Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The evolution of poetry January 15, 2013

EXCEPT FOR THE POETRY of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, the poetry I studied in my youth seemed mostly complicated and unapproachable.

I expect you may have felt the same about any poetry you read, studied and critiqued as part of a high school and/or college English class. You could not wait to get through the required course and put poetry behind you.

Today, though, poetry has become much more approachable, even understandable. Would you agree?

I write poetry. Seventeen of my poems have been published in places ranging from the pages of a newspaper, magazine and anthologies to billboards. Yes, billboards. Recently, the Roadside Poetry Project, which began in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, in 2008 and featured seasonally-changing poetry billboards, ended.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Venues like this expose poetry to the masses in an unassuming and everyday way. When a poem is limited to four lines, a maximum of 20 characters per line, every word, every letter, counts and thus the poem is penned with great care. Take my poem, winner in the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition:

Cold earth warmed
by the budding sun
sprouts the seeds
of vernal equinox.

Sidewalk poetry, which graces Minnesota sidewalks in St. Paul, Mankato, Northfield and St. Cloud, also holds similar word limitations and a certain everyday appeal. Those who long ago dismissed poetry for its complexity and arrogance may develop a renewed interest in verse upon reading sidewalk poetry. That would be my hope.

A poem by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau imprinted  in the sidewalk at Riverfront Park, Mankato, as part of the WordWalk project.

A poem by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau imprinted in the sidewalk at Riverfront Park, Mankato, as part of the WordWalk project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve viewed some of the sidewalk poems in Mankato (WordWalk) and Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry). While these poems may be limited in words, they certainly are not limited in depth. Sometimes less is more. Writing a short poem with word limitations can be more of a challenge than penning a lengthy poem. Ask any poet.

A poem by Patrick Ganey is stamped into the sidewalk near the Northfield Public Library. It reads: still winter thaw  tall pines bend, grey sky drops rain  even at midday  a train whistle sounds lonely

A poem by Patrick Ganey is stamped into the sidewalk near the Northfield Public Library. It reads: still winter thaw/ tall pines bend, grey sky drops/ rain even at midday/ a train whistle sounds lonely. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This whole concept of stamping poems into concrete, putting poetry out there to the public, appeals to me as a truly creative way to bring verse to the people, to those who might not pick up a poetry book.

Even more creative is Motionpoems, a nonprofit poetry film initiative developed under the guidance of Twin Cities animator/producer Angella Kassube and St. Paul poet Todd Boss. The pair co-founded Motionpoems in 2009. The process “turns contemporary poems into (animated) short films.”

Among my favorite Motionpoems is an adaptation of Boss’ poem titled “The God of Our Farm Had Blades,” a poem about a windmill. While some would argue that visuals detract from the words and the reader’s interpretation of a poem, I would argue that visuals and listening to verse read aloud enhance the poetry experience.

Northern Community Radio, based in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, recently embraced poetry via “The Beat,” which each weekday features a poem by a poet with a Minnesota connection. How lovely is that to listen to a poem read on the air?

For those who still prefer the old-fashioned book-in-hand method of reading poetry, as I also enjoy, plenty of excellent collections exist out there, including Boss’ two books, Yellowrocket and Pitch.

Minnetonka poet Carol Allis also recently published a particularly understandable poetry collection appropriately titled Poems for Ordinary People. Her no-frills style of writing and the content of her verse allow readers to easily connect with her words.

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by  Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by Charles Beck

I can’t end this post without recommending two outstanding Minnesota-based collections of regional writing (including poetry) in the long-standing The Talking Stick published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc and Lake Region Review, in its second year of publication by the Lake Region Writers Network. Both feature a diversity of fine, fine regional writing. (And just to clarify, my work has been published in both.)

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Tell me how you experience, or don’t experience, poetry. Do you write, edit, listen to, read poetry?

What are your thoughts on creative poetry venues like billboards, sidewalks and film?

What are your thoughts on poetry in general?

Let’s talk poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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