Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts on writing a winning poem August 19, 2013

EVERY TIME I PEN a poem, I wonder, will it inspire, touch, resonate with the reader? Is my poem worthy to be seen by others? Is the poem truly finished, ready to reveal? Or should I hold on to it longer, refine it, anguish over whether I’ve chosen the right word, the right phrase?

At some point I must tell myself, “You’re done.” I must make that leap of faith, overcome those self doubts and share what I’ve written.

For me that usually comes in entering a poetry competition. Even if I’m confident I’ve written a decent poem, it’s still scary to put yourself out there. But I have and I’ve discovered, in the process, that I can write poetry.

My award.

My most recent award. You can click on the “About” section of my blog to see the other honors I’ve garnered for my poetry. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

That was reaffirmed for me again this past Saturday when my poem, “Lilacs,” was selected as one of six Works of Merit in the sixth annual Poetry Recognition Event during the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

I’m in the company of other Minnesota poets, Louise Bottrell, Marlys Guimaraes, Miriam Kagol, Joanne Moren and Candace Simar, chosen by a poetry committee for the merit honor.

Lilac, close-up

Sweet lilacs.

As I often do, I turned to my past, to my memories of growing up on a southwestern Minnesota farm, to write “Lilacs.” I remembered the annual gathering of lilacs from the bush on my Uncle Mike’s farm, the next field over. And I connected that memory to today:


Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

To read poems by two of the other merit winners, click here to reach the website of Poetry Committee Chair Sue Ready, herself a poet. The winning poems will also be published in Hackensack area newspapers.

I am grateful to those like Sue and others and to the Northwoods Arts Council, which sponsors events like that in Hackensack. Without these opportunities, I might still be that poet wondering if my poetry rates as good enough for anyone to read other than me.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “Thoughts on writing a winning poem”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I love your poem…..it is so vivid and fragrant. I can see and smell and visualize everything about the lilacs and those who gather them. Lovely as always.

  2. cecilia Says:

    beautiful poem, so deeply emotional and loving. Congratulations, it is hard to put your work out there like that. You have a very lively and healthy community around you.. c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, C. I appreciate your thoughts on my poem. Yes, Minnesota has a strong arts community, both in the visual and literary arts.

      Readers, if you have not checked out C’s blog, The Kitchens Garden, do. She is one talented writer and I promise, once you read one of her posts, you will become a regular reader. She’s that good.

  3. Sue Says:

    Your approach to writing about this poetry event was terrific with your poetic style and insight. The lilac pictures were breathtaking and I long for their late spring showing. Northwoods Art and Book Festival Poetry Recognition Event was honored to have your poem submissions.
    Congratulations on your poetry win.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you so much, Sue. I do appreciate all you and the Northwoods Art & Book Festival Poetry Committee did to make this event happen and to honor participating poets.

  4. Beautiful Poem – Congrats!!! Thanks so much for sharing – Happy Monday:)

  5. Jackie Says:

    A “merit” well deserved, love this poem Audrey especially the ending… such a sweet man that Randy!

  6. Beth Johanneck Says:

    Nicely done, my friend.

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    Congratulations, Audrey, on all the success you’re having with your poetry. Very well deserved. I so admire you for being able to write poetry – it’s something I was never, ever very good at despite having a great-uncle who was quite a famous Australian poet xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Charlie. Writing poetry certainly isn’t for every writer. I like to think that the prairie, where I grew up, had a deep influence on me as a poet. In a landscape that seemingly untainted, one notices the details. And I think it is the details which make a poem, whether in descriptions or emotions or…

      How exciting that you had a great uncle who was a famous Australian poet.

  8. Ted Aaberg Says:

    Thankyou Audrey so much for sharing your wonderful poem! It is just what I need on a cold winter day to remind me spring is not all that far away. I liked so much the imagery of the jack knife and Red Wing boots as well as the lilacs on the formica table. Our lilac bushes in Scarville, IA, two miles from the MN border surrounded our outhouse, and looked so nice against the white painted exterior. As a boy I spent hours underneath them playing with my trucks and shovels, and admiring their canopy of color. It was a bit of paradise. I look forward to seeing the art work that comes forth from your lilacs.

    • You are most welcome, Ted. I’m always happy to transport readers away from this long winter. And I know you’ve had a lengthy one in MA.

      Planting lilac bushes around outhouses seems to have been common, although there were none around the outhouse on the farm where I grew up. Thank you for sharing your memories of playing under the lilacs. I can picture you there with your Tonka (?) equipment.

      • Ted Aaberg Says:

        Yes, it was a steel Tonka truck, red, very rugged and dented, from its days of work. The filtered light under the purple bushes was remarkable, a perfect environment to imagine and dream about days ahead. The blue sky peeked through.

        “Great Sweeps of lilacs,” what a grand image. It is so nice to hear it. I really need the sights of bounty, of plenty, in these times of cut-back, downsizing, and doing with out. Your words let me know their are great blessings in our creation, so important to keep in mind, and really view. “Great Sweeps of Lilacs” nudged me to not only look, but to see. Your ancestors were not wealthy, but they knew joy and beauty…and “GSOL” has brought that vintage to me too.

      • Ted, what a thoughtfully crafted comment. Have you ever written poetry? Based on this comment, you obviously possess the talent to do so.

        Yes, this is one mighty fine and beautiful world our Lord created for us.

        And, yes, my ancestors knew joy and beauty. I expect yours did also.

  9. Marilyn Says:

    What a lovely, lovely poem. When the lilacs are in bloom there always seem to be enough for everyone to cut ‘great sweeps.’ My Mom’s lilacs were at least third generation (Grandma, Great-grandma), and many in our area had taken cuttings from my Grandma’s bushes. I think their evocative delight inspires lilac owners to an outsized generosity in the gifting of flowers and cuttings.

  10. […] is a link to Audrey’s poem: here and this was the accompanying […]

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