New & Selected Poems
by Monty Reid,
by Monty Reid,
Post Your Opinion
by Colin Morton
THE TITLE P0EM of Monty Reids Crawlspace finds the poet in a characteristic position -- looking at the world from an odd angle, discovering both the literal and the metaphoricaI depths underlying everyday life. As he crawls beneath the floor of his house to unblock frozen pipes, he becomes aware of "the rustling/ breath of an animal that Iives/ in the ground" just Linder the feet of his unsuspecting children at play. For this Poet, even the most mundane surface harbours the seeds of something wilder, older than human intention, that "flower underground" (in "These Lawns").
His loving attention to the everyday impresses the reader first. Unlike many poets who restlessly travel the world in search of telling images, Reid finds his inspiration close to home. The commuter highway he could drive "blindfolied," in the early poem "The Road Back and Forth to Ryley," becomes numinous in certain misty dawns. Much later, in "Crabapples," the geographical range of his exploration has expanded very little:
Some would say it is a boring
The flat stretch west of Saskatoon with its bleached stubble,
where there is always dust, or acres of storm...
Yet the very familiarity of the journey resonates with the memory of earlier passages, as the speaker gathers mementoes of a dead father and passes on a kind of wisdom to his sons.
In this, the books closing poem, we circle round to the setting of Reid`s first book, Karst Means Stone (1979), based on his grandfather`s pioneer memoirs. Even in that early work, however, the tone is sceptical, questioning, far from the romanticized ancestor-worship the reader might expect. The note on Karst Means Stone describes the memoir as "a suspect document" in which as much is hidden as is revealed. "You can make no assumptions," the poet writes.
Throughout Crawlspace, the poet questions appearances, challenges assumptions, calls attention to what is often dismissed as too familiar to be worthy of notice. A series of spare, often imagistic poems excerpted from The Alternate Guide (1985) is based on
research material left out of a natural history of Alberta that Reid wrote as a museum employee. The poems` origin in the discarded and peripheral makes their small beauties all the more valuable to this poet.
While Crawlspace looks back over Reid`s first two decades of writing, Dog Sleeps shows him expanding his formal range in what the publisher describes as "poetry on its way to something else; not fiction, but some sort of excitable prose." The book`s five extended works show that Reid`s familiar terrain is still far from exhausted. "Dog Sleeps" and "The Last Time I Talked to a Major American Poet," both in their ways stories "about blockage," turn an obsessive eye on the neglected details of everyday life, while "Blizzard Walks" could be the kitchen-table talk of an Alberta winter. In "Against Travel," the one story clearly set in a different location, a traveller suffering the anxiety of displacement on a brief business trip never even resets her watch. Seemingly, since "distance destroys plot," her life is stopped until she returns home.
All these blockages can eventually be surmounted, however, if only in the way the Milk River, in "Writing-on-Stone," "always changes its course, around obstacles deposited / by itself and out of that it has made its slow beauty."
In this poem history, geology, and the over-regulated present day flow together. Here the earth`s surface is "scratched away, / so the working order is visible." Yet almost all of what has been is lost. Only a few fossils and artefacts remain, like a signature. Even the present day, despite its "signage, the selfguided trails," resists explanation.
In these two books, Reid offers a few signposts, directs our attention to what is under our feet. Readers remain free, though, to draw their own conclusions about "this interpretable world, / traversed by so many ordinary practices, none of which pretend to see everything."