By Alison Wagener
Jon Loomis wants you to know that happiness is fleeting. But not to worry – in a few short days, you can simultaneously bask in the moment, look nostalgically upon your past, and celebrate your own impending and unavoidable death while reading his latest book of poems, The Mansion of Happiness. To preview his upcoming release, I sat down with Jon (albeit 300 miles apart and via email) to talk about writing, happiness, and the man behind the mansion.
Q: From the poems I've seen from your collection, you've spanned quite a lot of topics and themes, from sandhill cranes to suicide, from Reagan masks to Thanksgiving. For you, what - if anything - ties these poems together?
A: The human condition. Which is to say, this book is a love song for the present, in which we are reasonably happy—or at least not suicidal—and not terribly unwell, and the children are doing okay and we’re maybe even, at this point in our lives, almost prosperous, but what’s looming on the horizon is not good, at all. It’s global warming and ocean acidification and Zika virus and Donald Trump and heart disease, and all the horrors of our age bearing down on us. So enjoy the moment, because it won’t last, and what’s trailing along behind it is going to suck, and if you’re lucky you’ll die before it gets here. So it’s a cheerful book, is what I’m saying, about the nature of happiness, and what a fragile construction that can be.
Q: Who would you say you write for?
A: About 20 years ago I was running a reading series on Cape Cod, and the first or second week of the series we had two very famous and engaging readers—a poet and a memoirist. And just as I’m about to shut the doors and go do the introductions, a big silver Cadillac pulls into the parking lot and a guy jumps out. He’s kind of stocky and he’s dressed for the golf course, circa 1978—plaid pants, white belt, white shoes—the full Cleveland, pretty much, and he’s smoking a big cigar. And he asks me who’s reading that night, so I tell him. And he says, “Are you sure? I thought I read in the paper that this guy Jon Loomis was reading. I’ve been following his work and it really gets to me." And I said, sorry, no—it’s a famous and dynamic poet and memoirist—should be a great reading. And he thinks for a second and says, “Nah,” and gets back in his car and drives away. And I realized that he was my audience—the man in the white belt. And he was not a guy who would put up with any bullshit. So that’s who I write for, pretty much—smart people who may not be academics or other poets. Not that there’s anything wrong with poets and academics—I just don’t care as much about whether they like my work.
Q: How would you describe The Mansion of Happiness in one sentence?
A: It’s a cheerful book about the nature of happiness. And death. Two sentences—sorry.
Q: Why did you feel compelled to write this collection?
A: After my first two books of poems came out, I spent about eight years writing novels, which is a very different kind of work. But all during that time I knew I wanted to go back to poetry at some point. Long form fiction is hard—it requires lengthy stretches of one’s full attention—you have to keep the whole thing in your head, and there are a lot of moving parts—and I found that after three novels I was kind of exhausted by the process. Poems are hard, too—they’re fussier in their obsessions—but you can work on them in shorter bursts. Perfect for someone like me, who has terrible adult ADD.
Q: Mortality is at the forefront of many of your poems, but your tone towards the subject shifts a lot throughout the collection: the feeling of desperation in "Sandhill Cranes in Migration," the blind optimism of "Thanksgiving," and the solemn peacefulness of "If I Come Back." What was your reasoning in presenting these different approaches?
A: Well, I’m not sure I’d call “Thanksgiving” an optimistic poem—those white sails are headed our way. But yeah—I think as a whole the collection is pretty dark, though that gets mixed up with a certain amount of manic hilarity at times. It’s about doing the police in different voices. Bonus points if you get the reference.
Q: Out of the collection, would you say you have a favorite poem? Which one, and why?
A: I’m not sure I have a favorite. My wife likes “When the Rapture Came,” which works for me.
Q: What do you want your readers to take away from The Mansion of Happiness?
A: Attention to the moment. A brief period of putting down your phone, maybe, and seeing what’s around you. Being happy with what you’ve got, because it’s probably not going to get any better than this. A blend of appreciation and moderate pessimism, I guess.
Mark your calendars! Author Jon Loomis will be hosting a reading and book release for The Mansion of Happiness at the Volume One Gallery on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. More details about the event can be found here. If you miss the release, be sure to pick up a copy at The Local Store or the UW-Eau Claire bookstore.