Eau(x) Claire(s) History, My History

Photo by Katie Bain

This is a beautifully written piece full of humor and heart that effectively leavens legend with reality. And the photos are lovely. See that one taken from the back of the Joynt? See the stained glass window to the left? That is where I got my MFA. As a lifelong nonsmoking teetotal, how lucky was I to wander into the Joynt back in the day when I wanted to write but didn’t know where to begin. I wrote about it in Truck:

There is no sign over the entrance of The Joynt, because as a veteran of one corner table once said, this has become the sort of place that doesn’t need one. There is an antique barber’s chair just inside the door, but you shouldn’t just jump right into it, because for years and years Harry sat there, and as the polished granite headstone behind the bar says, HARRY WAS RIGHT.

I was led to this bar by a small group of people I met at a local poetry reading. I had just begun attending readings at the invitation of my friend Frank—at that time I knew him only as the editor of a local magazine—and afterward everyone headed for The Joynt. In particular, a corner table just inside the door over which hung portraits of Gary Snyder, Donald Hall, Miller Williams, and John Ciardi. Seamus Heaney once drank whiskey after whiskey at this table, but he didn’t read in the bar, so his photo is not hung. There are rules.

For the next five years, I made it to The Joynt one or two Thursday nights a month, as on Thursday night the corner table was occupied by readers and writers. Often they were faculty and students from the local university English department, but you were just as likely to find a carpenter, a single mom, or a local newspaper reporter, and once I listened to a line worker from the plastics factory debate the merits of Jane Eyre. The sessions were not without pretension. At times there was enough inflated rhetoric coming off that corner table to resurrect the Hindenburg. And we are not talking perpetual lyceum. You had your facile aspersions, injurious gossip, and talk of the Packers. But I would sit there with my Coke (and later, when the corruption had set in, my O’Doul’s) and just listen, and the talk would get bluffer and drunker and more ribald, and the air smokier, but there was so much to soak up, so much about books and writers and ideas, that I would return month after month, my rule becoming, the second time Taylor the voluble poet stubs his cigarette on your kneecap, it’s time to go home.

Again, thank you to Katie Bain for this piece and these photos.

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