Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mankato’s newest public art project: “Poetry Walk and Ride” August 5, 2013

MANKATO HAS LAUNCHED its newest form of public art—poetry posted on signs in parks and along recreational trails.

My artsy effort to illustrate this post.

A scene I created to illustrate the poetry project.

The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride is designed “to inspire and encourage poets of all ages, to provide public art in our communities and to encourage exercise,” says Yvonne Cariveau who suggested the project to the Southern Minnesota Poets Society of which she is a member.

Serving on the committee for the Mankato and North Mankato CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, an exhibit of annual rotating outdoor sculptures, Cariveau envisioned a similar concept for poetry.

The Poets Society embraced the idea (member Susan Stevens Chambers organized a contest) and, with support from the cities of Mankato and North Mankato and numerous businesses, the project took off.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems, “The Thrill of Vertical.”

Today 34 poetry signs are up, mostly in Mankato, with a few in North Mankato, for reading and listening. Yes, listening. Poets recorded their poems, which can be accessed via phone, dialing (507) 403-4038 or scanning a QR code.

Me, next to my "Off to Mankato to 'get and education'" poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Me, next to my “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education'” poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Two of the 34 poems, 27 selected in a competitive process, are mine.

"Off to Mankato to 'get and education'", posted near Glenwood Gardens, in the background in this photo.

The setting in which one of my poems is posted near Glenwood Gardens.

You’ll find “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” near Glenwood Gardens close to the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Division Street. The poem was inspired by my arrival in the autumn of 1974 as a freshman at Bethany Lutheran College, located not all that far from the posted poem.

"The Thrill of Vertical," located next to Hiniker Pond.

“The Thrill of Vertical,” next to Hiniker Pond.

My second poem, placed at Hiniker Pond Park in what seems like North Mankato but is really Mankato, also was prompted by my college year experiences. In “The Thrill of Vertical,” I write about zipping down the curving and hilly streets of Mankato on my 10-speed bike. Interestingly, the street I remembered in writing this poem is where “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” is posted along a recreational trail. Back in the 70s, there was no such trail.

Reflecting on that hurtling ride, I can’t help but think how stupid I was to fly at such speeds, back hunched, hands gripping racing handlebars, no helmet and two narrow bicycle wheels separating me from unforgiving pavement.

Today that crazy college kid abandon is forever captured in words, now published for all to see and recorded for all to hear. Until next June, when the 2013 poetry signs will come down and new ones will be erected.

Likewise, the other published writers—all of whom had to live within a 50-mile radius of Mankato, who range in age from seven to over 70 and are anywhere from new poets to recognized published poets—wrote about topics such as Mankato history, the river, Fudgsicles, family, mentors and more.

The challenge in writing the poems, for me anyway, came in the restrictions of 40 characters or less per line in a poem limited to 18 lines. It is a good exercise for any poet, to write within such confines, to value every letter, every space, every word.

One hundred twenty poems, submitted in specified age categories for those in third to 12th grades and then in adult divisions of humorous and serious, were anonymously judged. Doris Stengel, past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, considered the adult entries while Peter Stein, League of Minnesota Poets youth chairperson, judged the youth poems. It is always rewarding as a poet to know that your work was selected on the basis of merit and quality rather than by name recognition.

The poems are posted in locations like this, near the shelter house in Hiniker Pond Park. the unobtrusive signs are about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

The poems are posted in locations like this, along a trail near the shelter house in Hiniker Pond Park. The unobtrusive signs are about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

In addition to the 27 winning poems, seven poems from notable Mankato area poets are among those posted.

Reaction to the poems thus far has been enthusiastic, says project initiator Cariveau, herself a poet. Her humorous poem, “Dreams of Coldstone,” was among those selected.

“People,” says Cariveau, “love the poems and are surprised by them.”

As for my reaction, I appreciate a project that makes poetry accessible. Those who may not otherwise read poetry likely will in an outdoor setting. Short poems. Easily read or heard. Non-intimidating. This is public word art at its best.

FYI: To read a list of the winning poets and the titles of their poems, click here.

For a map showing the locations of the posted poems, click here.

To learn about the Southern Minnesota Poets Society, click here.

You can hear me read my poems by calling (507) 403-4038 and then punching in 427 for “The Thrill of Vertical” and 416 for “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’”.

Information on the 2014 Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride contest will be posted early next year on the SMPS website.

A chapbook of this year’s poems will also be published and will be available for purchase via the SMPS website and perhaps at other locations in Mankato.

P.S. I did not showcase other poems here in photos because I was unaware of their locations when I was in Mankato to photograph mine.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


17 Responses to “Mankato’s newest public art project: “Poetry Walk and Ride””

  1. Dawn mosser Says:

    That sounds cool. We will have to check it out.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It is a really great idea, to put poetry out there to the public in this way. I hope more communities embrace this concept.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Such a neat idea!! Love it. And you know I will be calling that number. I also need to print that listing out so maybe a trip to Mankato is in order to “hear” and see them all. Thanks for the info and CONGRATULATIONS! Another great thing to add to your ever growing resume of accomplishments. Well done!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Beth Ann. Mankato also has poetry imprinted upon sidewalks in the “Old Town” area of the city.

      Have you read the Betsy-Tacy children’s book series by Maud Hart Lovelace? If so, you can visit the Betsy and Tacy houses in Mankato. You could easily spend the day there.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Congrats to you, Friend!! Love the “Vertical” poem. Ahhhh, I remember those care-free, invincible, immortal days….LOL! A miracle we all survived them! Fab post (on this beautifully rainy Monday)…..hugs…….

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Truly a miracle would be right. The sun is shining here now, so perhaps it’s aimed toward your corner of Minnesota.

  4. Wow! Congratulations on being part of such a wonderful community poetry exhibition! Fun, accessible poetry that surprises people is a great way to shake up whatever ideas people already have about the definition of poetry. Putting poetry outside also might pull a few poets away from their desks and books and get them moving for a few minutes!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Kathleen. I should take perhaps that last part of your comment to heart personally.

  5. Jackie Says:

    Just listened to your poem….now I can put a voice to your face. Loved your poem Audrey, this is such a neat idea, congrats on having your poems chosen for this exhibit, what an honor!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for listening, Jackie. I am very excited about being a part of this inaugural poetry project in Mankato.

      And I never thought of that, putting a voice to my face. So…readers, if you want to hear my voice, dial that number.

  6. dweinberg415 Says:

    I love love love this idea!

  7. Sue Ready Says:

    Quite impressive being included in the poetry public art line-up

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Sue. You know as a poet how rewarding it is to be part of any poetry project. Readers, Sue is involved with the Northwoods Art & Book Festival set for 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, August 17, in Hackensack. The fest includes poetry readings, writers selling their books, and craft and food vendors. Learn more at this website: http://www.northwoodsartscouncil.org/

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