Carbondale poetry festival honors Karen Chamberlain
CARBONDALE – Karen Chamberlain was many things: poet, writer, naturalist, ambassador for the arts. But more than any one of those, she was an individual.”She was the human analogy to a wild horse,” said her husband, Bob Chamberlain. “That’s what attracted me to her – her independent spirit.”In honor of that spirit – Chamberlain died of cancer on Sept. 11, 2010 at the age of 68 – the Thunder River Theatre Company has created the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival, which kicks off Friday in Carbondale.”She blew my mind,” said Valerie Haugen, associate artistic director for Thunder River Theatre Company, who met Chamberlain 10 years ago when she co-facilitated the Glenwood Springs Writers’ Workshop. “What struck me about Karen was how wise she was and how kind she was. She thought everyone should write. In the last week of her life, she even helped someone finish his book.”Indeed, Chamberlain’s list of literary accomplishments is lengthy: she founded the Aspen Writers’ Foundation; co-founded “Nature Within,” a summer outdoor writers’ program; served as literary coordinator for the Canyonlands Field Institute Desert Writers Workshop near Moab, Utah, for 10 years; co-founded the Glenwood Springs Writers’ Workshop; and was poetry editor for the Mountain Gazette for five years. Other accolades include a 1983 Discovery/The Nation Prize, a 1989 Fellowship in Poetry from the Colorado Council on the Arts, a 1993 Poetry Program Award from Poets and Writers Magazine and the Poetry Society of America, and a 2004 Contribution-To-Poetry Award from Sparrows Poetry Festival in Salida.Chamberlain’s autobiographical book, “The Desert of the Heart,” was a finalist for the 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award. The book, which chronicles her experiences living as a caretaker at the Horsethief Ranch in the Utah desert for more than four years, is the inspiration for this weekend’s poetry festival. The event kicks off onight with a reading of “The Karen Tapes” – a series of interviews with Karen by journalist Amy Hadden Marsh of KDNK radio.”Karen was one of my best friends,” said Marsh, who conducted between 2005 and 2007. “She made everyone feel as if you were her best friend. And when she was with you, she was totally with you. I could talk to Karen about things I couldn’t talk to other people about.”Some of those things will be shared Friday.”I think it’s going to be a very emotional thing for some people,” Marsh said of the edited 15-minute interviews. “For some, it will be the first time they’ve ever heard her voice. There’s no fancy radio techniques – it’s Karen’s voice and she’s talking about poetry and her childhood. It was difficult to  because there was so much good stuff. But there will be a series of statements from Karen.”According to those who knew her best, Chamberlain’s passion was writing. But her life was filled with much more.”She was very shy – incredibly shy. It was a hard thing for her to recite her own poetry,” recalled her husband. “When I first met her, she was a stained-glass artisan and worked into a career where she was one of the top two stained glass artists in the country. But ideally, what she always wanted to do was be a writer.”But she also loved everything to do with animals and nature.”Marsh agreed, noting that she and Chamberlain spent many hours riding horses together.”I loved riding with her. She taught me a lot about riding and wild horses,” ” Marsh said, adding that after Chamberlain died she adopted her horse, a Mustang named “Blackey.”The festival – which includes poetry performances, workshops, the naming of the Western Slope Poet Laureate, and more – is a tribute to all of these things.”Karen lived her life supporting the arts,” Haugen said. “And she died surrounded by writers.”
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