Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Stone & Sky October 27, 2011

LARRY GAVIN once lived in Belview.

So, you’re likely thinking, “What does that matter and who is Larry Gavin and where the heck is Belview?”

Well, dear readers, especially readers of poetry, Larry Gavin is a poet. He moved to Belview, a southwestern Minnesota prairie town of 375, to study writing with great writers like Howard Mohr, Leo Dangel, Fred Manfred, Joe and Nancy Paddock, Phil Dacey, Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Don Olsen and many others. Do you recognize some of those names? You should.

I’m not trying to be uppity here. But Bly, who was born in Madison (Minnesota, not Wisconsin) and still lives in the western part of our state, is one of Minnesota’s most distinguished poets. Holm, a well-known essayist, author and poet, wrote numerous books, including Boxelder Bug Variations. Up until his death, he lived in his prairie hometown of Minneota (Minnesota without the “s”), where residents celebrate Boxelder Bug Days. Howard Mohr penned How to Talk Minnesotan, a must-read for every transplant to our state.

Driving through the southwestern Minnesota prairie near Morgan, about 25 miles from Belview.

Larry Gavin learned from these great writers of the prairie, where he lived for 15 years many years ago. Gavin made his home in Belview, just off State Highway 19 and some 10 miles or so from my hometown of Vesta. He served as the town’s mayor for two terms and taught English at Redwood Valley High School, back then Redwood Falls High School.

It is that connection to my home area and our shared love of language and writing and of the prairie that has connected me to Gavin, who today lives in Faribault and teaches English at Faribault High School. At least one of my daughters, if not both, has been taught by him.

We both won Roadside Poetry competitions–Gavin the first in 2008 and me, this past spring–and had our four-line poems showcased on billboards in Fergus Falls.

I once asked Gavin to read one of my poems at a local author event. Gavin is meant to read poetry. He has the kind of rich, deep voice from which words flow with the rhythm and inflection of someone who clearly loves language.

Larry Gavin during an author event at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.

Gavin is also meant to write poetry. And he’s written enough to fill three slim books—Necessities, Least Resistance and his just-released Stone & Sky. All have been published by Red Dragonfly Press, a noted not-for-profit literary press based in Red Wing.

When I read Gavin’s poetry, I can sense his deep connection to the land and to nature, shaped, I would like to think, partially by his years on the prairie. When you live on the stark prairie, where the land stretches flat and far and where the sky dwarfs all else and where the wind blows nearly unceasing, you can’t help but write with a strong sense of place and with detail. I see that in Gavin’s poetry.

In his newest book, Stone & Sky, I read of woods and firewood, of raccoon tracks and a walk along a deserted street. Of stone and sky and snakes. I recognize places from here, in Faribault. I recognize, too, prairie-influenced writing.

I don’t pretend to understand every poem in Gavin’s latest collection. But poetry is always open to interpretation and that which I may not find meaningful today I may come to understand at a later time.

All that said, I posed a series of questions to Gavin, who has written more than poetry. For fifteen years he worked as a field editor for Midwest Fly Fishing magazine, taught at the magazine’s school in Montana in the summer and helped with the Chicago and Minneapolis fly fishing expos each spring. He currently writes for Outdoor News.

My questions to him, however, specifically address his poetry writing. I found his answers insightful and, at times, surprising.

Q:  How long have you been writing poetry, why, and when did you consider yourself a poet?

A:  I started writing poetry in sixth grade and that’s when I started considering myself a poet. I’ve written ever since.

Q: What inspires you and/or influences your poetry?

A:  Work inspires me. Everyday I get up and write something. I don’t miss a day. Inspiration has very little to do with it for me. I like working out ideas and problems in writing each day.

Q:  How would you define your poetry style and content?

A:  I consider myself an inheritor of the great romantic tradition of poetry. That, in my mind, goes from Wordsworth to Yeats and Hopkins to Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens, to Gary Snyder and others. The natural world as reflected and defined by human thought and feelings. The great gift we give to the world is our thoughts and feelings about big issues: transcendence, hope, justice, peace, and love.

Q:  This is your third collection of poetry issued by Red Dragonfly Press. What was the process to getting published by this well-respected Minnesota press?

