intrigued.

It's possibly inevitable that when reading any poet's anthology, we'll be tempted to infer much (too much) about the character of the poet.  After all, this is perhaps the most intimate genre, and - at least in my experience - it often reveals more about the psyche of the poet than he or she may even apprehend.

And, trust me, this book will tweak your curiosity in that regard.  I mean, we think we know the guy somewhat: Fargo, Raising Arizona (my personal favorite), Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, and No Country For Old Men are modern American classics, no?  He wrote them, right?  So we can infer much about his tastes and interests via these films, can't we?

Really though, not so much.  Perhaps.

Ethan Coen.
Simply by viewing the Coen brothers' most popular cinematic offerings, you might assume that this writer isn't afraid to dirty his hands in the baser aspects of human nature.  And you'd be spot-on correct.

But all you'd have to do is read this collection to come to new conclusions.  Juxtaposing the pastoral with the profane, here, Ethan Coen offers a much more intimately personal vision than any character-driven film could provide. 

Yet any conclusions we readers might come to may be all wrong.  As I read through this collection, I vacillated between feeling that I was encountering a somewhat puerile and slightly self-obsessed ego and that I was being duped, manipulated by a trickster masquerading as that mind.  Was Ethan Coen having a go at me or was this really his thinking, his parsing of the world in words?

Either way though, I did feel intrigued.  And, for the moments I was reading his poems, be they ever so bawdy limericks or poignant free verse reflections on the fleeting nature of inspiration, I also felt diverted and occasionally charmed, especially by his less metrical, less forced-rhyme-y, and - for this reader - more earnest offerings.

If you're a fan of the Coen brothers' films, then this collection of poems will certainly provide a new perspective on a brilliant cinematic mind.  Sample the poems at The Day the World Ends page on Amazon. or on scrbd.

I'm grateful to its publishers, the Broadway Paperbacks imprint of Crown Publishing, for offering me a copy to review.


My action:  One reminder from Mr. Coen's collection?  A poem can be about anything, no matter how mundane or conventionally unlovely.  So while I'm home sick today, in the few moments I'm lucid, I'm planning to visually scan each room I'm in and then gently plumb my memory for at least fifty new poem-prompts about quotidian or unlikely topics.  Then I'll try exploring a few, just for the puzzle-ish fun of it.  Possibly when I am possessed of wider mental bandwidth, though.

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