Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gaining confidence as a poet October 19, 2011

I THINK ALL WRITERS, if we’re honest with ourselves, face insecurities about writing.

Can we write? Is our writing “good enough” to publish? Will anyone read, or even care about, what we write?

I’ve long overcome any issues I faced about journalism style writing. I’m confident in my abilities to pull together a good feature story or another journalistic piece given my educational background in mass communications and my years of experience in journalism. And with several years of blogging to my credit, I’m also confident in that writing style.

It’s poetry which has challenged my confidence. Although I’ve written poetry off and on since high school—which stretches back nearly four decades—I’ve never written much poetry, at least not enough to consider myself a true poet. Until now.

Finally, this year, with the publication of two poems in two Minnesota literary journals and winning the spring Roadside Poetry contest, I’m comfortable adding “poet” to my writing credentials.

Getting to the point of feeling comfortable with the term “poet” really began 11 years ago with publication of a poem in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 2. I considered that a stroke of good fortune. But when four more poems published in the next two volumes, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could write poetry. After all, I had competed against other writers to get into the Poetic Strokes anthologies.

Then I had a poem accepted for publication in The Lutheran Digest.

Next, I earned an honorable mention for my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” published last year in The Talking Stick, Forgotten Roads, Volume 19.

Finally, this year, I had an official poet epiphany when I entered three poetry competitions and was subsequently published on Roadside Poetry billboards, in The Talking Stick, Black & White, Volume 20 and Lake Region Review.

Although I don’t know how many poets I competed against in Roadside Poetry, I do have the numbers for the two literary journals. The Talking Stick this year published 140 pieces of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction from 99 writers, me being one of them with my poem, “Abandoned Barn,” and my creative nonfiction, “Welcome Home.” That’s out of 326 submissions from 171 writers.

Look at the list of writers, and you may recognize a few names like Marge Barrett, Tim J. Brennan, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Jerry Mevissen, Candace Simar…

It’s quite a process to get into The Talking Stick with five members of The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc reading all of the entries and then an editorial board meeting to vote and discuss. The top four to seven favorites in each category are then forwarded to celebrity judges—this year Kris Bigalk, Kevin Kling and Alison McGhee—to choose first and second place winners in each division.

As for Lake Region Review, the process of selecting the works for publication is equally as rigorous. Co-editors Mark Vinz—author, professor emeritus of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead and first coordinator of MSUM’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing—and Athena Kildegaard—author and lecturer at the University of Minnesota Morris—worked with a staff of 10. They read more than 200 submissions before narrowing the field to 27 established and emerging writers.

I’m one of those 27.

And so is Leif Enger, author of the 2001 New York Times best-seller Peace Like a River, which happens to be a favorite book of mine. It’s nice to be in the company of someone who, like me, writes with a strong sense of place.

Most of my poetry connects to the southwestern Minnesota prairie, where I grew up on a dairy and crop farm. Specifically, the barn on the home place inspired my two distinct barn poems which published in The Talking Stick and Lake Region Review.

I don’t know what moved the editors of either publication to select my poems for inclusion in their literary journals. But I did incorporate lines such as “hot cow pee splattering into her gutters” and “rusty hinges creaking like aged bones.”

According to Co-editor Kildegaard at Lake Region Review, editors chose pieces that were “fresh, creative, lively, interesting. We were looking for writing that has something new to say.”

Apparently I had something new to say about the old barn.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals.

WRITERS FEATURED in the recently-published 212-page The Talking Stick, Black & White, Volume 20, are from, or have a strong connection to, Minnesota. Those published in the 138-page debut of Lake Region Review live primarily in west central Minnesota. Eight writers have been published in both collections.

The cover of Lake Region Review is a detail of an original landscape painting, “Christina Lake: View from Seven Sisters,” by American impressionist painter Stephen Henning of Otter Tail County.

IF YOU’RE A WRITER, specifically of poetry, did you/do you struggle with confidence issues? At what point did you/will you call yourself a poet?

FYI: For more information or to purchase copies of either literary journal featured here, click on the appropriate link below:

www.lakeregionreview.net

www.thetalkingstick.com

And click here for more information about Roadside Poetry.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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