Ethan Coen, the younger of the filmmaking Coen brothers, is the author of two recently published books. Almost An Evening consists of three short plays that were staged off-Broadway last year, while The Drunken Driver Has The Right Of Way, recently republished in paperback, is a slim volume of clever verse.
Coen tells Robert Siegel that though his "job" is in the movie business, he writes "stories, plays and ... poems for fun. ... It's almost recreation."
But it's not all lightheartedness; the plays in Almost An Evening ruminate on big topics — mortality, good and evil, and divinity. And the writing itself isn't always easy. Coen admits that he has a drawer full of plays that aren't ready for publication.
"Like any kind of writing, there are good days and frustrating days," Coen says. "But even frustrating days can be rewarding sometimes."
In addition to writing, Coen does The New York Times crossword puzzle each day. He jokes that it's part of "turning into an old person."
"I have my chair, I have my coffee, and I do the crossword puzzle, and I feel old," he says.
As for his poems, Coen likens writing verse to doing crosswords: "Having it all work out so that it feels natural but falls into the meter and rhymes — it's all a very artificial, but again, satisfying mental exercise."
In addition to his extracurricular writing, Coen and his brother, Joel, are finishing a new movie. A Serious Man, which is scheduled to be released in October, is about a middle-class Jewish family in 1967. Coen describes it as a domestic drama about a guy whose life falls apart.
"Horrible, horrible things happen to him, so of course it's funny," he jokes.
'The Drunken Driver Has the Right Of Way'
by Ethan Coen
The loudest have the final say, The wanton win, the rash hold sway, The realist's rules of order say The drunken driver has the right of way.
The Kubla Khan can butt in line; The biggest brute can take what's mine; When heavyweights break wind, that's fine; No matter what a judge might say, The drunken driver has the right of way.
The guiltiest feel free of guilt; Who care not, bloom; who worry, wilt; Plans better laid are rarely built For forethought seldom wins the day; The drunken driver has the right of way.
The most attentive and unfailing Carefulness is unavailing Wheresoever fools are flailing; Wisdom there is held at bay;, The drunken driver has the right of way.
De jure is de facto's slave; The most foolhardy beat the brave; Brass routs restraint; low lies high's grave; When conscience leads you, it's astray; The drunken driver has the right of way.
It's only the naivest who'll Deny this, that the reckless rule; When facing an oncoming fool The practiced and sagacious say Watch out — one side — look sharp — gang way.
However much you plan and pray, Alas, alack, tant pis, oy vey, Now — heretofore — til Judgment Day, The drunken driver has the right of way.
Excerpted from 'The Drunken Driver Has The Right Of Way' by Ethan Coen. Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishing Group/Random House.