Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Understanding poetry & connecting it to art in one Minnesota community April 23, 2012

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Viewing art paired with poetry at Poet Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

“POETRY KIND OF SCARES ME….I’m kind of rough around the edges…I don’t always get poetry.”

If anything, I appreciate the honesty of Dale Lewis, a Hastings artist who Saturday evening spoke about the table-size chess board he created in response to 12-year-old Fiona Kiger’s poem, “Chess.”

Dale was among 52 artists and poets participating in Poet Artist Collaboration XI, a poetry-inspired art celebration organized by Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

Pieces in the chess set, comprised of wood, marble, granite, stainless steel and glass, created by sculptor Dale Lewis. He titled his art "This is your chess set on poetry" in response to the poetry of Fiona Kiger, a homeschooled student from Rochester who already has completed several chapters in a fantasy book.

Dale Lewis arrived at Crossings at Carnegie with a crocodile sculpture strapped to the top of his car.

The juried competition and Saturday gala reception and poetry reading/art talk drew a broad spectrum of artists and writers and guests that, I’m certain, included more than a few individuals who feel exactly as Dale does, sometimes somewhat intimidated by poetry. Count me, a poet, among them. I don’t always “get” poetry either.

But events such as the Zumbrota collaboration are helpful in understanding writing that can sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes, cause many to bypass poetry books and avoid poetry readings like the plague.

Listen to Dale: “I’m not as afraid of poets as I was a few weeks ago.”

Neither am I.

It did my writer’s persona good to mingle with other poets and with artists Saturday evening, to hear that no matter where we are in the stages of writing or in creating art, we are in this for the love of our respected crafts. That, I sensed, more than anything.

Peter C. Allen reads his poem while Sarah K. Nygaard of Zumbrota, who created the corresponding art, "Long Live the King," looks on. Artwork was projected onto a screen in the reading/ artist talks at the 90-year-old historic State Theatre just down the block from Crossings at Carnegie.

I met poet Peter C. Allen from Kenyon, who lives on a hobby farm and read his “Chicken Crossing,” slinging out a line (which I can’t repeat here) that caused the audience to erupt into raucous laughter.

Pine Island artist Bill Shain's airbrushed composition was inspired by Patrick L. Coleman's poem. Patrick's poem, Bill says, seems like a page out of a romance novel. He went out of his comfort zone, Bill says, to create "Power and Surrender." In his painting the woman has power over the man, her red dress like the cape of a matador and also resembling bowels.

I met Patrick L. Coleman of Minneapolis, who, during his introduction to “Frederica Reminisces” caused me to feel a bit inadequate when he mentioned that his poem initiated as an assignment in a Loft poetry class. But later, when I met Patrick and his wife, Donna, we instantly connected. He’s a retiree who decades ago turned down a journalism scholarship to the University of Minnesota to pursue a career as a bio chemist. Today he is working on a mystery novel and sometimes writing poetry.

Toni Stevens of Rochester painted "A Loving Pear," a watercolor inspired by the poem, "Traveler," by Elise Gregory of Ellsworth, Wisconsin. This is a close-up of that painting.

I listened to Betty J. Benner of Austin spin her story-poem of rhubarb and cucumbers left on her front steps during a reading of “This is just to say.” Betty acknowledged to me earlier that she had deviated from her usual serious poetry to pen a humorous piece. The audience responded with laughter.

Likewise, a St. Louis Park poet drew chuckles when she introduced herself as Sandy Beach followed by “Yes, that’s my real name.”

While many of the poems were infused with humor, several were immersed deep in emotions, reflecting on life and death. Others recalled memories. And others held a strong sense of place.

Janelle Hawkridge of Winnebago and her paired artist, Katherine E. Smither of Rochester, honored women in their collaboration on, the most unlikeliest of subjects, a 70-year-old’s spider/varicose-veined legs. Janelle’s poem, “A Work of Art,” particularly, resonates with me. She views those imperfect, aging legs as history, a life story, a work of art.

The poets read with passion. The artists spoke with passion. They connected. You could hear it in their words, see it in the locking of their eyes, a touch on the shoulder, a nod of the head.

In the end, poet Ronald J. Palmer of Bloomington, who wrote about the stages of life in “The Significance of Traffic Lights,” perhaps best summarizes the feelings of many attending the poetry reading/art talk in Zumbrota: “I think poetry and art should be together more often.”

That recommendation, Ronald, gets a green light from me.

Crossings at Carnegie, a privately-owned art center, is housed in a former Andrew Carnegie library built for $6,500 in 1908 in the Classical Revival style.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Poet Artist Collaboration XI, which closes April 26 at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

The poetry reading/artist talks were held in the State Theatre, built in 1921 for $38,000. Up until recently, movies were still shown in the theatre. In December 2011, the Zumbrota Area Arts Council purchased the theatre and is currently raising monies to renovate the building.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the historic State Theatre.

CLICK HERE to read an earlier blog post about my poem, “Her Treasure,” and artist Connie Ludwig who created “Pantry Jewels,” inspired by my writing.

