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.
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 in revisiting the community forty years later. Curlew: Home was read on Iowa Public Radio in 2002; a selection from it has been posted for two years 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, and 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 and at wlhn.org/vagabond.
His early retirement also allows Montag to pursue independent teaching of poetry and nonfiction prose; in 2003, he delivered fourteen such sessions in Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska—on keeping a writer's journal, on writing poetry and all varieties of creative nonfiction and memoir.
Montag is currently preparing two additional collections of his essays for publication, The Idea of the Local and Personal Papers. 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.
Wooden Nickel, Albatross Press, Milwaukee, 1972
Twelve Poems, Monday Morning Press, Milwaukee, 1972
Measures, Harpoon Press, Milwaukee, 1972
To Leave/This Place, Monday Morning Press, Milwaukee, 1972
Making Hay, Fault Publications, Fremont, CA, 1973
Making Hay & Other Poems, Pentagram Press, Milwaukee, 1975
Ninety Notes, Pentagram Press, Milwaukee, 1976
Naming the Creeks, Morgan Press, Milwaukee, 1976
Letters Home, Sparrow Press, West Lafayette, IN, 1979
The Gathering Season, Juniper Press, La Crosse, 1980
Between Zen and Midwestern, salt-works press, Vineyard Haven, MA, 1981
Middle Ground, Midwestern Writers Publishing House, Fairwater, 1982
From the Essential Ben Zen, Juniper Press, La Crosse, 1992
Ben Zen: Starting from Home, Page 5, Appleton, 1994
Ben Zen: The Ox of Paradox, Cross + Roads Press, Ellison Bay, 1999
Ben Zen: The More I Know, Hummingbird Press, Richland Center, 2000
The Sweet Bite of Morning, Juniper Press, St. Paul, MN, 2003
Learning to Read/Again, Cat's Pajamas Press, Oak Park, IL, 1976
Concerns: Essays & Reviews 1972-1976, Pentagram Press, Milwaukee, 1977
Stalking the Little Magazine, Midwestern Writers Publishing House, Fairwater, 1981
MEMOIR / ESSAYS
Curlew: Home—Essays & A Journey Back, Midday Moon Books, Waite Park, MN, 2001
Kissing Poetry's Sister, A Joint Venture Publication, Waite Park & Fairwater, 2002
AVAILABLE FROM TOM MONTAG
Middle Ground (Poems), Midwestern Writers Publishing House, 1982 - $7.95
The More I Know (Ben Zen Poems), Hummingbird Press, 2000 - $10.00
Curlew: Home (Memoir), Midday Moon Press, 2001 - $15.95
Kissing Poetry's Sister (Essays), Joint Venture, 2002 - $12.50
The Sweet Bite of Morning (Poems), Juniper Press, 2003 - $5.00
The Big Book of Ben Zen (poems), Midwestern Writers Publishing House, 2004 - $12.50
Order from: Tom Montag, PO Box 8, Fairwater, WI 53931
Please add $2.00 to the cost of your order to help defray shipping expenses.
Empty morning. Empty as an over-
turned bucket at some forgotten corner
of some barn,
some Iowa farmyard, summer,
1954. The sun beats at that
the empty air of it.
A bucket full of emptiness, nothing
in it but that
nothingness. Some wind is
in the grass nearby, small noises. There is
no noise at all
where nothing echoes.
That's how empty I've become this morning.
The mourning dove calls as if it's moaning.
—Tom Montagfrom The Sweet Bite of Morning