Thursday, March 11, 2010

Three poems on the same theme ...

A little over forty years ago, three young men from the Creative Writing Department at the University of Montana decided to take the day off and go fishing. On the way home, they ended up stopping for a few drinks at the only bar in the little town of Dixon. The place was evocative enough that, on a whim, they decided that each of them would write a poem about it. They gave themselves two weeks to do it, and then they vowed to send the poems off to a publisher together -- all or nothing.

When the three poems were finished -- each one titled "The Only Bar in Dixon" -- the trio packaged them up, and rather brashly sent them off to the New Yorker. And to their amazement, the magazine bought all three of them! They appeared together on a single page, arranged alphabetically by author, under the heading "Three Poems on the Same Theme." A minor achievement, but a cool one, and a story that I quite like.

Here's the first of the poems, written by the great Montana poet Richard Hugo ... the best-known of the three creative-writing fishermen:
Home. Home. I knew it entering.
Green cheap plaster and the stores
across the street toward the river
failed. One Indian depressed
on Thunderbird. Another buying
Thunderbird to go. This air
is fat with gangsters I imagine
on the run. If they ran here
they would be running from
imaginary cars. No one cares
about the wanted posters
in the brand new concrete block P.O.

This is home because some people
go to Perma and come back
from Perma saying Perma
is no fun. To revive, you take 382
to Hot Springs, your life savings
ready for a choice of bars, your hotel
glamorous with neon up the hill.
Is home because the Jocko
dies into the Flathead. Home because
the Flathead goes home north northwest.

I want home full of grim permission
You can go out of business here
as rivers or the railroad station.
I knew it entering.
                         Five bourbons
and I'm in some other home.

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