The Faces of Poetry
CARBONDALE, Colorado – When writer Karen Chamberlain faced terminal cancer in September 2010, Western wordsmiths rallied at her bedside. Their words, so beautifully written, were comfort as she faced the darkest of hours.The memory is still vivid for friend Valerie Haugen.”Karen was a dear friend of mine. She was inspirational and she always helped other writers with their work,” Haugen said. “When she died, there were all these writers at the hospital, kind of like angels sending her off.”Haugen was so moved by Chamberlain’s life and writing, she created the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival at Thunder River Theatre Company. The event, taking place this weekend, offers three days of poetry readings, workshops, discussions, open mic performances and camaraderie. “What a lady,” Haugen said. “She’d blush if she knew this was all for her.”Haugen and Chamberlain met through the Glenwood Writer’s Group, which Chamberlain facilitated. The collaboration was a game changer, forever altering how Haugen approached her craft.”I was writing a play about how poetry saved my life,” Haugen said. “That’s how she and I got so close.”Haugen said she had lost several members of her family in a succession of deaths that left her in a state of shock. Writing was her savior, a form of therapy as she bid goodbye to her father, mother, sister, and stepfather in a series of tragedies.”I miss her so much,” Haugen said, of Chamberlain. “I had no better cheerleader than her. I had started going to the writer’s workshop and I’m sure I scared some people. She just said to me, ‘We’re going to kick at the darkness until we see the light.'”Haugen envisions the hundreds of writers descending on Carbondale this weekend as the total embodiment of what Chamberlain represented as a poet. Chamberlain was one of the original founders of the Aspen Writer’s Foundation.”She always encouraged me to keep writing and I just think she was a magnificent soul,” Haugen said. “I lost one dear friend but gained about 300 friends by starting this event. I plan on reading her poetry tonight.”Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer is one of the hosts of visiting poets who will speak at the weekend festival. She will be leading a workshop on Saturday with Western Slope Poet Laureate Art Goodtimes. Her poetry has appeared in O Magazine, on A Prairie Home Companion and in her children’s lunch boxes, according to Haugen.”This kind of thing juices everyone, and I hear people say that when they come to the festival they don’t stop writing after leaving,” Haugen said.Uche Ogbuji will also perform and lead a workshop titled, “Poetry from the Heart’s Far-Flung Places.” He was born in Calabar, Nigeria. He lived in Egypt and England before settling near Boulder. He is editor of “Kin Poetry Journal” and “The Nervous Breakdown.””We have a lot of poets coming from around Colorado, and beyond,” Haugen said. “We have a poet coming from Mexico, a family coming from Portland, and students and professors from around the state.”The diversity of the festival’s participants bodes well with this year’s theme, “Poetry Everywhere!” This evening, poet Reg Saner will receive the Chamberlain Award for Lifetime Poetic Achievement. Performances include readings by Kit Kalreiss Muldoon, Patrick Curry, Eric and Jacob Walter, Trommer, Jeff Spahr-Summers, Debbi Brody, Rick Kempa, Trinity Lafey, and SETH.Saturday features an award ceremony naming the new Western Slope poet laureate, along with performances by M.D. Friedman, Ogbuji, the Word Horde, Jimi Bernath, Aaron Abeyta, Barbara Ford, current Western Slope Poet Laureate Art Goodtimes, Roseanna Frechette, Bill Kight, Jared Smith and Judyth Hill.Performances and open mics will take place Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday morning’s continental breakfast begins at 10 a.m., followed by a gourd circle led by Goodtimes that spiritually closes the festival.”It’s a really interesting Sunday we have. Here we are in a sacred place, and the theater is our sacred temple,” Haugen said. “We make a circle and pass around the gourd. When holding it, we can say or express anything we want. We can read poetry or just speak. People find it to be cathartic, moving, and beautiful.” Much like Chamberlain was in life, Haugen said.
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