Ethan Coen's 'Recreational' Writing Projects 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 is a slim volume of clever, light verse.

Ethan Coen's 'Recreational' Writing Projects

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

: "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," "No Country for Old Men," "Burn After Reading."

He's just released two very short books. One consists of three short plays that were staged off-Broadway last year. The other is an equally slim volume of clever, light verse, which has been republished. It's called "The Drunken Driver Has The Right Of Way."

That's the title poem, a few humorous stanzas that describe the world not as we would like it to be, but as we fear it might be. I read it aloud to our executive producer, who said make sure to get him to read it aloud. That turned out to be a very tough assignment.

Ethan Coen did volunteer to read the forward that he wrote to his plays, which are called "Almost an Evening."

ETHAN COEN: The forward then. Upon these one-acts' first performance, I heard a parting theatergoer complain it had been not even almost an evening.

BLOCK: wrong first to give the published plays a title different from that under which they had been performed, wrong second to push self-deprecation so far it sounds like self-censure. I take some pride in my work, and together these plays do make up almost an evening. I don't care what anyone says.

: Tell me about writing the three plays and why you did it, as opposed to, say, making three more movies.

COEN: I don't know. Why, boy. Boy, that's embarrassing because, you know, there kind of isn't a reason. I kind of write stories and plays and whatever, poems for fun, basically I guess to entertain myself. I just get some kind of pleasure out of it, and that's kind of - I don't think of it - you know, it's not my job. I work in the movie business. It's almost recreation.

: When you say do it for fun, is it pleasurable to do, or is it hard to write or harder than writing a movie, say?

COEN: Well, it's pleasurable when it's going well, you know, like any kind of writing. There are good days and frustrating days, but yeah, even the frustrating days are rewarding somehow. It's like doing a - I also do crossword puzzles, and they're frustrating, but that's part of the attraction.

: Which crossword puzzles do you do?

COEN: New York Times.

: And throughout the entire week, or...?

COEN: Yeah, it's part of turning into an old person. I sit in my chair in the morning, I have my coffee, and I do the crossword puzzle and feel old.

: Other symptoms of aging that you're experiencing now?

COEN: Oh man, oh man...


COEN: Don't get me - it's all I think about now. It's all I feel every day. It's - yeah, don't get me started.

: So these one-act plays that ruminate on mortality and good and evil and divinity, this is part of coming to grips with the onset of old age?

COEN: Yeah, I guess they do, some of them do. Yeah, boy. Yeah, I'm not big on subtext. It's all text.


COEN: I tackle the big issues.

: Go straight for the afterlife, your version of "No Exit."


COEN: Speaking of grand, yeah.


: But that's part of the fun of what you're doing with the plays is, they're plays about, you know, what is the nature of God. No messing around with salesmen or anything like that.

COEN: You want do know - these are plays - yeah, uh-huh.


: Talk to me a little bit about your poems. The book of poems - well, the title poem, "The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way." I must say I find a wonderfully funny and extremely cynical poem. Talk a little bit about it, or if you choose, read it for us, if you want to do that.


COEN: No, I can't do that. I feel like - it makes me feel too Helen Hayes- y.


COEN: Again, I don't know. You know, some people make those little toy ships inside bottles, and I do that.

: You write poems.

COEN: Yeah.

: Well, I mean, it seems when you're doing rhyming verse that finding a rhyme seems like it's a pursuit that's not that far away from doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

COEN: Exactly. No, it isn't. It's some weird, verbal, you know, there's rhyme and meter and having it all kind of work out so that it feels natural but falls into the meter and rhymes. It's all a very artificial, but again, you know, satisfying mental exercise.

: Do you do readings of your poems for friends as you write them or for family, for that matter?

COEN: No, it's - no.

: Straight from private to publication?

COEN: Yes. The whole performance aspect of the thing is kind of not my bag.

: Mm-hmm. Can you tell me about the next Coen Brothers' movie that we're going to see?

COEN: We're just finishing a movie, although it won't be out for a while. I think it gets released October 2. It's called "A Serious Man," and it's about a Jewish family in the Midwest, a kind of middle-class Jewish family in 1967. And it's kind of, well, you know, like all our movies. You can - I hope there are some laughs, although I'm not sure I would call it a comedy. It's kind of a domestic drama about a guy whose life kind of falls apart. Horrible, horrible things happen to him, so of course it's funny.

: Well, I'm going to let you go, but since I have completely failed in my assignment to get you to read "The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way," let me ask you a question. If you knew the right actor around New York, say, who would be right to actually read the poem for us, who would capture the appropriate humor and cynicism of "The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way?

COEN: Oh man, that's a toughie. You ask about, like, an actor reading verse, and I just think of, you know, Edwin Booth.

: Well, he's not available. No, we could try and find someone to do that.


COEN: That's the style I would like.

: Well Ethan Coen, thanks a lot for talking with us about your poems and also your plays.

COEN: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

: Now the fabled Shakespearian actor Edwin Booth died in 1893, but William H. Macy is still with us. He's in the new movie, "Bart Got a Room," and he worked with the Coen Brothers in "Fargo," when he played the inept Jerry Lundegaard. Bill Macy, thank you very much for volunteering here to do what Ethan Coen wouldn't do for us.

WILLIAM H: Nothing to it.

: Here it goes.

MACY: (Reading) 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 whosoever fools are flailing, wisdom there is held at bay, The drunken driver has the right of way.

De jour 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.

: William H. Macy, thank you very much for that poem by Ethan Coen.

MACY: Well, if it couldn't be Edwin Booth, I'm good enough.

: Actor William H. Macy reading "The Drunken Driver has the Right of Way," the title poem of a book of poetry by filmmaker Ethan Coen.

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