It was seven o'clock on a Wednesday, but the Lazy Monk Brewery in Eau Claire was still full to brimming. On November 17th, the local journal Barstow & Grand held its Issue #5 release party there. Attendants included Eau Claire students, faculty, musicians, craftspeople, community members, and even a few (very cultured) dogs.
The evening started with two songs played and sung by a local musician, Soren Staff, who also plays guitar in Them Coulee Boys, an internationally touring band. (Sadly, all the tickets for their Eau Claire show had already sold out at the time of the reading.) After him Eric Rasmussen, Barstow & Grands lead editor, began the readings by introducing the first half of the night's readers.
I went first and read a selection from "Love and Magic," a short fantasy piece. Jeannie E. Roberts was next and read "Hope Is The Thing That Repeats" from the journal, as well as a few poems from her new collection As If Labyrinth - Pandemic Inspired Poems. Then Katy Hackworthy read sections three and four of "Five Idle Fantasies of a Thirty-Two-Year-Old Intern," a hilariously over-the-top piece by Ian Jacoby.
Her reading was followed by Elan McCallum, who read "Here Comes the Night, Turning," as well as a few poems which had not been published in this edition of Barstow & Grand. Next came Anna Loritz reading from "Furby On My Bathroom Floor" and Bobby Elliott reading from "The Vegetables," followed by another song by Soren to mark the middle of the reading.
B.J. Hollars introduced the next set of readers and took a moment to thank Eric Rasmussen, the Barstow & Grand editorial team, and everyone who attended-including readers, writers, community members, and the UWEC football team. Joseph Scharton opened the next set, reading from "Timeline of CMT."
After him, Kelly R. Samuels read "What Once Was Frozen," as well as a few poems from her new collection on climate change, All the Time in the World. Kate Hinnant, Barstow & Grand's poetry editor, followed her with a reading of Katherine Langfield's poem "pelagic." Next, Bryson Wilkins gave a "quick shoutout to all my boys" (that is, the football team) and read from his short horror piece "Mr. Sun." With the evening's first and only multimedia presentation, Bonnie Knight read "Hope Is The Thing I Hum," a poem which mentions several songs, and played clips from the covers she mentioned.
Finally, Eric Rasmussen closed the evening by thanking everyone again for coming and reminding us that Barstow & Grand 's past editions were available for purchase and that submissions open again in March.
That night, a group was gathered the likes of which I have rarely seen. Other than the fact that everyone had connections to the Chippewa Valley area, there were few things that we all had in common. We differed in age, race, gender, occupation, and politics. Nor was everyone there a wispy artistic type like myself; as previously mentioned, Bryson Wilkins, a member of the Eau Claire football team, brought a solid dozen of his teammates
with him. Several of them even bought copies of the edition for him to sign. I met a woman there who makes miniature replicas of her clients' departed pets out of their hair! Where were we ever going to run into one another?
Well, at the release of Barstow & Grand's Issue #5, apparently. The journal's website states that their mission is "to provide both editorial and publication opportunities for writers in our region and beyond," but they did something more that night. They brought together a community that tends to exist in a delicate and liminal fashion-through reading one another's pieces, interviews, or advice. Issue #S's release party pulled together people from several communities that often don't overlap, and the community of Eau Claire is better for it. May we continue to do so, and do it better every time.
In the end, if your gathering sounds like it could be the setup to a bad joke, you're doing pretty well. "A poet, a guitarist, and a linebacker walk into a brewery..." And what happens next is up to you.