Honoring Reg Saner, Aaron Abeyta at poetry fest
By Art Goodtimes
THIRD YEAR … Thanks to the dedication and drive of Valerie Haugen and Lon Winston of the Thunder River Theatre Company, Carbondale hosted its third annual Western Slope poetry festival at the end of March/beginning of April. Named for Karen Chamberlain, the event celebrates the continuing inspiration that Karen provided for many poets – not only in the Roaring Fork Valley where she made her home, but around Colorado and the region … Karen was founder of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, coordinator of the Canyonlands Field Institute Desert Writers Workshop near Moab, winner of the 1983 The Nation Discovery Prize and the 1989 Colorado Council on the Arts Poetry Fellowship, and poetry editor of the Mountain Gazette for five years. She was often a visitor to Telluride, as well as a colleague and personal friend of mine. Valerie is quoted in the Aspen Times as saying, “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” … The fest squeezed in lots of performance slots for established veterans and all ages of newbies. While of course there were stand-outs, the reigning ethos honored everyone willing to perform, and the audience listened attentively to each and every diverse voice … It was great to hear and see the dynamic Judyth Hill of Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende, the incomparable Jack Mueller of Ridgway, fellow emcee Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer of Placerville, Stewart Warren of Albuquerque, Wendy Videlock, Uche Ogbuchi, Rachel Kellum, Kit Muldoon, Trinity La Fay, Danny Rosen, Jimi Bernath – I could spend the rest of the column naming them all. An amazing collection of state and regional poets … And the Gourd Circle finale on Sunday morning was among the more powerful listening & shining sessions I’ve ever participated in. On whole, a most amazing event.
CHAMBERLAIN AWARD … I’ve admired Reg Saner for a long time. He’s won lots of awards already, but I’ve been wanting to bring him out to the Western Slope for years. In fact, almost 30, since I first heard him read from So This Is The Map (Random House, 1981) at the former Mesa State College in Grand Junction … His poetry has been a powerful influence on me and all Colorado poets who know him. His work takes us through the dazzle of language into the furnace of the natural world … It was a great honor to be able to award him the first Chamberlain Award for Lifetime Poetic Achievement here in Colorado … On top of everything, Reg is a very kind, humble, humorous poet who spent as much time listening to others at the festival as shining himself … There’s a lot of us who will be lobbying the Governor to appoint Reg as the Colorado’s next state Poet Laureate once the wonderful term of current PL Dave Mason is up.
WESTERN SLOPE… Colorado, Denver, the Pike’s Peak Region, San Miguel County – many regions and jurisdictions have begun honoring poets by naming them to the honorary position of poet laureate. San Miguel County has Elle Metrick of Norwood as its laureate, the Pike’s Peak Region has Price Strobridge, Chris Ransick’s term as Denver’s laureate ended in 2010 but funding cuts have precluded the naming of another so far, and Colorado College poet/prof Dave Mason is the state’s much-esteemed laureate … Western Colorado has always been a long ways from the urban centers of the Front Range, and has sometimes been overlooked in the field of arts. But poetry has been a vibrant and powerful practice on the Western Slope – hosting a number of poetry festivals over the years: Talking Gourds in Telluride, Sparrows in Salida, the Festival of the Imagination in Del Norte, and now the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival in Carbondale … By way of celebrating that fact, the festival named a Western Slope poet laureate two years ago. In a stealth move that caught me by surprise, I was honored with that title. And now, the laurels pass over to a new Western Slope poet laureate – Aaron Abeyta, award-winning poet and professor at Adams State College in Alamosa. Aaron’s family hails from many generations in the San Luis Valley’s Antonito community.
REMEMBERING JIM DAVIDSON … It was with a deep sadness I learned from Jerry Grandey that my old journalism partner Jim Davidson was in the last stages of hospice. He passed away the day before Earth Day, at home in Crestone in the house he built himself, surrounded by his family … He was an amazing man of incredible talent, many interests, incisive wit, great writing chops and a love of newspapers, among other things (like his two kids Greta and Eric and his beloved Tracee Sporer). I don’t think any editor before or since has had such a firm read on the pulse of Telluride. He hung in the Sheridan Bar with the best of them. Learned all the secrets. And kept a sense of humor that blossomed in his editorials and kept all of us on our toes – no one wanted to be the butt of a Davidson poke, making grand fun of something while at the same time slamming home a trenchant point one couldn’t ignore … His first published book was a marvelous and terrible story harking back to his personal roots growing up in Rico and Telluride – Mine Work (Utah State Univ., 1999). It won kudos, first novel awards and even received a favorable review in the New York Review of Books – something Ed Abbey was never able to accomplish in his lifetime. Here’s what the Denver Post wrote: “With a tone that is often reminiscent of Hemingway, the author writes a moving tale of not only power and shame but also of redemption. The book is fine reading” … Former Tellurider Lito Tejada-Flores has just re-issued this classic novel in a new edition from his Western Eye Press. It’s one of those must-read books if you live in the San Juans. Western Eye Press also published his second novel, Postmarked Calexico (2011), and Jim was working on an unpublished third novel … His blog (jim-davidson.org) says this: “Davidson has worked in the mines and on the Ute Indian Reservation. He’s trapped weasel and drawn maps, lived on venison and waited for days for snowplows to free the village from blizzards. He’s watched his hardrock mining father taken down by lung disease and published a number of small town newspapers. He has seen a lot” … In 1985 I was editor of the old Telluride Times, having been reluctantly promoted up to that job, after a couple of years as cub reporter, when the current editor left town suddenly. But I wasn’t happy with what I felt was too strong of a “booster” slant to the paper, and grew especially restive when a story on people living in their cars due to the housing shortage in Telluride got bumped from our Thanksgiving issue. It was about that time that Jim, who graduated from high school in Telluride, returned to town … He wanted to start a rival newspaper. He had financial backers. He was smart, knew the place, and wanted to make a splash with a paper that didn’t cozy up to advertisers as much as keep the town fathers and mothers honest. But he needed someone with experience to work as managing editor. It didn’t take much to seduce me into that job … The San Miguel Journal was daring. It featured full-page cover photos. International reporter (and backer) Mort Rosenblum had a regular column. It took on Idarado and Newmont Mining when the state-driven Superfund lawsuit began, got sued by Ron Allred’s Telski & Golf Company for reporting the truth, and made Telluride a two-paper town that’s continued for the past 30 years. Elizabeth Arnold, who went on to NPR fame, was one of our stringers … The name changed to the Telluride Mountain Journal in 1988, and then in 1989 the Journal bought out the failing Times, and we became the Telluride Times-Journal. The paper regularly won awards from the Colorado Press Association. But Jim was not one to grind through a career forever. We have him to thank for bringing Marta Tarbell and Seth Cagin to town, Marta as editor so Jim could pursue his passion for sailing (at the time). Eventually he sold off the Times-Journal to Wick Communications, and moved out to Kansas with his wife, Tracee. For a brief time he came back to town to rescue the Times-Journal which was in a tough newspaper battle with the Telluride Daily Planet. I became arts editor at that point, and he restored the Times-Journal’s competiveness. But not for long. He wasn’t’ a company man, and being an employee was not his bailiwick. He quit and began commuting between a family spread in Kansas and Crestone, where he built a home mostly by himself. His focus had become his own writing – putting his life experience into fine prose … Through all of that, Jim was my mentor in journalism. He taught me, edited me, growled at me, made me laugh and cry. We worked together under pressure, counseling each other, conspiring, seeking the deeper truths behind the week’s stories. We became friends. I’m going to miss my friend.
Art Goodtimes is a county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.