Sponsored by the Algona Public Library, Iowa-born poet and essayist
Tom Montag will appear in the afternoon and again in the evening at
the Naked Bean CoffeeHouse, 1906 Highway 18 East, on Thursday, November
Montag's presentation at 2:00 p.m. will feature readings from his memoir
about growing up on a farm at Curlew during the 1950s, Curlew:Home;
from his collection of essays about writing and being a writer, Kissing
Poetry's Sister; and from Vagabond In the Middle, his work-in-progress
investigating what makes us middle western.
At 7:00 p.m., Montag will feature work from his 31 years as a published
poet, including excerpts from his long-poem about a day spent in the
hayfield, "Making Hay," and selections from his series in
the voice of a Civil War soldier, the voice of an Iowa farmer, and the
voice of a pioneer woman widowed on the tall-grass prairie. He will
also read from his most recently published title, The Sweet Bite of
Morning, and from The Big Book of Ben Zen, which is due for publication
Montag was born and raised in Palo Alto County, on a farm a mile south
and a quarter-mile west of Curlew. His memoir, Curlew:Home, presents
vivid prose about his farm childhood during the 1950s, interspersed
with the journal of a trip he made back to his hometown in October,
2000. Montag believes that, while Curlew:Home tells his story and that
of his family, it also represents many other middle western farm people
who have no one to speak for them. Several readers have told the author:
"This could be the story of my life." Columnist Myram Tunnicliff
wrote in the Emmetsburg Democrat that Curlew:Home should speak to every
person "for whom the land holds meaning." It is a tribute
"to the values of the entire middle west," she said.
Donna Seaman at Booklist magazine called Curlew:Home a "companionable
and reverent memoir" and said "Montag's prose is thoughtful
and unhurried, opening out into moments of beauty and wry humor, echoing
in its quiet rhythms and low-key observations the gentle roll of the
rich midwestern landscape he loves.... He celebrates the country's most
overlooked and underestimated region and movingly portrays his hardworking
and loving parents."
For the past year and a half, the popular public radio show Prairie
Home Companion has kept a selection from Curlew:Home on its web site
"Stories for Home" feature at www.prairiehome.org .
In October 2002 Montag published his collection of essays about writing
and being a writer, Kissing Poetry's Sister. Jessica Powers at newpages.com
wrote of this book: "Tom Montag has a gentle style; he writes with
depth - thought and emotion are carefully balanced and you get the sense
as you read this that here is a wise man - not a perfect man, but a
good man - and he is letting us into his house and his life for a few
moments each day so we can experience the richness that is his.... I
look forward to reading whatever Montag writes in the future."
The editor of Creativity Connection, Marshall Cook, called the same
essays "a marvelous book of prose."
In his "Statement of Intent" for the Vagabond project, Montag
defines the scope of that effort: "Who are we and what are the
middle western emblems common across our area, I want to ask. Landscape,
environment, people, and history all factor into the definition of the
middle west, all shape what we've become. In coming to understanding,
I expect to mix interview and personal experience, history and geology,
essay and journal entry and meditation. I'll walk, I'll drive, I'll
listen, I'll read, I'll listen some more, I'll watch. Always I will
be looking for the true stories that tell us what is it that makes us
who we are. I will burrow into the life of each community, to find the
stuff it is made of; I will record that, then compare the communities
to determine what they hold in common, what they keep as difference.
There will necessarily be a peeling back of the surface sheen of the
landscape to see what pulses beneath, to understand the land not in
some generic, historical sense, but in terms of particular lives lived
here. The truly local: these lives, in their times, in these places."
The focus communities for the Vagabond project are: Smith Center, Kansas;
West Point, Nebraska; Redfield, South Dakota; Rugby, North Dakota; Alexandria,
Minnesota; Emmetsburg, Iowa; Maysville, Missouri; Vandalia, Illinois;
Ripon, Wisconsin; L'Anse, Michigan; Fowler, Indiana; and Eaton, Ohio.
In January of this year, Montag started visiting these communities and
he reports on the progress of his project in an irregular newsletter
as well as on his web site at: www.wlhn.org/vagabond .
Of Montag's newest poems, The Sweet Bite of Morning, Denise Hill at
newpages.com said: "I was able to visualize a literal blossoming,
as the poems moved from observations of snow shifting across roadways
and fields, to the warmth of spring, the emergence of new life, and
on to the intense clear blue sky heat of summer. Montag provides an
incredible journey across time and season that any true Midwesterner
can actually feel in their skin.... Montag's strength in this work is
his brevity and concise use of language, with a special ability to create
strong and lasting images through his choice of details."
Montag's forthcoming Big Book of Ben Zen is a compilation of 238 little
poems in the voice of Ben Zen, an Oriental monk with an ancient wisdom
wandering in modern America.
Montag's poem "Lecturing
My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain" is one of 60 works by Wisconsin
writers permanently incorporated into the design of the Midwest Express
Convention Center in Milwaukee. He has read from and talked about his
work on the Wisconsin Public Radio programs "Higher Ground"
and "Hotel Milwaukee."
Montag has published essays on a wide array of topics in such magazines
as The Baybury Review, Bellowing Ark, Cream City Review, Flyway, The
Heartlands Today, The Journal of Unconventional History, The Midday
Moon, New Stone Circle, North Dakota Quarterly, Northeast, and Rosebud.
In October 2002, Montag retired from a career in the printing industry
to devote himself full time to his writing. He and Mary, his wife of
more than 30 years, live in Fairwater, Wisconsin. The couple has two
grown daughters, Jenifer and Jessica.
Copies of Montag's books will be for sale after his presentation and
he will be available to sign books for those who wish.