FYI: Close-up photos of the two art pieces were taken with permission of the artists. Permission was not sought to reproduce the copyrighted poetry. Therefore it is not featured here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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22 Responses to “Understanding poetry & connecting it to art in one Minnesota community”

  1. hotlyspiced Says:

    I once went to a poetry recital and I struggled through it. I really was profoundly bored. I just couldn’t understand what was being read or being said and I worried about how long each poet would go on for because I would think it was coming to an end but then they would just keep going and it just all went completely over my head. I’m so glad you had a happier experience. Maybe I’ll try another one and see if this time, I find it more enjoyable xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I understand where you’re coming from, Charlie. I’ll be the first to admit that I did not understand every single poem in this collaboration. But it helped to have a printed program with statements from the artists and the poets and to hear them talk briefly about what they’d created. Having the art projected onto a screen added the visual element that we almost demand today as a society. So I’d say, yes, give a poetry reading a second chance.

  2. Bernie Says:

    I’m assuming that you got to read your poem as well. Were you nervous? I just really like this idea of pairing poetry and art. I wonder how many of the writers were surprised by the directon their poems took as art. A fun evening!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Of course I was nervous about reading. I always am when I have to get up in front of a crowd. But once up there, I was just fine. I practiced reading at home. Your question regarding how many writers were surprised by the direction their poems took as art is a good one. Any of you participating poets out there care to answer that question?

  3. Emily Says:

    Sounds like a fantastic event, Audrey. I’m always on the look out for events like these that are close to the western metro, so please keep us informed… you seem to be in the know. :)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It was a wonderful event, Emily, and you would have enjoyed it. Consider entering the competition next year, even if this is to the south and east of the metro. The websites of Lake Region Writers Network (Fergus Falls area) and the Southern Minnesota Poets Society (Mankato-based) are great sources for info about writing events, competitions, etc.

  4. Those pears are neat! And that crocodile is amazing!

  5. Dale Lewis Says:

    Audrey, Thanks for the nice write up, who knew anyone was listening?
    Dale

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Dale, be assured that I am always listening and was scribbling away on my note pad. I appreciated your honesty, and your art.

  6. Thomas Davis Says:

    What an absolutely, stunningly great idea! Leave it to Minnesota. We no longer live there, but remember…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m learning more and more just how many Minnesotans possess creative gifts. And opportunities like those offered at Crossings at Carnegie truly connect creative types, plus bring the art to the people. Thank you for visiting Minnesota the morning via my writing and photography.

  7. callibeth Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the evening! I was interested to see all the pairings of poets and artists, their responses to each other’s work, and the sheer diversity of people. Because I had a hard time finding my way out of Minneapolis, I was late and got there just in time for the readings. I was glad I got to see the actual artworks following the presentation; after seeing the slides during the presentation, the scale of some of the pieces surprised me.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Beth, it was a pleasure to meet you and learn more about your work as an artist. Next time you travel to Minnesota from Montana, I hope you’ll have time to explore our beautiful state.

  8. Toni Stevens Says:

    Thank you, Audrey, you created a stunning photo of my painting. You not only just got the colors right but the cropping made for a dramatic version. A good lesson on what creative cropping can do for a picture — something I need to keep in mind more often for future paintings.
    I, too, was impressed with the especially original interpretations the artists came up with this year from the very fine poems submitted; nearly every one was a rendering I would not have thought of myself. The wonderful readings by the poets was icing on the cake for a lovely event.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Toni. I really like the simplicity and golden tones of your painting and how you chose the two pears from Elise’s poem (which has an abundance of visuals).

      I can’t take credit for the colors in the photo I shot. I didn’t do a thing with color; it is what the camera saw. But the cropping, yes, I wanted to pull in tight and emphasize the richness of your art. I’m glad you liked the effect.

      I, too, found the interpretations quite interesting. This was such a lovely, lovely evening. Thank you, Crossings, for showcasing the talent of poets and artists.

  9. Toni Stevens Says:

    As for people who were impressed by the poetry reading (or have yet to be by one in the future): a lot of credit must be given to the juror who chose the 26 poems out of the 200 submitted. I will wager not all of them had the great imagery, or the accessible ideas and emotions we could relate to, that were contained in the fine ones selected. Also, the poets’ reading of their own works gave a depth of meaning to them that the words on the printed page alone does not always reveal.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well said, Toni. I expect reading and selecting the poems truly rated as a daunting task.

      I am only beginning to understand the importance of reading poetry to an audience and hearing poetry as an audience member. I agree with you that so much more comes out once a poem is read to aloud.

      I’m a novice at poetry readings. I’ve been invited to participate in other poetry readings through-out Minnesota. But, because of distance, have not been able to attend. I hope art/poetry collaborations continue to grow, especially in southern Minnesota. Crossings could provide a model for any arts organization looking to pull together such an event.

  10. Sartenada Says:

    Wow. I love this kind of posts. It differs so much from those I meet in blogs. The first photo is my favorite one.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, again. I don’t intentionally strive to stand out. I simply write and photograph that which I enjoy and which is a part of my life. And if that distinguishes my work from other bloggers, well then I suppose that’s a very good thing.

  11. Carolyn Bizien Says:

    Thank you for honoring these artists. I love Peter Allen’s work. He comes to our Rural America Writers’ Center, every third Wednesday in Plainview’s Jon Hassler Theater at 7:00 p.m.. You should visit!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That sounds inviting and thank you for the invitation. Peter and I are doing a presentation on poetry together here in Faribault in December.


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