A:  Scott King is the publisher and I submit a manuscript to him. He responds either yes or no and if he accepts it the manuscript gets in line to be published. The most recent book took about four years to appear. Publication is based on press funding and a variety of other factors. I’m patient and not particularly ambitious.

Q:  Tell me about the content and theme in your first two collections, Necessities and Least Resistance.

A:  They are very different from one another. The poems deal with the natural world as seen through simple objects and ideas. They attempt to make sense of complex subjects like love and our interaction with nature in a pure form of language, and the tools poetry gives us like meter and rhyme. The poems are an explication of the world in the context of the universal individual.

Q:  Stone & Sky just released. It’s an interesting title. How does the title tie in with the content? What is the common thread running through the poems in this collection?

A:  Stone & Sky stretches the boundaries of what is real. It looks at the world in a more magical way. Not magical as fabricated but more magical as mystical – as another way of being real. The language, the images, and the poems stretch the boundaries of what is real and hopefully get at reality in a new way. They are still anchored in the natural world, still anchored in the local, but the themes, like the title, are basic, elemental.

Q:  If you were to select your favorite poem in Stone & Sky, which would it be and why? How about a favorite line?

A:  Actually they are all favorites right now. And you have to remember, I’m on to new things after four years.

Q:  Your love of nature shines in your writing. So does your love of language. How do you combine the two into poetry that sings with descriptive lines? How do you know when you’ve “nailed it,” when you have a poem exactly where you want it?

A:  The old elements of poetry combined in new ways. Rhyme, meter, repetition – give poems life. Everything is a work in progress; they’re never really finished.

Q:  Are you working on another collection? Or are you simply just always writing poetry?

A:  My next collection is called The Initiation of Praise and I’ll start sending it out soon. I also have a selected works which focuses just on outdoor poems. I’m also working on some short stories, and I write an article each week as well.

READERS, Stone & Sky is available from Red Dragonfly Press at  www.reddragonflypress.org and also at Monkey See Monkey Read (in person or through internet sales), an independent bookstore at 425 Division Street, Northfield. Eventually, Stone & Sky will also be available through Amazon. Cover cost is $10.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo and book cover courtesy of Larry Gavin

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8 Responses to “Stone & Sky”

  1. Tom & DeLores Johnson Says:

    Since I live in Belview I certainly remember Larry Gavin. He was a good Mayor.
    After he left here I have always wondered where he and his family went to.
    It was good to see the article about him. I knew he was into writing poetry. I will buy his book.

    DeLores

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I think Larry will be pleased to hear that he is fondly remembered.

      Perhaps he could return to Belview for a book signing during Old SOD Day or for one of your small-town Saturday night events. And maybe Don at Rainbow Antiques could carry copies of Larry’s poetry collections.

  2. Virgil Says:

    Very interesting. I know Larry and will have to get over to Northfield to get the book.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      With your appreciation for the land and nature, I think you would enjoy Larry’s poetry, Virgil.

  3. Jim Smith Says:

    WOW! What a post. I awake in the middle of the night and read such an insightful and wonderful story. Now I will try to go back to sleep with your story running through my thoughts.
    And you were prominently featured in our local newspaper. The article described your published writing and mentioned Minnesota Prarie Roots.
    Thank you for this blog I so enjoy

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      A double thank you, Jim. Larry Gavin provided some insightful answers to my questions about his poetry. It’s always interesting for me, as a writer, to learn from other writers. I’m glad this also interested you.

      As for the newspaper article, yes, that was nice and thank you for noticing and commenting on that also. Lake Region Review and The Talking Stick are outstanding collections of writing by Minnesotans and I would encourage you and other readers to go online and order copies.

  4. Lori Ryer Says:

    Hi Audrey,
    How fun to see what Larry has been up to. I didn’t realize that he was a published author. Larry and his family have been gone for a number of years but are remembered fondly.
    I will definitely be contacting him to invite them back for our 125th Anniversary celebration in Sept. 2012.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That would be splendid, Lori, to have Larry back in Belview. If you need his contact info, e-mail me privately and I’ll pass it along.


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