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Stakes pulled. Car loaded. Leg kick. Air guitar.

By Travis Nichols


In two weeks, my family unit and I will be driving from Seattle to Chicago.  A big move!  This family unit = my wife Monica, our cat Boo Radley, and a couple piles of stuff.  We all (Boo and stuff included) have been eagerly plotting the playlists and the road snacks, but we’re hung up on which route to take—-I-90, I-80, or the Canadian Way.  We’re taking into consideration time, scenery,  novelty, and—because we want to make it a bit of a challenge–poetry.  We want to visit at least one place each day that has something or other to do with that glorious and goofy art.  Did Ed Dorn beat someone silly in Billings? We want to see it!  Did Lana Turner collapse in Coeur d’Alene? Let’s do the same!  Is there a good bookstore in North Platte? A reading series in Provo? Did Amy Lowell declaim in Gillette?  You get the idea. Sounds fun, right?  No seriously, it does sound fun.  Right?  Anyways, Harrieteers, help us out.  Where should we go?

Comments (22)

  • On May 20, 2009 at 11:59 am nico vassilakis wrote:

    travis, ive taken each of those routes and id say, I-90 for speed, highway 2 fer the beauty of the country. lots of cranky fun cafe/cafeterias along the way. bring yma sumac for sunset(or sunrise) over the land.


  • On May 20, 2009 at 12:23 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    I believe Jed Rasula broke Clayton Eshleman’s jaw in St. Louis. By then, you’re almost to Chicago.

  • On May 20, 2009 at 1:51 pm Brandon Shimoda wrote:


    I think that you three (Boo especially!) might enjoy an early afternoon stop at the Dixon Bar, in Dixon, Montana.** The Dixon Bar is known for three things: the “Dixon Special” (a hamburger topped with a fried egg, best eaten at 2 pm); Bud, the Bartender (who is in his 50’s, lives in a small house behind the bar, hates people from the east coast, and can do push-ups on his fingertips); and the poems written by Richard Hugo, J.D. Reed and James Welch, all three of which immortalize the bar, and are framed and hung above one of three tables along the wall. Bud is loathe to acknowledge the history of these poems, let alone the poems themselves; he is loathe, in fact, to acknowledge anything that wafts in from Missoula, which he considers to be part of his “east infection,” despite it being some 45 minutes down the road. The bar itself is INCREDIBLY small and modest — the town of Dixon barely exists, except for fields of melons — and no one much cares about the three poems anyway, despite their genesis — (Hugo, Reed and Welch were out drinking one day at the Dixon Bar… and after a few drinks made a pact to each write poems about the place, and publish them. Miraculously, all three were published in the same issue of The New Yorker. The full story can be found on the Academy of American Poets website).

    Its beautiful country, and Bud, despite his crust and disgruntlements, lightens up around hour three. Or, sooner yet, if you ask him to give you some push-ups. Plus, Boo will enjoy the birds along the Jocko River…

    **Take MT Hwy 135 off I-90 outside of St. Regis, MT. Turn right onto 200 East. 200 will take you right through Dixon; blink and you’ll miss it. Keep going straight on 200 and you’ll be routed back to I-90, just west of Missoula).

  • On May 20, 2009 at 2:08 pm Grant wrote:

    Ever been to Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City? Not that far off of I 80…and of course there’s a creative writing program there I hear. Took that route once in cross country drive from Seattle to New Haven. Drive through the mountains by the I84 route. Stunning. If you’re really lucky there’ll be a thunderstorm rolling over the mountains during the drive as well.

    And when you get to Chicago: the Seminary Coop–a pilgrimmage destination for book lovers.

  • On May 20, 2009 at 2:44 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    That’s a great story by Brandon Shimoda.

    It wouldn’t be too far of a jog north, as you get closer, to head to Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, home of Lorine Niedecker. Her original house, out on Blackhawk Island, in middle of the Rock River, still stands, with historical marker. The newer, adjacent one, closer to the water, is where she and her husband later lived. Right down the road, toward the point, are two bars where she could sometimes be found on Fridays, for the fish fries. A few years ago, on pilgrimage with Dale Smith, he and I watched the resident poodle of the nearer tavern walk around the place on its hind legs. The dog’s name is, or was, Lindy, as I recall. He replaced the previous one, which also apparently walked on its hind legs, and whose name was Lorine. (I know this sounds incredible, but Dale has written of this trip, and talks about it).

    In town, you can find lots of places LN used to frequent: I talked once with an elderly man at the drugstore downtown who remembered her well, called her a “crackerjack,” said no one really knew she was “such a poet.” Outside town, about two miles up Hwy 26, you can find the now-closed, dilapidating “Club 26” Supper Club, at which still a year and half ago could be found on the bar wall (shades of Brandon’s post) a framed poem by LN: “Club 26,” alongside a photograph of the poet.

    Back in town, you will want to check out the terrific library, which has a special collection of her personal books (first editions of WCW, Zukofsky, Pound, etc.) on the first floor; there is a room dedicated to her, upstairs, with passages from her poems written on the walls, to accompany art work by a local painter of locations present in her work. In this room you will find her simple writing desk, on top of which, incredibly, sits one of her notebooks, which is for the handling and perusing– inside are her notes on different things, and a bunch of recipes. When you pull the drawer open, you will find the remnants of a colorful postcard pasted to the bottom, with some writing on it, can’t recall now the image of the postcard, or what the writing on it says…

    If you do go to Fort Atkinson, be sure to stop by Bienfanger’s Tavern, where LN often went. This is a classic Wisconsin bar, a true clean and well-lighted place, with pickled pig’s feet and eggs in big jars: take your first right, as you cross the bridge going West. It still has a swinging sign outside its back door: “Women’s Entrance.” I suppose Niedecker must have gone through that door…


  • On May 20, 2009 at 3:47 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I understand Minnesota is full of poetry related sites and, of course, there’s the Hemingway place in Ketchum, Idaho. But the real reason I’m writing, Travis, is to chastise you.

