June 2015
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Trommer named Western Slope poet laureate

By Art Goodtimes

TALKING GOURDS … Hard to complain about spring rains and snows. The land certainly needed more moisture, especially to serve our agricultural producers. But it played havoc with the poetry program at the Telluride Literary Arts Festival last month. Performers had to cancel. Audience numbers were limited … But those that traveled from around the state, and even up from New Mexico, were treated to a grand couple days of performances, lectures, workshops and camaraderie. Poets are often solitary souls who write in the privacy of their own lives. Bringing them together, getting them to share their stories and poems is often a huge plus. New friendships form. Knowledge is exchanged. We fall in love with each other’s work.

THE TALKING GOURD

Beginning Mind

Riding in our old blue Buick, my son looks
out his window and asks what clouds mean,

how rain comes out of them, and if it’s the same way
babies come out of bellies. He asks what kind of soft

is in slippers, why worms swim in dirt, why ants build
sand houses, why there are planets to live on at all.

His questions jolt my not-yet-caffeinated mind
from lulling into the morning news or calculating

the number of minutes we’ll be late to kindergarten,
and pull me into the space of math and myth that physicists

and philosophers have searched without end.
I don’t know, honey. What do you think? I say,

but he pushes – just remember back to college,
as if I’ve lived too long not to have figured it all out.

At home, between bites of strawberry he holds by the
“grass,”
he tells me he thinks Granny dissolved into heaven and lives

a dead life. Later he asks if they ever make new Grannies.
He says he knows where heaven is; it’s past space,

and where heaven ends, the past begins,
where the past ends, is the future.

Jill Burkey
Grand Junction, Colo.

NEW LAUREATE … Antonito Mayor and past Western Slope Poet Laureate Aaron Abeyta drove all day May 16 from the San Luis Valley to make it up for the crowning that evening of the Western Slope’s newest poet laureate, Telluride’s own Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. Aaron delighted the crowd at Ah Haa with the performance of several of his poems. A fine reader, Abeyta has won a Before Columbus Foundation award, as well as a Colorado Book Award, for his poetry and prose celebrating his deep roots in the Hispanic history of southern Colorado and his lyric eye on a culture that pre-dates the Anglo settlement of the region … Then he announced his choice for the new two-year appointment of the poet laureate for the Western Slope … Trommer thanked Aaron and everyone for the honor (and amazingly for those that know Rosemerry, she managed not to cry, although she was clearly moved).

JILL BURKEY … San Miguel County Commissioner Elaine Fischer explained how the Mark Fischer Poetry Prize has expanded its reach (from the Four Corners states to all poets west of the Mississippi) and increased its prize awards (from $500 to $1200) – all developments that she was proud to say brought honor to the memory of her husband, Mark. The 17th year of the annual ceremony, she handed out the awards on a snowy afternoon at the crowded Arroyo’s Wine Bar and Gallery … Jill Burkey of Grand Junction was the first-place winner, selected by the region’s most famous poet, Jack Mueller of Log Hill Village. Burkey read her winning poem, “Beginning Mind.” She credited her son’s precocious comments as a youngster as inspiration for the piece, as she accepted a check for $1000 … First Runner-Up (and a $100 cash award) went to Donald Levering of Santa Fe for a poem called “Barrelhouses” celebrating the rural bar culture of blacks in the South… Second Runner-Up was a tie between Paul Fericano of California with his send-up of Ginsberg’s famous poem, “The Howl of Lon Chaney, Jr.,” and Jose A. Alcantara of Carbondale for his quantum-physics-inspired Roadrunner poem, “Beep Beep.” While Fericano couldn’t make it to the awards ceremony, Alcantara did. He read his poem and accepted his $50 cash prize and certificate … The winning poems will be posted at talkingourds.weebly.com.

KAREN CHAMBERLAIN … Having stepped into the footsteps of the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival in Carbondale, which ended last year, the organizers of the Talking Gourds poetry program at the LitFest wanted to keep alive Karen’s name. She was a marvelous poet who won state awards, helped found the Aspen Writers Conference, and was a mentor to many poets around the state. She also was a admirer of Telluride, which she visited often and where she had many friends. In that vein, the Telluride Institute revived the Karen Chamberlain Award that was first given in 2013 to Reg Saner, one of Colorado’s most beloved poets and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The purpose of the award was to honor someone for their lifetime achievement in poetry. This year the award went to Jack Mueller, who retired from an active poetry and museum-administration career in San Francisco and Texas to a hermitage near Ridgway, to write and inspire poets on the Western Slope. Lithic Press of Fruita has published two of his works, “Amor Fati” and “The Gate.” Lithic Press publisher Danny Rosen accepted the award for a sick Mueller.

EZRA POUND … One other notable event at Talking Gourds LitFest last month was what amounted to a graduatelevel seminar on that enigmatic figure in American poetry, Ezra Pound. A brilliant innovator who brought metaphor into the mainstream of English-language verse, supported and assisted many famous writers during his years in London and Paris, and yet became a Jew-hater and a traitor for his anti-Semitic, anti-American broadcasts supporting Mussolini in Italy during World War II … I asked Dr. David Rothman of Western State Colorado University in Gunnison to undertake the topic, and he did so admirably. Never underplaying Pound’s importance to American poetry and yet not shirking at exposing the hateful, delusional side of Pound’s character that led him into crimes against humanity. For Rothman, a Jew himself, this was not an easy task, intellectually or emotionally. For those of us who got to listen in, it may not have opened any big doors into the incomprehensible nature of much of Pound’s master work, the Cantos. But it gave a good summary of the lessons to be learned from this Jekyll/Hyde figure, who was both a major poet and a racist traitor.

IRIS GETTING MARRIED … Lots to ruminate on as my oldest child, Iris Willow (31) ties the knot with her long-time boyfriend, Bertrand Fan. She’s the first of my four kids to marry … It doesn’t seem all that long ago I was carrying her out of the Montrose Hospital, a dark Mohawk crowning her tiny pate. She ended up with blonde hair, which she now often dyes purple. With children, everything changes. Sometimes quickly … But Willow has been anything but quick about settling into a committed relationship. It’s taken a decade. Time well served, I can’t help thinking … Given my own impulsive nature, it’s inspiring to see Iris take her time leaping into marriage. So, color me happy.

Art Goodtimes is a five-term county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.


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