Garden (dec unit), Monty Reid
2012, Corrupt Press, France
5 Euro, 979-10-90394-21-6, 12 pages
reviewed by rob mclennan
In late 2005, Vancouver writer George Bowering “made a New Year’s Resolution” to compose a poetry manuscript that would make up the entirety of 2006, being a poem a day into a chapbook a month. All twelve of the month-long poem-sections made their way into chapbook publication, and later, book publication as My Darling Nellie Grey (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2010). Not long after, Ottawa poet Monty Reid decided to work a variation on Bowering’s compositional process, crafting a chapbook a month for a full calendar year, known as his “In the Garden” series, a number of which have already seen print with presses such as above/ground press, Obvious Epiphanies, Grey Borders Books, Red Nettle Press and LaurelReedBooks. From French publisher Corrupt Press comes the most recent section of the manuscript, Garden (dec unit), a twelve-part sequence of the months that begins:
There are those who want the world to be observable
because it is unobservable
what the world looks like when we’re not there
is there, not as symptom
but as there, tilted towards the imagined
gift, as the kiss
in December moonlight.
The author of over a dozen trade collections of poetry, Reid has long favoured the meditative sequence, and this piece moves through pauses, slow reasoning and sharp lines, and shows, to the experienced gardener, the garden as a year-round and not a seasonal feature. By the third poem, for March, Reid even begins to work in koans, writing: “You need to work in the garden / before you can decide how to see the garden / in you.” Or the poem for April, writing: “Thaw / has a boundary / and an unmarked space excluded by the boundary.” Reid has long worked through thematic projects, from the geographic dislocations of Disappointment Island (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2007) and the breakdown of a relationship in western Quebec in The Luskville Reductions (London ON: Brick Books, 2008), to his more recent works-in-progress, including “Host,” a serial poem on microscopic organisms, and this current garden sequence. For poets, gardens have long been a meditative space, and have run the gamut, from Cole Swensen to Lorna Crozier and even to Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885). What makes Reid’s series of garden suites such a highlight is in how well he is able to not only extend single, simple moments, but embrace the quiet spaces between the moments.
If our apprehension of the world cannot be contained
by thinking – at least not by thinking as philosophy has traditionally
conceived it – then the last thing we should do
is try to think it again.
It’s not my garden.
I just work there.
An interesting extension to the same project is another sequence/chapbook that came out last year, his Site Conditions (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2011). It will be interesting to see if and how this fits into the final, finished book; perhaps as opening, perhaps as coda, and perhaps not at all.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). 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