    How could any “family unit” possibly be complete without AT LEAST two cats?


  • On May 20, 2009 at 10:43 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I hear somewhere out in the plains is Charles Olson’s breath, rollin’ down the highway, lookin’ for a poem. Idaho, maybe?

  • On May 21, 2009 at 12:05 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Minnesota is full of swamps & mosquitoes & weird brown apt. bldgs.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 9:37 am Don Share wrote:

    Possible reading material for trip: Shannon: a Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Campbell McGrath. And Niedecker’s collected poems.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 10:37 am Travis Nichols wrote:

    Yes: Montana dive bar, check; Olson’s Idaho breath, check; Eshleman jawbone search, check . . .

    Driving out to Seattle from Massachusetts I read the journals of Lewis and Clark and the King James Bible. A lot of things made sense out around Idaho, but I forgot most of it once we arrived in Seattle. I feel like reading anything Lewis and Clark related on the way back East would just make me sad, though Niedecker is always great. I have started cobbling together more of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour shows for a listen, too, though I’m up for any other long drive listening tips. Warbley Whitman on wax cylinder?

  • On May 21, 2009 at 11:09 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Travis, you didn’t offer a “check” on my Niedecker/Fort Atkinson suggestion, damn, so maybe it’s off your map. But just in case you can make it there, a couple more things I should have mentioned: Fort Atkinson downtown also has the Carp Cafe, long run by Bill Camplin, a fellow Pewaukee HS alumni of mine, actually. It’s one of *the* premier folk music venues in the Midwest, with regular national acts. It was there, I think it was in 1985, that the first complete reading of Niedecker’s works took place, a marathon event organized by Woodland Pattern bookstore, with a couple dozen poets participating. It took us, I believe, something like 16 hours to do it. Great food, too, so stop there before heading for a Pabst and a pickeld pig’s foot at Bienfangers.

    Speaking of Woodland Pattern, that is a must-stop on any petry road trip, of course, as it is probably the best poetry bookstore in the country. From Fort Atkinson, Milwaukee is on your way to Chicago.

    Make sure you check that one, at least!


  • On May 21, 2009 at 11:26 am Travis Nichols wrote:

    Wisconsin, check! (If not this trip, then soon since it’s now so close. I had a fun couple of beers at some three story bowling alley bar in Milwaukee once . . . I’d like to relive that one if possible).

  • On May 21, 2009 at 11:33 am Colin Ward wrote:


    Be sure to swing south when you hit Montana to take in the Custer battlefield, then Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, before crossing through the black and painted hills of South Dakota. Avoid the Canadian prairie route; driving through Saskatchewan can cause narcolepsy.

    Best regards,

    Colin (Canadian prairie dweller)

  • On May 21, 2009 at 11:46 am Travis Nichols wrote:

    Colin, thank you. I was seriously considering that route. Already one person told me about the narcoleptic effect, so now it’s officially off the list.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm Rob Schlegel wrote:


    you and M are welcome to stay with my wife and I in Missoula on yr way east (and we’ll be happy to show you the Dixon Bar) and other Hugo haunts.

    Ask Brandon S. for contact info. if you want.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm Monica Fambrough wrote:

    We have 1 actual cat and one spiritual cat, thus adding up to a total of 2 cats.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Okay. You’re forgiven.

    (I have eight…plus dogs and horses). I figure 14 animals is just slightly less trouble than one kid.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 5:20 pm NEG wrote:

    But Boo is more like 3/4th of a cat, what with not tail & all..

  • On May 22, 2009 at 7:36 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Our little three-legged calico, Shamrock (Shammie), was a neighborhood rescue. She and her littermates were attacked by stray dogs and her tail was pulled off. As a result, the nerves in her right rear leg were damaged and the leg had to be amputated. The neighbor said he couldn’t afford it and was going to put her down, so we took her.

    I am proud to announce that she is now over five years old, happy, fat and sassy and the fastest three-legged tailless cat in the county.

  • On May 22, 2009 at 8:37 pm Martin Earl wrote:


    I don’t think anyone has talked about Boo Radley’s needs. I think the two of you should take Boo to Mount Rushmore.


    ps: have a wonderful trip. It must be a bit daunting.

  • On May 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm Travis Nichols wrote:

    Thanks, Rob. I appreciate the generous offer. I need to make some kind of real itinerary, so in the process I’ll ask Brandon when it might seem plausible to be tumbling through Montana. I think that will be the Pauline Oliveros section of the trip. Whatever that means.

    Sidenote to Gary: Boo is officially a “rumpy riser,” was born tail-less and so I think doesn’t even know what he’s missing. Hats off to you for your work among the furry. I liked picturing that three-legged wonder running free.

  • On May 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Thanks, Travis. Please tell Monica that we’re all still waiting to hear about this “spiritual” cat. I’ve got a few of those myself. In fact, my orange cat Leo has reincarnated three times now. We call him ‘the Lion King’.

    He just…knows things.

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 by Travis Nichols.