In honor of National Poetry Month (yes, I am aware that was April…) I read Ethan Coen’s The Day the World Ends. An interesting read to say the least, this collection of poems is as imaginative as it is diverse.
I can’t say that I was impressed by the book overall. Too many of the poems were about sex and didn’t seem to take themselves seriously. Perhaps I take poetry too seriously, but I just didn’t find the level of beauty (either traditional or tragic) that I hope to get out of a book of poetry. Coen is certainly able to fit words into rhyme schemes and come up with some clever limericks, but I was missing the profound nature of poetry that I have come to love (although I am impressed that he chose to do a whole section of limericks, which are largely ignored by professional poets). The collection felt like it was aiming at the honesty of Bukowski’s work but it was missing the underlying emotion.
This said, there were several passages and poems that I feel are truly inspired. In fact, I loved these little gems enough that I would definitely read any other poetry collections that Coen publishes in the hopes that he continues to develop this particular facet of his style. Here are some of my favorites:
From “We Sheep”:
“Does wisdom fret at what’s in store
And boggle at what’s gone before–
Or rather does it not, like us,
Do what it must, and nothing more?” (p. 15)
From “The Word is Not the Thing”:
“A poem is not about things.
It is a thing.
The one thing in which
The word is the thing.” (p. 95)
“Below are pluming clouds; below
Them, roads and patchwork fields.
Whenever I in airplanes go
I see a truth revealed:
Lord God prefers soft edges;
He hazily defines,
While men square off the hedges
And travel in straight lines.” (p.110)
That Woman is a dense body of water
Which you peer at through a rippling skin,” (p. 113)
But some of Coen’s more lighthearted verses are equally enjoyable. Here are a few of his funnier quips:
From “Elegy for a Waterbug–and Ourselves”:
You scramble, manic Jesus on the sea,
And meet and start to scale the toilet wall.
Aghast, I press the lever that will be
The trigger for a lethal waterfall…” (p. 116)
“The thing cannot but breed complications,
Not to speak of genetic mutations.
Any woman who bears
Her own grandchildren shares
Much too much with the next generations.” (p. 33)
From “On Turning Fifty”:
“All right, so this poem wasn’t about turning fifty so much
As about your forties, your miserable forties.
But if I’d called the poem ‘Skip your Forties, Fuckers,’
Would you have read it?” (p. 76)
From “A New Poem!”:
“I can feel it,
A new poem
Stirring in its lair,
Roused from slumber by
The whipcrack of a fresh idea.
I can hear it, hear
Its echoing moans, and
Unfolding and stretching mighty limbs and
Blinking mucus from its glittering eyes.
Yes, a big’un–
Oh, you can just tell.
“Hail, poem, think I
As I feel it rolling to its feet and
Taking its first unsteady steps
Inside my head;
Hail, great grand baying
Awe-inspiring verse of mine,
Finding your balance,
Readying to lumber forth from deep gestation-cave,
Eager to thump your chest and
Stomp fearlessly across the page.
Hail, high howling thing, whose footfalls
Now draw nigh,
Hail to thee, magnificent–
“Bald Chicken?” (p.102)
Coen is at his best when he is describing abstract ideas and using enjambment to punctuate his message. I hope that, in future publications, he continues to experiment with enjambment to make each poem as strong as possible.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.