Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My prize winning poetry: rooted in rural Minnesota September 19, 2014

LAST SATURDAY I SHOULD HAVE BEEN in northern Minnesota reading my poem, “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn,” at a book release party.

Should have been mingling with other writers at Blueberry Pines, between Park Rapids and Menahga, at lunch, during a writer’s workshop and during readings from The Talking Stick Volume 23, Symmetry.

But, instead, I was cleaning my mom’s house in preparation for putting it on the market. It’s a matter of priorities and setting aside one’s own desires to do what must be done.

While others were enjoying the fellowship of many fine Minnesota writers, I was scrubbing walls and woodwork and floors and holding back tears.

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. Photographing this auction barn last winter inspired my poem.

Oh, yes, I would much rather have been in the Minnesota northwoods reading my prize winning poem. Margaret Hasse, who’s published four collections of poetry, awarded “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn” second place, selected above 89 other poems for that honor.

She wrote:

“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.”

TS 23


I can’t publish the actual poem here. To read it, you’ll need to order a copy of The Talking Stick 23, Symmetry. I’d highly recommend doing so. This anthology features 91 poems, 23 pieces of creative nonfiction and 15 works of fiction from some outstanding Minnesota writers or writers with a strong connection to our state.

The Talking Stick, published annually by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, holds a strong reputation, evidenced by the more than 300 submissions from 159 writers. Another one of my poems, “The Promised Land,” and a short story, “Eggs and Bread,” also published in this volume.

Last year I earned honorable mention for my short story, “The Final Chapter.” And before that, my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” also garnered honorable mention.

Such awards reaffirm one’s skills as a writer.

Cornfields snuggle up to one side of Vista's church yard. It's the most beautiful of settings.

Cornfields snuggle up to Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And recently, also in northern Minnesota, my poem, “Hope of a Farmer,” was selected as a Work of Merit by judges at the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack. That poem I can publish here. Like nearly every poem I pen, this poem is rooted in rural Minnesota.

Hope of a Farmer

In the slight breeze of a July afternoon,
when ninety degrees and humidity press upon me
at the edge of a corn field stretching into forever,
memories rise and shimmer like heat waves.

I see my father’s work laid out before him—
first, seeds dropped into rich black soil,
next, corn rows carefully cultivated,
then fervent prayers for timely rain.

And I remember how he hung onto harvest hope,
to the promise of golden kernels
brimming grain wagons that swayed
and rumbled to the Farmer’s Co-op Elevator.

This the wind-blown corn leaves whisper
while stalks rise toward the prairie sky,
reaching, reaching, reaching
toward the heavens like the faith of a farmer.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “My prize winning poetry: rooted in rural Minnesota”

  1. cecilia Says:

    That is a terrible hard thing to do.. cleaning out the old house.. I feel for you audrey.. c

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    “leak a ghost” – I like that. Ordered vol 23 – can’t wait to take it all in.

    • Thank you for supporting Minnesota writers by ordering a copy of The Talking Stick 23, Symmetry. I know you will enjoy it, Dan.

      Margaret Hasse’s detailed comment was thoughtful and showed that she “got” my poem. Having just judged a fiction competition, I know this task of judging is not easy.

  3. vesmar robertson Says:

    enjoyed your poem,we farmed in Ga when i was growing up but on my only trip to Mn om 1962 I was awed by the height of the corn stalks. I have a picture of my husband helping my brother-in-law harvest his crop and the corn was way over his head.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Love “Hope of a Farmer”!!! As I gaze out my living room window at this year’s corn just beginning to glow in the rising sunshine. To be a farmer means one must be endowed with a special/extra ‘dose’ of hope and faith for the season ahead. Having grown up in the Metro, but visiting a distant cousin’s rural place, I could only stand in wonderment at how one could continue to mark the seasons with planting and reaping!!!!

  5. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Great poem and beautiful church.

  6. And cleaning your mom’s house will show up in your future work, I am betting. Yes, most of us have to do this at some point. I remember the process of cleaning out my dad’s condo, how my daughter was in grade school then and, as a student with diabetes she occasionally ended up in the health office and I had to talk the school staff through something over the phone. I remember cleaning out my dad’s front closet when I got one of those calls and feeling just overwhelmed with the way I was pulled in different directions. Duty on both ends. I didn’t do much writing at all in those years.
    On a brighter note, I just ordered my copy of The Talking Stick volume 23. Looking forward to holding your poetry in my hands.

    • You totally understand, as I’m sure many readers do who have experienced this cleaning of the parent’s home. Duty on both ends is spot on accurate. And, yes, I expect this time to show up in my writing.

      Thank you for ordering The Talking Stick, volume 23. If you have not entered this competition, you need to do that next year.

  7. I am fascinated by the title “Talking Stick.” Can you explain? We used to have neighbors who had darling twin daughters who were 6 years old and neither could wait for the other to finish talking to me, so I gave one a stick and said it was her turn to talk until she handed the stick to her sister or her mother decided to force the hand off. We called it the talking stick. By the way, I’m from northern Minnesota originally so I love reading your thoughts. I couldn’t wait to get away from Minnesota when I was young. Now I wish I were back there.

    • You are basically correct in your definition of a “Talking Stick.”

      Here’s the info printed in the back of TS23, Symmetry: “The talking stick is a Native American tradition used to facilitate an orderly discussion. The stick is made of wood, decorated with feathers or fur, beads or paint, or a combination of all. Usually speakers are arranged in a talking circle and the stick is passed from hand to hand as the discussion progresses. It encourages all to speak and allows each person to speak without interruption. The talking stick brings all natural elements to guide and direct the talking circle.”– Anne Dunn

      Perhaps we should all use talking sticks, thus becoming better listeners.

      Questions: Why were you so anxious to leave Minnesota as a youth? And why, now, do you wish you were back in Minnesota?

  8. Beth Ann Says:

    Wonderful selection at the closing of your post today. I know that choices are made that are difficult at times and you have to weigh the pros and cons of all but I know that your work at your mom’s house paid off and that you were able to see through the tears and get the needed work completed. Congrats on the honors, the awards, the recognition and all that goes with it. It is wonderful to be recognized for something that you put your heart and soul into.

  9. Oh, Audrey, I’m sorry you couldn’t attend. My cousin and I have recently been comparing notes about our aging parents. She said one evening her mother kind of broke down and said she needed help. My cousin lives next door to her and does almost everything for her already, but she asked what kind of help she needed. My aunt didn’t know. My cousin said, “She just wants everything to be like it was, and it can’t be.” That’s the sad truth. I feel the same way — why can’t everything just stay like it was? I returned last night from the second trip “home” in three weeks. Another trip looms in a week. Making plans and changes for elderly parents is terribly difficult.

    • I am so sorry you are going through this also. It’s tough.

      “Everything like it was” is a mantra I’ve chanted many times this year. Many times. I cling to my faith to get me through the trials of life. That and the support of family and dear friends.

  10. Sue Ready Says:

    Lovely poems that capture the spirit of rural Minnesota. You are so deserving of your success. Thanks for sharing with others.

  11. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear that you weren’t able to attend which would have been an amazing experience and something I know you would have absolutely loved. But it’s so true that when it comes to family, we often have to drop everything and do what’s required. Good on you for swapping a bit of glamour and fame for dirty overalls and rubber gloves xx

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