Wisconsin's poet, essayist, and traveler, Tom Montag, will be at Westfield's
Ethel Everhard Library, 117 East Third Street, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday,
June 25, 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." 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; and Kissing Poetry's Sister
(Joint Venture, 2002), essays about writing and being a writer.
In addition to reading from and discussing Curlew:Home, Kissing Poetry's
Sister, and his Ben Zen poems, Montag will feature some of his older
middle western poems, as well as a selection of his new "Plain
Poems" from his forthcoming chapbook, The Sweet Bite of Morning.
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
in the "Stories for Home" feature at www.prairiehome.org .
Last October Montag published his collection of essays about writing
and being a writer, Kissing Poetry's Sister. Jessica Powers at newpages.com
wrote of this newest 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."
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 "Ben Zen" poems for publication
under the title The Big Book of Ben Zen.
A chapbook-sized selection of new poems from the in-progress series,
"Plain Poems: A Fairwater Daybook," The Sweet Bite of Morning
is being released in the summer of 2003 by Juniper Press, Minneapolis.
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.
Last October 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.