Tom Montag is a middle western poet and essayist who has all along been interested in place and the hold that the land has on us. Much of Montag's poetry reflects his middle western background, from his early long-poem, "Making Hay" to his current series-in-progress, "Plain Poems: A Fairwater Daybook." Middle Ground (1982) has served as Montag's "collected earlier poems;" it includes, "Making Hay" and "Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain," (a poem permanently incorporated into the design of Milwaukee's Midwest Express Convention Center), as well as his work in the voices of a Civil War soldier, a farmer, and a pioneer woman widowed on the tall grass prairie.
Montag was editor of Margins: A Review of Little Magazines and Small Press Books during the 1970s, and an editor and feature writer for Wisconsin's Fox River Patriot during its heyday from 1977–1979. With his wife Mary, he edited and published the Wisconsin Poet's Calendar 1982–1984, subsequently handed to the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to continue.
A poet with ink in his blood, Montag worked nearly a quarter of a century at Ripon Community Printers, Ripon, Wisconsin, for the Lyke family, serving as a pressman, supervisor, training director, and manager of customer service at the award-winning company. During those years, much of his poetry came in the guise of pithy sayings from a little Oriental fellow Montag calls Ben Zen. Four collections of the BZ poems were published between 1992 and 2000. The Big Book of Ben Zen was published in 2004.
In his memoir, Curlew: Home (2001), Montag returned to his roots, writing about his first fourteen years spent on a farm outside Curlew, Iowa, and about his sense of loss revisiting the community forty years later. Curlew: Home was read on Iowa Public Radio in 2002; a selection from it was posted on the Prairie Home Companion website. Kissing Poetry's Sister (2002) gathered eleven of Montag's essays about writing and being a writer, including his long piece on creative nonfiction. The first of Montag's, "Plain Poems" saw print in The Sweet Bite of Morning (2003).
In October, 2002, Montag "retired" from his job in printing to pursue "Vagabond in the Middle," a five-year attempt to find what makes us middle western. Since then he has been collecting stories from residents of twelve communities across the middle west, true stories of their families, their lives, their connections to the places they inhabit. Reports on progress of the project and extracts from the Vagabond's journal are to be found in the Vagabond newsletter, at the website: www.wlhn.org/vagabond ; and at Montag's blog The Middlewesterner at: www.middlewesterner.typepad.com .
His early retirement also allows Montag to pursue independent teaching of poetry and nonfiction prose; he has delivered such sessions in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota—on keeping a writer's journal, on writing poetry and all varieties of creative nonfiction and memoir. He has twice been a Visiting Writer at Lakeland College, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, teaching Creative Nonfiction one semester and Advanced Composition another. Montag was one of the featured writers at Lakeland's Great Lakes Writers Conference in 2004 and was a Tom McGrath Visiting Writer at University of Minnesota-Moorhead in 2005. He talked about his Vagabond project at Marshall Fest: A Celebration of Rural Writers and Rural Writing held in October, 2005, at the University of Minnesota in Marshall, Minnesota. During the Wisconsin Writers Conferences held at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County in 2004 and 2006 Montag read from his poetry and presented his essay "Lorine's Toolbox: A Working Poet Looks at Niedecker's Poetics" and his study of the books and marginalia in Niedecker's personal library. He will be delivering his "99 Propositions: Writing Poetry Successfully" to the annual convention of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association in Janesville, Wisconsin in September, 2006.
Montag is currently preparing two collections of his essays for publication, The Idea of the Local and Personal Papers. He is co-authoring a memoir of a boyhood spent in Milwaukee's Old Third Ward during the Depression, to be called Peter's Story. He continues working at his "Plain Poems," and he remains involved with Fairwater's Historical Society, handling publicity and collecting oral histories from current and former village residents.
Montag lives with Mary, his wife of more than thirty years, in a big cinnamon-colored house in Fairwater; the couple has two grown daughters, Jenifer and Jessica.
We scuba-dive for a week each January in Cozumel. We canoe for a week each August in Quetico. I collect "end-of-the-road" experiences at every opportunity. I eat.