Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Establishing my voice: Writing rooted in rural Minnesota May 7, 2014

I ARRIVED HOME on a recent Saturday afternoon to the answering machine blinking.

When I reached Sharon Harris of the northern Minnesota based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc a few moments later, I was pleased to hear her news. I’d placed second, she said, in the poetry division of The Talking Stick 23 competition with my poem, “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn.”

Such news could not have come at a better time. Just the day prior, my mother had entered a nursing home. I needed to hear something positive.

TS 19 in which my poem, "Hit-and-Run," received honorable mention.

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

Getting work accepted into this well-respected literary journal is always an honor. This marks my fifth year in the book in six years of submitting. Twice I’ve earned honorable mentions, for my poem “Hit-and-Run” and for my short story, “The Final Chapter.”

And now this year, I bumped up a spot to get that second place award. Another poem, “The Promised Land,” and a short story, “Eggs and Bread,” will also publish in volume 23.

The Talking Stick editorial team read and considered more than 300 submissions (of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction) before forwarding their top picks in each of the three divisions to selected “celebrity” judges. Poet Margaret Hasse judged this year’s poetry.

Finishing second, I not only receive a $100 cash prize, but also Hasse’s comments on “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn.” She writes:

I loved how you turned a humdrum occasion of bidding on antiques in an old barn into a closely observed and luminous occasion. The writer John Ciiardi once wrote that close and careful observation can “leak a ghost.” The surprise of your poem was the elevation of a commercial or material enterprise into a spiritual gathering—with a fellowship, liturgy, reverent respect, and people who commune. The ending—visual and concrete—was just right. The poet Franklin Brainerd wrote a poem something to the effect, “in a world of crystal goblets, I come with my paper cup.” There’s something both unpretentious and appealing about “sipping steaming black coffee from Styrofoam cups.”

Hasse gets it. She totally understands my poem, how each well-crafted line defines, as she says, a “spiritual gathering” in a small town auction barn.

If I could share my auction poem with you today, I would. But I’ve signed a contract not to do so for a year.

Suffice to say, this poem, like nearly every other poem I’ve written and/or had published, is rooted in my rural memories, my connection to the land and/or my appreciation for rural Minnesota.

Turek's Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been "serving Minnesota since 1958." Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

Turek’s Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been “serving Minnesota since 1958.” Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

Specifically, a photograph I took this past winter of a Montgomery, Minnesota, auction barn prompted the idea for this winning poem. I also drew on my experiences attending auctions, albeit not in recent years, to pen the 12 lines of verse.

Likewise, “Lilacs,” a poem I will read this coming Saturday evening, May 10, during the Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII reception at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota, was inspired by my rural rooted memories. (Click here to learn more about that poet-artist collab.)

When I consider my poetry, I clearly hear the rural voice in my words. There’s nothing pretentious about me. I remain, as I always have been, rooted to the land in my writing.

FYI: The Talking Stick 23 publishes late this summer with a book release party set for Saturday, September 13, in the Park Rapids area. To purchase past volumes of the anthology, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling