Monty Reid is a poet based in Ottawa. His books include Garden (Chaudiere), The Luskville Reductions (Brick) and Crawlspace (Anansi) as well as recent chapbooks from above/ground press, corrupt press, postghost press and others. Segments from his current project, The Lockdown Elegies, have appeared in Train, The Quarantine Review, Noon, Guest and other journals in print and online. He is the Director of VerseFest, Ottawa's international poetry festival.
How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?
I've never been able to figure out what exactly got me started. I was a happy, if sometimes lonely kid. My father died when I was very young, and we were poor. There weren't many books around but I read everything in the house. Still, I was more interested in baseball and hockey. I wrote my first poem in high school, trying to impress Yvonne, the girl who sat in front of me in English class. Didn't work, and I should have learned. I got into law school at the University of Alberta but discovered that the only classes that held my attention were literature, and I soon switched out of Law into English. Some profs there (Doug Barbour and Bert Almon mostly) encouraged me to write. I had a few publications early on (Nodding Onion, White Pelican, Grain) that let me think writing would be a sustaining interest. But I have never seen it as a career. or myself as a professional poet. I just see writing as one of the most satisfying ways of engaging with the world. Music would be a close second. And the world, with all its wonder and its outrage, is always there.
What keeps me going is seeing the fresh and provocative work of other poets. For each, it's a way of thinking through the world. Maybe I can still learn something.
What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?
Influence isn't a strong enough word. I borrow, steal, extend, respond. And there are so many. I've long loved WH Auden and (particularly the later) William Carlos Williams. Bob Kroetsch, bp nichol, Phyllis Webb, were all early influences. Bob Hass, with whom I once had a very strange breakfast in Lake Tahoe, helped me calm my line down and Leslie Scalapino showed me a lot about hesitation. I continue to admire the passion and slow-burn fury in Erin Moure's work, but also the sustained interest in translation, which has become significantly more important to me over the years. M Nourbese Philip's Zong was an eye-opener. I was influenced as well by the social committment and generosity of spirit in Tom Wayman. I'm in awe of the constant production of rob mclennan. There are so many more.
Have you noticed a difference in the ways in which you approach the individual poem over the years? How has this evolved?
I almost never approach the individual poem any more. They always seem to hang out in bunches anyway, like teenagers at the mall. A poem always seems to be a means of exploration, the trails lead off somewhere else, the options open up, and as I've gotten older I'm more at ease with chasing down some of those options with less urgency than before. You realize, eventually, that you can't chase them all.
You seem to favour the extended lyric. What is it about the longer form that attracts you?
There's a kind of loose coherence there that attracts me. The longer form has a bit more carrying capacity. It can go off in different, sometimes unpredictable directions (see previous question) and the links that hold it together can be looser or tighter, as required. I don't believe the self, that lyric generator, can be lost completely without serious dysfunction, but its hard edges can soften, and it can be redistributed in various configurations and concentrations in multiple locales, which is something the extended form makes available. Most of my recent sequences feature this constantly redistributed self.
You were the managing editor of Arc Poetry Magazine., as well as the current artistic director of VERSeFest. Why are these roles important, and what have you learned through the process?
And long before that, I edited NeWest ReView (for a year) and started The Camrose Review (with Wade Bell and Robert Kroetsch), put out crudely-made chapbooks as Sidereal Press, helped found the Writers' Guild of Alberta, and helped establish VERSeOttawa. I believe in doing the work that makes a community of writers possible. That work can take many forms and can be approached in many different ways but I do believe that 'community' is profoundly important to the well-being of writers (and others). There are those who distrust the notion of community, but most of them are just part of different communities.
How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?
I've never had a mentor per se. But there are many who have helped along the way, from university profs to poet friends to patient partners, for which I continue to be grateful.
Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?
Sylvia Legris. Rob Winger. AnnHarte Baker.