Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Karen Volkman - Chicago, IL

Karen, a young and brilliant nomadic poet, buzzes me into her apartment in Ukranian Village, a close-knit urban neighborhood just a little north and west of downtown. She tells me she's been here for about six months after more than a year in Hyde Park, a much different part of the city. She tells me Hyde Park is an enclave unto itself, while her new neighborhood is tied to the city in a real way. It's clear which she prefers.

We go up a set of narrow stairs to her apartment. Karen's place is done up grad-school-funky, books on plain wood shelves, a futon, and the majestic $23 desk she bought years ago in New York. It all goes with her in some combination when she moves on, and she's been a lot of places since leaving her childhood home of Florida: Syracuse NY, Houston TX, Boston MA, New York City, Tuscaloosa AL, and Pittsburgh PA.

And in a few months she's on the move again, on to Missoula MT where she'll teach in their MFA program starting in August. It's a terrific job, and they're getting a terrific poet, one with two highly lauded books - and better yet - an adventurous and passionate voice. Her work in her second book, Spar, is surprising and intense. The prose poems are riveting, "relentless" in the words of one reviewer, and a reader can't help but go through them unblinking and silent.

Karen sits on the futon and I face her in a straight backed chair. We run through some of her geographical moves. She laughs easily and often as she talks. She remembers the stunning temperature shift of moving to Syracuse, where suddenly she saw winter, spring, and fall, after two decades of endless Florida summer.

After we talk, I rave on a bit about Missoula, a town my wife and I spent some time in last year, and a place we love. We stand on the street in front of her apartment shooting some photos and it occurs to Karen that she's only got 4 months left in Chicago, a city she's come to love. She gives a sort of wistful look up and down the block, but after we say goodbye she goes inside, up the stairs.