THE DRUNKEN DRIVER HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY

Ethan Coen, Author . Crown $18 (144p) ISBN 978-0-609-60946-0

The co-creator (with his brother Joel) of such terrific, offbeat movies as Fargo and Barton Fink here turns his attention to rhymed self-mockery, dirty limericks and deliberately offensive, versified tall tales in his debut book of poems; the results can be entertaining, though they can also seem juvenile and self-indulgent. Coen's best efforts appear near the front of this longish collection; they belong to a worthy tradition of witty, metrically perfect, light verse aimed at adults—a tradition whose exemplars past and present include Edward Lear, Dorothy Parker and Sophie Hannah. Coen in this mode likes to make fun of himself, and his readers, and poetry in general: "O!/ I love a poem that starts with an O!" a three-page work begins. Kiplingesque quatrains laud "booze, and coke, and sluts"; other poems focus tightly on toilet humor, while a longish set of stanzas defends laziness—"Let my good friends the masses/ Get up off their asses/ While I stay at home with a smirk." The smirk continues, alas, throughout the volume, which seems designed to provoke both chuckles and disgust. One highlight is a very long collection of inventively obscene limericks ("there are those who insert/ Their own amative parts in a yurt"); low points arrive in some first-person narrative poems, one of which follows the poet's detachable penis. Despite his notable metrical facility, Coen (who has also published a book of short stories, Gates of Eden) seems to regard verse largely as a way to blow off steam, rather than as a serious second vocation; devotees of his movies should be amused, but will likely be disappointed as well. (Oct.)

Forecast:The Coen brothers' moviemaking prominence should guarantee some attention. Sales volume, however, will depend heavily on media attention to what is partly a genuine book of light verse, but partly a novelty item.

Reviewed on: 08/06/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Paperback - 137 pages - 978-0-307-46269-5
Open Ebook - 138 pages - 978-0-307-46274-9
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