Wisconsin poet, essayist, and Vagabond, Tom Montag, will be at Manawa's
Sturm Library, 30 N. Bridge Street, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November
13, 2003, to read from and speak about his writing and to discuss his
current project, "Vagabond in the Middle: An Expedition Into the
Heart of the Middle West." The presentation at the library is being
co-sponsored by the River Writers Group of Manawa.
Montag's recent books include The More I Know (Hummingbird Press, 2000),
a selection of his "Ben Zen" poems; Curlew:Home (Midday Moon
Books, 2001), his memoir of growing up on an Iowa farm during the 1950s;
Kissing Poetry's Sister (Joint Venture, 2002), essays about writing
and being a writer; and The Sweet Bite of Morning (Juniper Press, 2003),
a selection of nineteen entries from his series "Plain Poems: A
Montag will read from and discuss these books as well as some of his
earlier poems. He will also explain his current prose project, "Vagabond
In the Middle," a five-year undertaking that attempts to understand
what it is that makes us middle western.
Curlew:Home presents vivid prose about Montag's 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,"
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
the "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, has called Montag's
newest essays "a marvelous book of prose."
Denise Hill at newpages.com said of The Sweet Bite of Morning: "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 is the author of more than twenty other books and chapbooks including
a big collection of his earlier poems, Middle Ground (MWPH, 1982). He
is currently readying his complete "Ben Zen" poems for publication
under the title The Big Book of Ben Zen.
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.
Montag has read from and talked about his work on the Wisconsin Public
Radio programs "Higher Ground" and "Hotel Milwaukee."
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 .
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 at
the library and he will be available to sign books for those who wish.