Tom Montag

Tom Montag (CNF, Poetry) | Fairwater, WI

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Tom Montag is a middlewestern poet and essayist who has been married to Mary since 1969 and has lived in the big red house in Fairwater, Wisconsin, since 1976. Their daughters are Jenifer and Jessica. Montag was born in 1947 and was raised on the farm a mile south and a half a mile west of Curlew, Iowa, which experience he recounts in the memoir, Curlew: Home. During his formative years Montag attended two grade schools, one high school, and three colleges, all but one of which closed down after their encounter with him, including Dominican College in Racine, Wisconsin, from which he did eventually graduate with a degree in English.

During the 1970s Montag worked as typesetter and poetry editor for the Bugle American, as editor and publisher of Margins: A Review of Little Magazines and Small Press Books, and as a feature writer and copy editor for the Fox River Patriot. He has also edited/published Monday Morning Press, Midwestern Writers Publishing House, and MWPH Books. In 1976, he was named a founding editor of The Pushcart Prize. In 1982, Montag was the featured poet in Program 3 of the “Poets in Wisconsin” series produced by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He and Mary founded the Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar and edited it in 1982, 1983, and 1984. In 1989, Montag’s work was included in the three-volume anthology The Journey Home: The Literature of Wisconsin Through Four Centuries, edited by Jim Stephens. In 1998, Montag’s poem “Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain” was incorporated into the design of the Midwest Express/Frontier Airlines Convention Center in Milwaukee. In 1978, needing more income than he could muster as a poet, Montag started working as a sheet-fed pressman for Ripon Printers, Ripon, Wisconsin, then became a supervisor, and eventually was manager of customer service; he retired from the Printers in 2002 at age 55 in order to write as he wished.

Montag has blogged as The Middlewesterner since 2004. He was named a Wisconsin Commended Poet in 2004, the same year he was a featured poet at the Great Lakes Writers Festival. Also in 2004, his work was included in the anthology America Zen: A Gathering of Poets. He taught Creative Nonfiction at Lakeland College, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 2004 and 2005. Montag was a Tom McGrath Visiting Writer at University of Minnesota-Moorhead in 2005. In 2006, with Kasturi Mattern, he co-edited the “First Time” issue of qrrtsiluni; later that same year, for the same magazine, he co-edited the “Finding Home” issue with Lorianne DiSabato. Over all the years of his career Montag has delivered a variety of readings, talks, seminars, and workshops throughout Wisconsin and the middlewest. Montag has served as a board member of the Wisconsin Center for the Book, where he also led the Letters About Literature program for three years. He continues to serve on the board of the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, where he assists annually with the Lorine Niedecker Wisconsin Poetry Festival.


In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013 (MWPH Books, 2014). Poetry.
The Idea of the Local ( MWPH Books, 2007). CNF. Essays.
The Big Book of Ben Zen (MWPH Books, 2003). Poetry.

Kissing Poetry’s Sister (Midday Moon Books/MWPH Books Joint Venture, 2002). CNF. Essays.
Curlew: Home (Midday Moon Books, 2001). CNF. Memoir.
Concern/s (Pentagram Press, 1976). CNF. Essays.

Press & Reviews

“A companionable and reverent memoir…. Montag’s prose is thoughtful and unhurried, opening out into moments of beauty7 and wry humor, echoing in its quiet rhythms and low-key observations the gentle roll of the rich midwestern landscape he loves…. He celebrates the country’s most overlooked and underestimated region and movingly portrays his hardworking and loving parents.”
—Donna Seaman at Library Journal on Curlew: Home

“Tom Montag has a gentle style…. You get the sense as you read this that here is a wise man – not a perfect man, but a good man – and e is letting us into his house and his life for a few moments each day so we can experience the richness that is his…. I look forward to reading whatever Montag writes in the future.”
—Jessica Powers at on Kissing Poetry’s Sister

“Montag’s figureless poetry, like Wyeth’s figureless paintings, does two things. Like Wyeth’s paintings, it evokes ‘detachment and nonbeing’ – something of the spiritual. It also evokes the people who are not there, the farmers and the other workers who are almost never the overt subject of Montag’s poetry. How? The people are there in the voice and the aspect the poet brings to his subject. One imagines a farmer looking up from his work and thinking what Montag says about a crow. Montag, whose verse often swings from Zen-like intimations of his Midwestern world to near-commonplaces, to something just shy of aphorisms, suggests through these close encounters both the depth and the moral (but not religious) simplicity of his rural Midwestern family and neighbors. One is often left to imagine the farmer or at least the poet connected with the farmer. To me, much of Montag’s verse feels like the way Wyeth wanted his portraits: devoid of people and so, paradoxically, more expressive of them.”
—Peter Stephens at Slow Reads

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