Friday, January 18, 2013

Carol Montgomery: Small Press Friday

I have haunted bookstores, I work in a library, I edit a small press magazine - lots of stuff enters my field of vision. A while back, I ran across a sort of generic looking, slim volume of haiku poetry by someone named Carol Montgomery. The title was Starting Something. It's pictured above.

As I'm wont to do with items like this, however they come my way, I opened it up at random and read:

Up Smallman St.
the pizza truck 
following a funeral  

Not a poem that's going to win any awards, but that's not what caught my eye - that was "Smallman St.," which is a main drag in Pittsburgh's Strip Distict near downtown.

So I checked the publisher, Los Hombres Press in San Diego, no bells ringing there.

I flipped it over and in a little mini-bio I read: "Carol Montgomery is the recipient of two fellowships in literature from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts." Ah, a second geographic connection. 

Time to settle down and see what the book had to offer.

And what it had to offer was quite amazing. 

summer night
describing a grasshopper
grandma hops   

Corny, you think? Maybe, but there is a little something here that is quite special.

     brooms at the Crafts Fair
no one tests them 
     but grandfather . . .  

Another little something-something, eh?

In the wine cellar
all the pieces 
of the azalea vase

Ah, bingo, another other, this time not so little but all of a piece with the two previous.

It seems to me that Montgomery is starting something, indeed.

grandfather's room:
the puzzle's lake
never completed

Family looms large here, fortunately in a very good way. In all these ku there is ennui, a  touch of humor, a sense of larger purpose (nostalgia would be, I believe, the wrong word) - a series of perfectly captured moments with a fine resonance.

That's poetry.  

What at first appeared to me to be a separate title to a second section of the book, I think just might be a "found" monostitch:

Grand View Cemetery 

Maybe not - but I'd like to think so, since what follows doesn't (follow the idea that 'Grand View Cemetery is a section title)

I love this little senryu:

twilight, young boss
his signature

What perfect placement of the em dash  twilight time, the perfect time, this seems almost a black and white photo, the only light coming from a desk lamp, the young boss, his hands, paper and pen in harsh, full electric light, the face, featureless, in shadow.

As far as I can ascertain, Montgomery has published two collections in total (the other is called Outlines, which along with Starting Something, can be found virtually nowhere, though 6 libraries in the country own Starting), has had her poems analyzed (and analyzed), received accolades (1986 & 1987), has written articles/reviews for Modern Haiku, has been mentioned in interviews, had at least 11 poems translated into Russian, and, most importantly, has been regularly published

Intrigued and digging around a bit, I found that not much seems to have been heard of Carol Montgomery recently. Since I'm a relatively recent arrival to the haiku community (though I've been writing for 30 plus years), I'm sure someone out there knows much more about her than I could scrap up with a few searches. 

Chime in, folks, if you know her. I'd love to hear more.

I'm going to close this post with a few more poems that, one way or the other, make me very glad I ran across Starting Something.

bottom of the window-seat
wrapped in a sweater
mother's book on cancer

There is poignancy here that is perfectly captured in a single moment, a perfect haiku (or senryu, if you're parsing). 

first doubts:
each peony stem
the same length

Of  all her poems that I have read, this is the one I wish I wrote. It is stunning, it is timeless, with an unstated sadness, and acceptance of that sadness.

old woman
wrapping her cat's gifts
—centering the bows

I close my eyes after reading this little piece and can visualize it being written in 18th or 19th century Japan just as soon as late 20th, or early 21st, century America. 
      his new wife
pap trying to argue
      with the old rhythms 

Here again is the humor that is never really far from sadness in Montgomery's work, albeit sadness usually taking precedence. And, on the same page in Starting Something, this companion piece - one can almost imagine that the argument was about the color of the paint:

second husband
painting the fence
the same green

 In terms of point of view,  this seems a perfect pair, the first from the wife's and the second from the (second) husband's. 

Small press writers come and go, usually with little or no notice outside their intimate circle of friends and fellow poets. It seems to me Ms. Montgomery touched a lot more people than the average small press poet. Even if the memory is fading, it's not entirely gone. And if one of these poems kindles a spark in the heart of a new reader, what then?

Why, a new memory is made.  

Carol Montgomery, circa 1990


plum blossom scent--
a hazy memory
of my nanny's house
 translated by David G. Lanoue 


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Anonymous said...

Well, you've done it again. What a wonderful post about someone new to me. Those haiku really moved me.
Thanks so much! And I confess, I went on Amazon, found one used copy and ordered it.
Mary Ahearn

Ed Baker said...

as I recall
one of my first haiku (senryu ?)
to ever be published was in a 1998 or 1999
issue of Frogpond and Carol was also in ...

haven't seen anything of hers since...

like her I don't send much out anymore either...

these discoveries and re:discoveries phun eh?

makes it all worth-while...

donnafleischer said...

B I G like. The work endures, sometimes with it, a name. This one really got to me as well:

old woman
wrapping her cat's gifts
—centering the bows

What a bountiful city, that Pittsburgh. Thanks, as always, Don, Donna

John Bennett said...

to be quite honest, brevity is the only thing a lot of haiku i read have going for them. not so with Carol Montgomery. these have the weight of a full-length novel...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Mary. I believe you got the last copy currently available. I'm sure others will pop up - people have been asking me where to get it.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Indeed, that seems to have been her primary time of publishing ...

She did some fine work ... still, nobody seems to know where she is.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


That was one of the poems that knocked me out. Zen master cat lady.

Lucky cats.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Glad you liked these.

Yeah, there is a lot of crap out there, in all forms.


Ed Baker said...

what I (think that) I saw
was that the edition was of 100 copies

that is
to my way of thinking
an adequate run for ANY small-press edition

anything else is excessive.

she also looks
via the photo
that she is young enough that
if she drops out
say for 25-30
she'll be maybe 50 or 60
when and if she drops back in ?

she can hang-out over here
if she wants to
sing, dance
and leave

Greg said...

thanks for sharing that book, Don, since there don't seem to be any other copies around. i will definitely keep my eye out for it, those were some poignant poems.