Poet Karen McKinnon was a Poet-in-the-Schools for the National Endowment for the Arts and Poet-in-Residence at the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. Karen earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of New Mexico, where she taught creative writing through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In 2016, she endowed the University of New Mexico Foundation with annual poetry awards for undergraduate students, administered by the English Department. A voracious reader, Karen was always surrounded by the many books she was reading simultaneously, and she would often purposefully moderate the pace at which she read in order to savor the words and not finish too quickly.
Karen was a poet of significant acclaim, having published five books of poetry. Her most recent book, By Heart, was published in 2018 and was dedicated to her grandchildren. David Johnson, Emeritus Professor of UNM, memorably noted that there was “nothing coy or tentative” about the poems in By Heart, observing that the individual poems produced “a kind of joy in creating a journey through the magic of metaphor and the consolation of nature and memory.”
By Heart features Karen’s most famous poem, “Moving My Mother,” which chronicles her mother’s heartbreaking descent into the dehumanizing agony of Alzheimer’s. This poem has struck such a universal chord that the New Mexico Philharmonic, which Karen loved and treasured, decided to honor her by creating an original symphonic work to this poem. The resultant work, Songs from By Heart, also features a symphonic movement set to another of Karen’s poems about her mother, “To Each Her Own.” The world-premiere performance of Songs from By Heart is currently scheduled for May 2022, and her family is absolutely certain that she will be watching from above with ineffable joy. λ