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The Day the World Ends

April 16, 2012

The nice folks at Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, are working hard to market Ethan Coen’s new volume of poetry The Day the World Ends–and no wonder, because as far as I can tell, his intended reader is male, and that’s a little bit of a niche audience for poetry. Moreover, his intended reader is easily amused by term like “ass-upward,” which he uses over and over in his poem “My Epitaph.” And although I am a big fan of the TV show South Park–so you know I can enjoy scatological humor–this much scatalogical poetry struck me as …a bit too much.

Because I liked his previous volume, The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way, I responded positively to an email offering me a copy of this new volume and another copy to give away. As it turns out, while I don’t regret having read these poems once, this is not a volume I particularly want to keep and reread (especially not at this point in our library renovation project), so I have two volumes to give away if you care to leave your email address in the comments.

But first let me tell you more about the poems in this volume. Some of them are very short. There are several pages of raunchy limericks, and a few scatalogical ones:
“Old O’Sheen was appalled to awake
To discover the nocturnal brake
On his kidneys and bowel
Had thrown in the towel
To leave him with what those things make.”

From the three pages of funny epitaphs, this is my favorite:
“He flossed each day—his teeth were clean.
Each day he prayed—his soul was pure.
Lord, help us know what it might mean:
His soul is gone; his teeth endure.”

Others look like typical examples of contemporary free verse, only slighter:

On Seeing Venice for the First Time

Seeing Venice for the first time really makes a guy sit down
and think.
Boy, you think.
Boy, this Venice.
All this.
This Venice.
Wow.
Been here a long time.
Water lapping stone steps.
Doges.
Et cetera.

Then me.
In my khakis.

Permanence.
Impermanence.
(Kind of dank.)
Whole human thing.
Venice.
Gotta think this through a minute.
Man.
Venice.

You know, I started reading this volume with a charitable attitude, wanting to like at least a few of the poems in it. I had to work to find a few examples of things I liked. And then when I sat down to write about the volume, even the bits I liked struck me as less comic.

As the poet himself says, it’s hard to tell what’s missing from this volume:
“Just what it is
Just isn’t clear.
It’s not what’s missing,
Not what’s here….”

Perhaps I wasn’t in the right mood for these poems. If you think you might be more amused by them, leave a comment anytime before midnight on Sunday, April 29 and you’ll be entered in the drawing for the giveaway. Winners will be announced on Monday, April 30.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2012 7:58 am

    (waves hand) Please, if Imight, I’ll take a copy – the limericks amuse me.

    • April 16, 2012 2:35 pm

      I’ll put your name in. And I’ll make sure you get to read the limericks!

  2. April 16, 2012 2:11 pm

    Maybe a good book for the bathroom?Is this Ethan Coen the filmmaker? K might like it if it is.

  3. April 16, 2012 8:26 pm

    Ummm…I don’t think I’d be interested to be honest. Nothing you shared did anything for me, and I can’t imagine Mr. Jenners being at all interested. I suspect this got published due to who he is rather than his poetic skills.

  4. April 17, 2012 7:24 am

    He actually has several other books out, short stories and poetry, and I like the previous volume of poetry. I do think that the element of humor he’s best at is surprise.

  5. freshhell permalink
    April 17, 2012 9:47 am

    Uh, I’ll pass. I was thinking Ethan Canin and wondering what the hell happened. But Coen. That makes more sense. But still. No thank you.

  6. April 17, 2012 2:10 pm

    As you may know, I am a guy. I am, however, not a very accomplished poetry reader. So, I would assume that I am the target market for this doggerel. There’s already too much good unread poetry in this country for me to think about taking the time to read Coen’s poetry, if what you’ve reproduced is a representative sample. I’m sure that Billy Collins and Robert Pinsky could write and direct a quite serviceable art-house motion picture as well. I can write (and have written) my own painfully bad comic verse.

    Many people complain when actors become political activists, or musicians become painters. “Stay in your own bailiwick”, we cry. It’s awful of us to pigeonhole people who contain multitudes just like us. But, still. . . .

    Is there anything in the book without the self-consciously humorous stuff? The Coen Brothers are such ciphers as filmmakers themselves that it might be interesting to see poetry from Ethan that’s about his life. No wonder the publishing industry’s going to heck in a handbasket.

    Sorry to get all ranty on you. Saying that this book is “intended for guys” because of the scatological humor sells both men and women short. It’s more like “Poetry for people who think pop music lyrics are poetry.” And don’t get me started on non-adjectival use of the word “just.”

  7. April 17, 2012 2:55 pm

    In the previous volume, I think I recall that there were some less self-consciously humorous poems. In this one, no. Even the title poem begins with a fart and ends with self-referential humor.
    It was a little tongue-in-cheek, saying the volume is “intended for guys,” but there are a lot of places where the perspective seems pretty male:
    “It’s true a wild pig will never
    Nuzzle you, or spread
    Molasses on your balls, or give
    You halfway decent head.”

  8. April 18, 2012 9:42 am

    I am reading this right now actually. I’ve shared your giveaway on Facebook, no need to enter me.

    • April 18, 2012 10:02 am

      Btw, I also posted the giveaway in my sidebar for you and added your link to the NPM Poetry Month Blog Tour Linky.

      • April 18, 2012 10:09 am

        Thank you! I am getting by with a little help from my friends this week.
        All kinds of deadlines have come crashing down, and the good news is that our basement construction is complete, save for replacing the glass in the window we broke trying to get the 16-foot pieces of molding down there.

  9. April 18, 2012 3:18 pm

    The poems you quoted reminded me a bit of my cherished Almanac of Words at Play. So that is pleasing.

    • April 30, 2012 7:44 am

      That is what I liked about the previous volume–the wordplay. He is clever at it.

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