Poetry Landmark: The Dixon Bar in Dixon, MT
PostedAugust 06, 2004
"Home. Home. I knew it entering," opens the poem by Richard Hugo set in Dixon Bar, the sole bar in Dixon, Montana. Formerly known as Jocko City, Dixon was renamed in honor of Governor Joseph Dixon. The town was a division point for the Northern Pacific Railroad and by 1904 had grown in size enough to open its first post office. Dixon Bar, beyond being the only bar in town, has the honor of holding the longest continuous liquor license in Montana.
In the early 1970s, James Welch entered the newly created M.F.A. program at the University of Montana. While there, Welch enrolled in Hugo's poetry workshop. The two men became good friends, a friendship that led to an afternoon ice-fishing trip along with the poet J. D. Reed. After a day on the ice they paused at Dixon Bar. A few rounds into their stay, the three struck a bargain to each write a poem about the bar and then to publish all three in one magazine. They gave themselves two weeks to finish the poems.
In a 1994 profile of Welch published in Ploughshares, Don Lee quotes Welch as saying, "The title of the poems was 'The Only Bar in Dixon'...Somehow we sent it out to The New Yorker on a fluke, and they took them and printed all three in the same issue." With this publication, Welch's career as a poet was launched and a legend about a solitary bar was created. Hugo's poignant meditation on the bar ends:
I want home full of grim permission.
You can go as out of business here
as rivers or the railroad station.
I knew it entering.
and I'm in some other home.