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 03-09-2017
 

Poems - Bio - Prompt - Review - Interview

Jon Loomis

Regret

Elvis won't eat. He's twenty years old. Mostly he sleeps,
staggers off to the litter-box, drags himself aback--

fur like a thrift-store suit, rumpled, bagged at the knees.
You've been avoiding the trip to the vet--the news will be bad.

For Christ's sake, your wife says, on the third day.
I can't stand it. So you grab an old sweater, wrap up

the shivering cat, put sweater and cat in a cardboard box.
He hates the car, still has enough chi left to yowl the whole way--

he knows where he's going, knows he's not coming back.
The office is bright, toxic with Lysol, sharp funk of animal fear.

You hold the box on your lap. Elvis papoosed in your sweater,
panting, eyes dull. Whatever love is, it's not what you feel

for this cat--sprayer, shredder of chairs, backhanded gift
from a breakup--your ex moved in with her girlfriend,

no pets allowed. Two seats down a woman shushes
her mutt: it yaps at the end of its leash. Then it's your turn.

Good night, old boy, the vet says. The needle slips in.
Elvis sighs, his flat skull in your hand. He purrs for a second

or two and then stops. You can't love what you don't love;
you try to be kind. But the sweater is Brooks Brothers,

cashmere. You've had it since grad school--it's black,
and still fits. Not really thinking, you lift the dead cat,

unwrap the sweater, lay the lank purse of bones
back in its box. You leave him there at the vet's-

no little backyard service for you. You drive home.
Your wife says, That's it? and you nod.

There's not much that keeps you awake anymore:
the future all rumor and smoke, a bus that never comes

until it comes--the past already published, out of your hands.
So what do you do with it, then? Shoved into the closet,

moth-reamed, way in the back. Crouched in its dark corner:
the thing that still fits. The thing you can't throw away.


My Father, After the War

He thought she would like it. He thought
she'd think it was funny. He found his two
wisdom teeth--the Army dentist

had dropped them, clotted and gnarled,
into a pill-bottle wadded with gauze--
Here you go, son, a little souvenir.

He took them downtown to a jeweler,
had them polished and set
into dangly gold earrings, tucked

in a velveteen box. Then, on a date,
he slid his strange gift across the tablecloth.
Delighted, his girlfriend--

a Baltimore heiress whose father
made millions in faucets--opened the box,
turned pale. Closed the box

with a sharp snap. And said, What
in the living hell is wrong with you?

And dumped him right there

on the spot. My father always told it
as though he'd been lucky--
thank God I found out, he'd say,

she had no sense of humor.
But that's not what the story's about,
and it doesn't explain the mystery--

this human itch, salt
under the skin. To set our own houses
on fire. To dance in the beautiful flames.

 

Pussy

In middle school, the fourth worst thing anyone
could call you--not as bad as faggot or queer,

and nothing like cocksucker, but meaner than sissy,
and different in kind from dork or dipshit or dumbass

or shit for brains. Fourth worst until Brent Matthews
called Todd Griffin Cuntlips in gym, and Todd said

What did you call me? And Brent said You heard me,
Cuntlips,
and it took three teachers to break up the fight.

I didn't know any queers, except maybe David Lee
who sucked off Earl Barber under the railroad bridge,

and poor Ronny Doocey, the lisping boy the jocks
all tripped and mocked, who never fought back.

And I, with no sisters, knew less than nothing
about vaginas--had only seen pictures

in my father's art history books, my uncle's stack
of Playboys--little arrow of hair, neat fold,

but then what? What did I know about anything, then,
except the first hard pull of desire-Valerie Jones

smiling, angelic, slowly fanning her legs open
and closed under her desk, showing her panties

to all the boys--Valerie Jones, who died
of uterine cancer twenty years later.

Well. The rest of the story goes like this:
Brent Matthews propped a loaded shotgun

in his mouth and thumbed the trigger. Todd Griffin
robbed a music store, spent eighteen months in jail.

After graduation, Ronny Doocey disappeared--
no one knows if he's alive or dead. But I know

we didn't defend him. We never stood up
to the cruel boys, their rage, stupid as landmines

and just as apt to go off. And what did that make us?
We didn't defend him. Or Bobby Jo Baird.

Or Andy Rubin. Or Howard Coons, the slow-motion boy
who had seizures. Or Warren Frost, the kid with no coat.

Or Natalie Haneck. Or Lockwood DeWitt...

 

                           -from The Mansion of Happiness, selected by Guest Editor Judy Jordan

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Poems - Bio - Prompt - Review - Interview

Prompt: As in John Loomis' "Pussy," make a list of forbidden words specific to your own experience as well as to the larger culture. What words are banned in your world/the USA/Spain/the world at large? What words are banned but used anyway? What do those words mean to different people? And what stories do you have connected to those words? Once you've worked up a nice list of words and stories, pick one word to focus on, write it at the top of the page and tell your story in 1-3 pages of couplets, ending on a monoset. At some point, toward the end, the poem should turn, in mood and in meaning. Annnnd....GO!

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Poems - Bio - Prompt - Review - Interview

Jon Loomis is the author of three critically acclaimed mystery novels set in Provincetown, Massachusetts (High Season, 2007, which was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and among Washington Post Bookworld's "Best Books of 2007;" Mating Season, 2009; and Fire Season, 2012, all originally from St. Martin's/Minotaur). He is also the author of three books of poetry, Vanitas Motel (Oberlin College Press, 1998), which won the 1997 FIELD prize for poetry; The Pleasure Principle (Oberlin College Press/FIELD Editions, 2001); and The Mansion of Happiness, forthcoming from Oberlin College Press in September of 2016. Loomis has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including two Writing Fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Halls Fellowship in poetry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He teaches English and creative writing in west-central Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife and family.
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A Review of Jon Loomis' The Mansion of Happiness by Karla Huston first published by Wisconson People & Ideas

I’d never encountered Jon Loomis’ poetry before. But I was delighted to make the acquaintance of both poet and poetry at the Foot of the Lake reading series in the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts in Fond du Lac.

