Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Monty Reid

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Monty Reid

Today we're speaking to Monty Reid, author of Garden (Chaudiere Books). Inspired by his own home garden in Ottawa's east end, Garden is a meditative examination of the calendar year, change and the natural world.

You can read an excerpt of Garden here, courtesy of Chaudiere Books.

Monty joins us as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers pull back the curtain on their workspaces and give us a peek into their writing processes. He tells us about his desk's long, Canadian journey, its scars and stories, and the writers who have visited it, from friends at home to authors and artists from around the world.

I bought my desk at a dusty government surplus warehouse in Camrose, Alberta almost 40 years ago. It’s been with me ever since, loaded in the back of a grain truck to Drumheller, then on to the Pontiac in Quebec, and then in to Ottawa, where it has undergone three different installations. It’s a solidly-built, robust thing, too heavy for me to lift on my own. Luckily, it comes apart.

The top is a slab of three-quarter inch plywood from a mill in BC, reinforced around the edges and covered in an oak veneer almost thick enough to qualify as lumber these days. The rest is solid oak. It has partitioned drawers, slide-out typewriter trays, and a brass locking mechanism. Did not come with keys.

In one corner a hand-long strip of veneer has been replaced. Functional but clumsy. On the other side, usually buried under the unsorted clutter, is a burnt-in ring where a scalding cup of something, was it tea, sat for too long. All along the front edge, where my elbows have leaned against it for decades, the veneer is almost worn through. I give it another ten years, and a couple more sweaters.

It has been the one consistent furnishing in all of my writing spaces over the years. Bookcases have wowed and wobbled and, one chaotic morning, collapsed. Desk lamps have burnt out, chairs have imploded. Early on, there was a phone. Computers and printers and peripherals and enough cable to stretch from here to the cloud have been short-term tenants. All of those overheated precious metals, from tantalum to gold, have come and gone. The pens and papers and daybooks cycle through. Herd animals, they are driven periodically into the six capacious drawers. And in the back, behind the lamp and the printer, the dust and the webs accumulate.

They accumulate, as well, on the Ivory Coast mud cloth hanging on the wall. It came into my possession about the same time the desk did, around 1980 or so, when I was working for international development NGOs. Fish, birds and dancers line up on a loose canvas panel made of a dozen narrow strips hand-woven together. The desk, stolid as ever, has gradually lost any sympathy it might have had for development work, but the hanging has followed it from site to site like a ghost of conciliation.

Sometimes I climb on the desk, to get at a ceiling fan, or to chase the spiders. My kids did their math homework here. Bob Kroestch kicked it once, arguing about The Camrose Review. Roo Borson worked at it one afternoon, as did other writers, even more briefly. Artists from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and India sorted out itineraries here. So many guitars and fiddles and mandolins rested on it, or against it, waiting to be played. It has been supportive to all.

But it has never been tidy. I do clear it off from time to time but I have long since ceased to worry about giving it any organization. Let me just sift through some of the stuff here: a preliminary schedule for VerseFest 2015, a backup drive, two thumbdrives, one Moleskine weekly diary, two pens — one black, one blue, a business card for the Consul du Chili, an ad contract with the Kitchissippi Times, correspondence with the Ontario Arts Council and the Canadian Revenue Agency, folders full of budget updates and contributor contracts for Arc Poetry Magazine, and copies of the magazine itself, now entering its 37th year of uninterrupted publication and strangely absent from Open Book Toronto’s listing of Canadian literary magazines.

I have been re-reading Maurizia Boscagli’s Stuff Theory, her erudite if somewhat anxious attempt to reconcile cultural theory with the new materialisms. The new materiality, she says, is more at home in the critical discourses of the sciences, but it nonetheless “…takes shape and gets assembled and disassembled in the only possible cultural-economic context: that of modern capital.” Unmistakably true I think, although the survey of many of the icons of cultural theory (hello Benjamin, Deleuze, DeBord, Lefebrve, et al) will do little to make them amenable to the sciences. Still, her celebration of stuff that “refuses to behave”, that defeats, with “..plasticity and unceasing traffic with the human, the long western history of systematization of the object” makes me feel pretty good about my desk.

Monty Reid

Monty Reid is the author of the Archibald Lampman Award-winning Disappointment Island. His work also appeared in the anthology Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets. His most recent collection is The Luskville Reductions. Recent chapbooks include Site Conditions (Apt 9), Contributors' Notes and Moan Coach. A three-time nominee for the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, his work has won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry three times and was shortlisted for the City of Ottawa Book Award. He plays guitar and mandolin with the band Call Me Katie.

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