Someone has been nibbling on the pansies

Good morning, friends! I’m delighted for poet Arne Weingart to answer interview questions from Chicago at Bacon today. He writes about God and despair, chicken and Sancerre, among other aspects of Life in the Time of Corona. You might have seen his poem “Joe Namath at Whole Foods” a few days ago.

I am also relieved to share some good news. Day 10 seems to have been a turning point in my family’s Personal Corona Experience! My husband is no longer running a fever. He’ll stay in quarantine for 3 full days. Our daughter in Atlanta is improving as well, thank God. Your messages of love and support and offers of help and surprise deliveries have touched me so deeply. Thank you.

Only a few saucer magnolia blooms in Nashville this year

Thank you again for spending some time at Bacon today, Arne! Let’s just go ahead and get it out there. How worried are you about the coronavirus? 

In truth, on a scale of 10 – 10. But I’d be more likely to say 7 so as not to appear prone to panic. But it would be a lie. Regardless of what anyone says, everyone is at 10. 

What’s the mood in your neighborhood or among your friends? I don’t think it’s quite fair to ask “What’s the mood in Chicago.” Tell us what you can!

Mood, hmm. I overhear the best stuff in the steam room at the health club. But the health club is out of commission along with all the other public spaces where you can echolocate like a bat to find out where you are. Friends in my age cohort have already been to too many funerals and experienced enough of their own health/survival issues not to be a little wary. Under the best of circumstances one feels one is out for a stroll in a minefield. And now comes the indiscriminate microbial fist of God. All that to the contrary notwithstanding, people here are generally plucky and do not give in easily to despair. Passing people (and there are increasingly fewer of them) on the street in the Loop, I see a mixture of suspicion (please don’t cough on me!) and solidarity (we’re in this together, you know). This gives me hope.

How will you change your daily or weekly routines?

No gym (as mentioned); no office, except for the occasional mail run; no travel, although if something came up for business, would I go? — I don’t know; no readings (Parnassus, is that why I haven’t heard back from you?); no certain knowledge that we can always find a place to eat if we work late, meaning no moules frites and Sancerre, no enchiladas and margaritas, none of the customary, outrageous little luxuries we afford ourselves, although we’re not bad cooks; no people, no people, no other people.

What essential supply are you stocked up on?

Did a grocery run this morning. We have cornered the market on chicken parts, rice and beans, split peas, and soup broth. And we’re not selling. 

What essential supply are you not stocked up on? Where would you go to get it?

There’s bound to be something but I don’t know what it is. “Don’t it always seem to go / that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” I guess I’ll find out eventually. Thanks, Joni.

Is there a TP shortage in Chicago too?

But of course. There’s a line in a Thomas McGuane novel whose title I can’t remember that describes the hero’s desire to suck from either end of the heroine’s alimentary tract, don’t much matter which. As astonishingly vulgar as that may sound, it speaks to pure and genuine human need. That’s why we have too many chicken parts and that’s also why the toilet paper is in perilously short supply. 

Approximately how many times a day do you wash your hands?

I am washing my hands now as I type.

Presuming that most of us will be spending more time at home, how do you think you’ll use that time?

Oh, I’ll be writing the great American plague novel. Along with all of the other million or so people who will be writing the plague memoir, straight play, musical, screenplay, poetry collection, young adult novel, childrens’ book, and cookbook. Approximately one of these will be worth reading or seeing. Probably not mine. But seriously folks, I’ve got a couple of projects.

If you watch more TV, which shows will you watch? What shows/movies/documentaries have you watched in the last year or so that you would highly recommend?

Our tastes are Catholic, which in our house means we’ll watch practically anything. Somehow we completely missed “Breaking Bad” the first time around. We binged all of it a few months ago and it’s positively Shakespearean. Better than Shakespearean because Shakespeare might not have figured out how to write for the longform tv series. Well, maybe he would have. But watch it. Immediately. Also the prequel, “Better Call Saul,” which is just as good. And it so could have sucked. And more recently, “Shtisel.” This, along with temple dues, is pretty much a basic requirement for Jews. But it has more to say about human nature and the complexities of character and culture than almost anything I can think of. It’s almost like, what was that guy’s name, oh yeah, Shakespeare.

What are you reading right now? What have you read in the last year or so that you would highly recommend?

I have arranged for the Post and the Times to be continuously live streamed to my cerebellum, so I wouldn’t call that reading, exactly. But in the past year I’ve read three books, among others, which I will recommend without qualification: Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz, Fly Already by Etgar Keret, and The Collected Poems of Dorothy Parker. Any and each of these books will simultaneously explain everything and nothing. Being delivered by any author to this particular state of consciousness is what I look for in a book.

Arne’s copy

What is your advice for friends trying to stay mentally healthy in this trying time?

This is not advice I would normally dispense in untrying times. But since you asked: Develop an unhealthy obsession. And stay with it until the smoke clears or the waters recede or the earth stops shaking. I won’t be responsible for what happens after that.

And: please tell us a little bit about your latest poetry collection! How did it come into the world… how did these poems come into your mind and heart… and tell us about the prize it just won! 

I don’t know how it is for anybody else, but when I finished my first book (meaning when I got it published), I stopped writing for a while so I could think about how to make it live in the world. And somewhere in the middle of doing what I could do, I started writing again, started working on what would become the second book. Increasingly, poetry collections are organized around themes that can be stated in a few short sentences, sort of like an elevator pitch for why this book should exist. This has not been my approach, but I admit that it has a certain merit. What holds my books together so far is a quality of voice which I hope becomes apparent and, in its way, reliable, as the reader moves through them. The ideas for the poems come at random, which may seem like a risky way to make poetry happen; but risk is essential to the process – any artist in any discipline can tell you that. At some point I may try something a little different, although having a firm narrative roadmap is no guarantee of arriving where you thought you were headed.

My publisher for this book is Red Mountain Press, a publisher, mainly of poetry although they also do fiction and memoir, based currently in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They have a strong list of authors and a real passion for their books. I’m extremely happy to be one of them, which is a result of winning their annual poetry prize contest.

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I loved the time with you today, Arne. Thank you! xoxo