Winner of the 1997 FIELD prize in poetry, Loomis published his first and second books of poetry in 1998 and 2001 (Vanitas Motel and The Pleasure Principle, both by Oberlin College Press). He then turned his craft to writing mystery/detective fiction, creating four novels in the Frank Coffin Mysteries series during the 2000s.

Readers of Loomis’ poems will be thrilled to know he is back to poet-ing. With The Mansion of Happiness: Poems, his first book of poems in more than fifteen years, Loomis is sharper than ever. His verse reflects a self-deprecating sense of humor and a wry take on life.

The Mansion of Happiness begins with the poet/narrator’s demise, a familiar trope for most writers who find their grounding in writing about life, death, and love—and the myriad metaphors which lie therein. 

I’m reminded, if briefly, of Cesar Vallejo’s “Black Stone Lying on a White Stone,” a poem mimicked by many poets. While Loomis’ narrator doesn’t name the day of his death as Vallejo does (a Thursday), readers are given many details of the day: bees and flowers, the colleague who may find him, the worry about what might be discovered on his laptop, what he should have said to his wife, his children. Then like a feinting saint, the poet rises:

… through the trees, look down from the steep
steel roof of the new student union. A small crowd,
my body—Jesus, I’m fat. Somehow I’m missing a shoe. 

Written in free verse, these poems are mostly constructed in tercets. Many of them end in ellipses, as if there is more to say, more mystery, the poet wanting the reader, perhaps, … to fill in the blanks.

Though Loomis’ poems are often irreverent, there is always something more. The poet/narrator, seemingly befuddled by life, comes to conclusions somewhere close to stunning. The poems about his young son, especially, ring with perplexity, fill readers with tenderness. In the poem, “The Babysitters,” the narrator muses about the babysitters, young girls with their “tall, clean beauty.” Readers are left with:

         But Henry, my little son,
what does he want, eyes soft
with desire? Come,

he whispers. Come up to my room—
I’ll show you my trucks.

For all of Loomis’ smart talk, there is the wonder of his imagery: “magenta scarf tossed over the day’s blue lampshade, “amber, rustling squadrons of monarchs,” “drapes paisleyed with mildew,” “the window’s violet // mouthful of sky,” “desire like a crown of napalm.” 

Many of the poems deal with the art and craft and struggle of writing poems. In “Poetry Workshop: Course Objectives,” he lays it out, how poets should be:

                         We’ll shimmer like bats
in the treetops, commune with the dead,
decide what to do with our mothers,

turn mothers into cats, cats into flame,
flame into sorrow, nothing into the something,
that’s like the thing we would say if only

we knew what it was … 

If only.

While Loomis begins The Mansions of Happiness with a poem about the poet’s demise, readers are brought full circle with his last, “If I Come Back,” a poem that imagines a second chance at life, a narrator who wants to return as a tree, a maple, “a crimson throb,” someone who might let the dog off the leash once in a while. Someone who might get it right this time. If only.

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An Interview with Jon Loomis by Emily Miels, first published at Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

Emily Miels: Do all the poems center around a theme in this book?

Jon Loomis: I don’t think there’s a single theme, but there are a few ideas or concerns that I keep coming back to. Mostly it’s about love, death (I die in the first poem and am reincarnated in the last), the transitory nature of happiness, a kind of nostalgia for the present, and raising young children in the face of climate change, the likely collapse of civilization and the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency — the manifold horrors of our age. Happiness without optimism, maybe.

EM: Where did the title of the book, “The Mansion of Happiness,”come from?

JL: It’s also the title of one of the poems. I think the basic idea is that happiness is something we construct, but it’s always about to fall down around our ears. One bad visit to the doctor, one drunk driver, one random lightning strike, or whatever, and there it goes. So to some extent, as I say, it’s about being in the moment, even though you know, on a rational level, that it’s fragile and temporary.

EM: Where do you find your inspiration for these poems?

JL: I don’t know many writers or artists who rely on inspiration — some bolt out of the blue where you say, ‘Aha! That’s it!’ and you go write your masterpiece. For me, I find inspiration at my desk, in front of my computer, while thinking about things. Also while walking the dog sometimes.

EM: How do you describe your writing process?

JL: It’s the most boring thing ever. I sit down and I write stuff. If it goes well, at the end of the day I have a cocktail to celebrate. If it doesn’t go well, I have a cocktail to console myself.

EM: How is this book different than your other two books of poetry?

JL: Well, I think in one way I care less about pleasing the poetry gods. I’ve censored myself less, for better or worse. Which is to say that I made a commitment to be honest about things, also for better or worse, even if it got me in trouble to some extent. Which it might—we’ll see. I think I’m dealing with a somewhat broader range of subjects, too—my first two were pretty much love and death, full-time. Now I’m doing love, death, children, and the end of the world. So, progress!

EM: What do you hope audiences take away from these poems?

JL: I hope they get laugh or two out of the deal—some of the poems are pretty funny. And I hope to connect in a way — I think that’s the whole point, really. That I’m expressing something beyond my own weirdness. 

 At its best, poetry says what we were thinking or feeling but didn’t know we were thinking or feeling—it taps into those things we have in common, whatever they are.

EM: Where can people buy it?

JL: The Local Store will have copies. The (UW-Eau Claire) bookstore. Also Amazon and most online booksellers.

Poems - Bio - Prompt - Review - Interview

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