The River Will Tell You: Poems Along Keya Paha

by Tom Montag. The Quail Press, 2020.

Review by Maximilian Hennigan

Tom Montag writes with an astounding reverence for all things natural. He seems to thoughtfully separate his poems into different themes in an interesting chronological life cycle. He at times spends time jumping in and out of his themes but does so effectively and keeps the larger themes steady and well-filed throughout the entire collection. His themes are diverse and well-developed following a variety of sub-themes around the natural world, such as how humans interact with and perceive it. Specifically how he finds an almost divine worth in it offering his own stalwart contemplations. He praises even its most seemingly mundane features like:

So much


in the 


You don’t



you do.

He writes of truly profound realizations individuals will notice when they immerse themselves in nature’s full beauty. His poems effectively communicate a zealous thirst for humanity to delve into its natural roots once again. He masterfully uses clever and witty stingers to goad his fellow man into adopting his views. For example:

The rim of soft hills,

the river. We have sky

with clouds. We have

cottonwoods talking.

Otherwise the silence.

If you cannot find

God here, I can show you

where his thistles are.

These playful threats, if they can even be considered as such, offer a strong sense of character to his poems, showing his true emotions regarding his deification of nature. Montag’s ability to compile his poems in a manner that shows his flow of consciousness as it develops over his experience in nature is masterfully executed as well. He does appear to go back and forth from a deified nature that has an almost mystical spell on a human being, he also addresses how profoundly without meaning nature is:

Read things 


for what

they are. 

A hawk

is a


and its


is all 

the world


to know.

He seems to playfully, yet philosophically, poke fun at people for assigning alternative or human-conceived ideas and attaching them to nature when it is already perfect. In a dry and witty refusal to accept human-forced concepts on elements of nature to stimulate an overly artistic interpretation, he simply states his points in a very matter-of-fact way. This matter-of-fact way of explaining his surroundings helps establish a very recognizable and professional style that is enjoyable but layered with a strong introspective intention meant to get the reader to think of their position within the themes of the poem.

Tom doesn’t just have witty poems to defend nature’s beauty but also very sobering observations and contemplations. For example:

Such is the world

that the trees know

when to let go.

Such are we that 

we don’t. To every-

thing there is a 

season. The soft

hills in the distance

know. The cranes

know. Overhead

the sky promises

winter. Even

the small dark birds 

will tell you: Let go.

The sheer emotional range that Tom Montag captures in this collection alone is an astounding feat. The River Will Tell You: Poems Along Keya Paha is a wonderful and thoughtful written collection on the natural world and Montag’s profoundly unique philosophy regarding its mundane majesty.

Maximilian Hennigan

Maximilian Hennigan is an English major and aspiring writer here at Carroll. He is in his third year and is excited to see what the world has to offer him. Max plans to pursue a practical career in freelance writing but has a dream of creatively writing for video games.

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