Ottawa poet Monty Reid, who moved to the area in 1999 after spending most of his working life in Alberta, including side trips to British Columbia and Quebec, was originally born in Saskatchewan. He is the author of a dozen collections of poetry, including karst means stone (NeWest Press, 1979), The Life of Ryley (Thistledown Press, 1981), The Dream of Snowy Owls (Longspoon, 1983), These Lawns (Red Deer College Press, 1990), The Alternate Guide (Red Deer College Press, 1985), Crawlspace: New and Selected Poems (House of Anansi, 1993), Dog Sleeps (NeWest Press, 1993), Flat Side (Red Deer, 1998), Disappointment Island (Chaudiere Books, 2006), The Luskville Reductions (Brick Books, 2008) and Garden (Chaudiere Books, 2014), and a growing mound of chapbooks, including Fridays (Sidereal, 1979), Six Songs for the Mammoth Steppe (above/ground press, 2000), cuba A book (above/ground press, 2005), Sweetheart of Mine (BookThug, 2006), Lost in the Owl Woods (BookThug, 2007), Site Conditions (Apt 9, 2011), Contributor’s Notes (Gaspereau Press, 2012), Moan Coach (above/ground press, 2013) and Kissing Bug (Phafours, 2014), as well as multiple chapbook units of his twelve-part “Garden” sequence through small presses in Canada, Japan, France, England and the United States. His first Ottawa book, Disappointment Island, was shortlisted for the City of Ottawa Book Award and won the city’s Lampman-Scott Award for poetry. His work has also been awarded Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry on three occasions, and two national magazine awards, and he is a three-time nominee for the Governor-General’s Award. Currently the Managing Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and Festival Director at VerseFest, Ottawa’s international poetry festival, he plays guitar and mandolin in the band Call Me Katie.
His most recent poetry collection, Meditatio Placentae, has just been published by Brick Books, a collection described in the catalogue copy as:
[…] a book about unruly stuff. Stuff that functions but also stuff that exceeds, stuff that dreams. A gathering of short poems wrapped into longer sequences, this is a book that pays attention to the world, in all its dizzying forms.
The poems in Meditatio Placentae cluster around certain ideas, experiences, narratives; sometimes they cohere, sometimes they only assemble, but they are always at crossroads where people and objects collide. In these poems matter itself—including the placenta of the title poem—is vibrant, and argues for its rightful recognition.
Part of what has long fascinated about Reid’s work has been his engagements with geography, and his explorations via the extended sequence. Given his years as an Alberta author, his poetry collections were firmly “placed” within that geography, something that shifted enormously once he moved to Luskville, Quebec in 1999, when he left Drumheller, Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology after seventeen years for the Museum of Nature in downtown Ottawa (a job he has since retired from). His first Ottawa collection, Disappointment Island (a book published eight full years after the appearance of his prior collection, Flat Side), engaged with geography, but less “placed” than “dis-placed,” sifting and sorting through a number of locations across Canada. By the time The Luskville Reductions, an extended book-length sequence set in Luskville, Quebec, articulating the ends of a long-term relationship, appeared, he was already living in downtown Ottawa. The work he’s produced since has increasingly engaged the extended sequence, allowing the connections between poems to be more overt, such as his seasonal-sequence, Garden, which was, quite literally, composed around the months of his east-end garden. In a 2011 interview at The Rusty Toque with Kathryn Mockler, Reid said:
"I write against loneliness. I mean that both on individual and social levels. There is so much in our society that works to fragment and isolate and dis-join people, whether it be at the level of personal relationships, or city planning, or global capital, that I think one of the great things writing can do is help build community. Plus, having written gives me a kind of quiet rush that I don't get anywhere else. I play in a band and the rush that musical performance provides is related and certainly more immediate, but it doesn't have the same level of complexity or the same patient development. I like them both, but the one that comes from writing has more endurance."
Monty Reid launches Meditatio Placentae in Ottawa at The TREE Reading Series as part of a Brick Books feature, alongside Dean Steadman, on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.
Where did the title from your new poetry collection, Meditatio Placentae, come from?
Hard to say exactly, but I do like the somewhat inflated title in conjunction with the distinctly unpretentious subject matter. I was thinking, in part, of O’Hara’s Meditation in an Emergency (“I’ve got to get out of here.”), and also of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (“The world’s intelligence is not selfish.”). The placenta came from my wife.
Your work as a whole, going back a dozen poetry collections over thirty-plus years, has had a strong meditative quality. What is it about the work in this collection that made you decide to highlight that quality in the title?
Yes, I think that’s true. I do like to consider my work as a kind of thinking and re-thinking, although it’s rarely as systematic as some would like. But you can see the poems circling around various issues, nibbling at them, stepping back and approaching them again from another angle. It’s a quiet, intimate and persistent approach, and for me, at least, it can work to interrogate and destabilize the structures of our ideas and our language at least as effectively as more headlong, ecstatic efforts. Which is maybe why the sequence is my default mode, it enables that kind of piecemeal, obsessively incomplete, consideration. And this book is very clearly a collection of sequences, one of which dates back 25 years or so, although the rest of them are more recent. In fact, most of the work here has appeared as chapbooks at one time or another and I initially just thought of calling it The Chapbooks. Except it isn’t anywhere near all of them.
Your work over the years has also been grounded deeply in geography, something that has been shifting, slightly, since your arrival east from Alberta back in 1999. Do you see your engagement with geography, ie “place,” in your poetry shifting, or do you see yourself simply articulating your engagements in a different way?
I do think geography is profoundly influential, both in a geopolitical and a personal sense, and that belief hasn’t changed much over the years although my location certainly has. I think the greater change is my move to an urban environment after many years in a small towns (Ryley, Drumheller) or rural (Ottawa Valley) locations. But even in the city, I’m very conscious of the location in the city. I live on Beacon Hill, the highest point of land in Ottawa. The terrain is rocky, so it’s hard to garden. The remains of old rock quarries can still be found. It’s close to the Ottawa River, and gets its name because it was a signalling point (beacons) for traffic on the River for centuries. Because it had strategic importance, much of the nearby land was used by the federal government for military purposes, first a rifle range and then a major army base. Ottawa’s first airport was built here but was moved south of town when jet engines (and much-longer runways) came into use. Because the government held large swathes of the land, it was used for institutions that required space. The old runways and hangars are part of the National Aviation Museum. Nearby is the campus of the National Research Council (and the beginning of the long dash). And, important for me, now the home of the newly-constructed headquarters of Canada’s intelligence agencies, CSIS and CSEC, which are the focus of the book I’m working on currently. For me, intelligence, however you interpret it, is always grounded in location.
One thing I’ve noticed, also, is your ability to work on multiple manuscripts simultaneously over the past few years. Is this something new in your work, or one derived from a different kind of attention? How are you able to keep multiple manuscripts separated?
It’s not something new, but not something consistent either. There have been many times in my writing life when I’ve had several projects on the go simultaneously, and other times when I was lucky if I could keep one alive. Kids, jobs, relationships, have always been more important to me than the date of my next publication. So I’ve disappeared from the literary radar from time to time, and it can be a challenge to get back onto that screen, particularly in a culture that fetishizes the ‘new’ so relentlessly. These days, without a full-time job, I do have a few MS' on the go, two of which are close to completion, so it shouldn’t be too long til there’s another book. I’ve come to realize that I’m easily distractable, so it’s easier to start a project than to finish it, and maybe that’s another reason I liked Meditatio in the book title – it was affirmation I could stay focused long enough to get the thing done
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). In fall 2015, he was named “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and recently became a regular contributor to both the Drunken Boat and Ploughshares blogs. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com.