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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