Monty Reid. Garden (Chaudiere Books 2014).
In Garden, Monty Reid turns his own soil with wit & precision. This sharp, taut, often funny, always witty book once again proves he can also turn a phrase. a line, with the best. Fronted by a gorgeous cover image, but Argentine artist Andrea Bula, who discovered some of the poems when Reid published them online, Garden‘s poem show all the rich complexities the painting suggests.
Reid has chosen an intriguing formal restraint for Garden, each section (each ‘month’) is 12 poems long, beginning with the title month, so that as we proceed through the book, we get a series of sequences moving forward from ‘September’ to ‘August.’ The writing shift from almost naked imagist poems through longer lined lyrics to near-prose poems, each suited to the ‘argument’ of its section. And make no doubt, much of the writing in Garden takes on the form of argument — undermined by paradox, irony, oxymoron, & other such tropes.
All this growth & undergrowth is held together by various repetitions, imagistic links, personal references. Such as the clothes he says he wears in ‘(dec unit)’ that turn up as th clothing of a (failed, of course) scarecrow in ‘(june unit)'; although ‘So far, the scarecrow has kept nothing out.’ And that line is part of one of the continuing arguments in Garden, partly about Paradise & other walled gardens, & the usefulness of such walls against the living force in all the green fuses the gardener seeks to grow. There are other such connections. ‘(dec unit)’ plays with concepts of (what we might call) ‘garden philosophy,’ with its references to ‘my non-transcendental shovel,’ & its suggestion that ‘our apprehension of the world cannot be contained by thinking — at least not by thinking as philosophy has traditionally conceived it –‘ & its throwaway ‘It’s not my garden. I just worked there.’ Much later, a kind of ‘garden comedy’ plays out in ‘(june unit.’ where both the useless scarecrow & garden gnomes (‘I prefer gnomic to cryptic’) tumble in a jumbled farce, that nevertheless allows, even as it grants them centre stage for this section, ‘They don’t have to worry about their originary selves / and they don’t have to worry about ownership’ (unlike the owner of the scarecrow?), ‘They just work here.’
Readers can already see my problem: the temptation to quote from every part of Garden is hard to resist. If ‘[t]he subjects of interest are long gone,’ you still ‘have to think of something else or it will not grow.’ And continually ‘think of something else’ is exactly what this serial poem enacts throughout. The putative poet (‘Monty Reid’) & his personal life as a new father of a daughter & a gardener reworking his back yard figures here, but as just one of many layers of a structurally complex text, itself the image of the garden it invokes. Yet, for all its wandering out of that one, seemingly homely & domestic, garden into various gardens of myth, legend, & history, it brings them all back in to its ‘contested site.’ All the variants of ‘garden’ that appear in Garden join together in the garden the poet is building, both in his backyard & in this text. If ‘it is now impossible to say “garden” without / reproducing some whiff of the “other”,’ well ‘Je est un garden,’ & will somehow grow the selves necessary to cultivate his own.
Garden is a fine new take on the pastoral by a poet who understands that the real dirt & flowers, fruits, & vegetables mean more than any grafted imago. At the end, his book has earned its final lines: ‘Give us the garden. // Save us from paradise.’