Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Five Things Literary: Ottawa, with Monty Reid

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Monty Reid

Ontario is a literary province in every sense — it's chockablock with historically significant points of interest that anyone can visit, but it's also full of seemingly simple local spots beloved by our favourite writers, from libraries and coffee shops to parks and rivers.

Today Monty Reid takes us behind the scenes of his own literary Ottawa, telling us about the spots that are most significant for him in our capital city, as part of our Five Things Literary series.

Monty's most recent book is, amazingly, his twelfth collection of poetry. Meditatio Placentae (Brick Books) is, as the title suggests, a meditative collection, which touches on everyday objects (lost socks, pop-up books, noisy trucks, and more). It's an examination of the stuff that makes up our world and our relationship to stuff. Contemplative, eminently readable, and wryly wise, Meditatio Placentae is a great read for our stuff-obsessed times.

Today Monty paints us a picture in words of his Ottawa — dive in to hear about fireflies near the Ottawa River, the city's VerseFest poetry festival, and life beside Communications Security Establishment Canada.

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Five Things Literary: Ottawa

  1. The Base — Burma Road

    • Fireflies flicker in the marsh grass, their bellies lighting up with luciferin. We are on the dirt path through the willows and cattails, down to the Ottawa River. Beacon Hill is a little east, and to the west is Ottawa's first airport, now the National Aviation Museum, and the Montford Forest. This is spook light, not quite dark. We have walked across the abandoned military base, CFB Rockliffe, through the ruins of gardens and playgrounds, the decaying cement pads and rock walls overwhelmed by morning glories. Boarded up houses in the dusk - some of the military housing was converted into lowcost housing by the City, now also emptied. In one of the remaining storage sheds, someone kept two DeLoreans, Canada's once-touted sportscar, another project long since abandoned. For many years, my wife and I would trespass on the Base to pick crabapples that grew on the mature trees. It was illegal, sort of. Site security patrolled the streets, but the only time they questioned us was when they spotted us carrying a ladder. Shelves of crabapple jelly line our basement walls. For years this was the largest tract of undeveloped land in Ottawa, but now it's been sold and soon the ground will break for condos and retail opportunities. So we're crossing the Base one last time, our way lit by fairy lights, all these little beetles with excited compounds in their guts. Full of signals, full of the devil.

     

  2. Garden — Elvina Street

    • My backyard garden is 680 square feet of frequently amended dirt. It is a political gesture, albeit a small one. It can't be scaled up, because scaling it up is precisely what dissipates its low-key, and local, character. It demands attention, so always offers the gardener a chance to attend to something other than self. My garden feeds about 10 people intermittently, 2 groundhogs, 7 squirrels, 10 robins, countless insects and 1 wild turkey. It grows tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, beets, chard, potatoes, beans, peppers, cabbage, bok choy, zucchini, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, a variety of herbs. Saskatoons, blueberries and apples will soon be producing. Some in abundance, some with less enthusiasm. I swap produce with neighbours and give heavy bags to friends and hungry poets. The groundhogs like the cabbage and broccoli in particular – I do what I can to keep them out. The squirrels are partial to strawberries. The wild turkey, not a frequent visitor, apparently prefers beans. The poets eat pretty much everything.

     

  3. Knox Presbyterian Church — Elgin Street

    • The Knox, on Ottawa's busy Elgin Street, is the site of VerseFest, the international poetry festival I coordinate, as well as other cultural programming. It's a sturdy downtown landmark, just across from City Hall. It serves as a drop-in centre for the homeless, and provides a jazz trio for vesper services on Friday evenings. The janitorial staff, who show up with barely-restrained mops in hand when the programming runs past closing time, took some time to warm up to the poets, but now have become friends. One of them turns out to be a chocolatier, who makes fine cakes and desserts, and now brings samples when we're tearing the equipment down. The hall has seen the likes of Don McKay and Anne Boyer, Caroline Bergvall and Christian Bok, Ken Babcock and Phil Levine, Raul Zurita and Shauntay Grant, and hundreds of other poets from around the world. But only those who remain, after the readings and celebrations are over, get any of the chocolate.

     

  4. CSEC campus — Ogilvie

    • When my partner and I moved into our new house in east Ottawa, we thought we were going to be neighbours with the National Research Council, which occupied a large swath of federal land just a block away. We could hear that time signal pinging in our ears. But already under construction, on the same federal turf, were facilities for CSIS and CSEC, Canada's major intelligence agencies. CSIS has a large, fairly ordinary-looking building, with slashes of teal that enliven its otherwise fairly grey bloc. But CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada — the folks responsible for monitoring electronic communications) is an architectural statement. It's massive, almost a million square feet. Early plans that showed it housing its own skating rink were scrapped, but it remains a well-serviced facility. It's full of hand-tested cable, smart glass, flexible pods for the cryptographers, and many other features. They say its sloping mushroom-white roof is visible from outer space. They should know I guess. When I stand on the sidewalk nearby I can almost hear the rush of data draining into their supercomputers. Everything you ever say is available. It sounds like the rustle of angel wings.

     

  5. My couch

    • My couch is something less than an architectural wonder. It's second-hand, inherited from friends who were moving to Newfoundland. It's off-white with blue stripes, and would probably look good in an airy waterfront showhome. Now it's mostly stained, and sagging in my preferred corner. I like it because it's long enough for me to stretch out on, without dangling my feet off the end. When my daughter was young I would read to her on the couch, then she would fall asleep in my lap. Then I would fall asleep too. I have never slept better.


Monty Reid was born in Saskatchewan, worked for many years in Alberta, and now lives in Ottawa. His books include Garden (Chaudiere), The Luskville Reductions (Brick), and CrawlSpace (Anansi). Recent chapbooks include Kissing Bug (Phafours), Moan Coach (above/ground) and Site Conditions (Apt. 9). He has won Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry on three occasions, the Lampman Award, National Magazine Awards, and is a three-time nominee for the Governor General’s Literary Award. He is currently the Managing Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and Festival Director at VerseFest, Ottawa’s international poetry festival.

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