Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography August 23, 2016

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the History Site Treaty Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the Treaty Site History Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the log cabin, traffic thrummed in a steady rhythm, the noise sometimes detracting from the five young women dancing barefoot in the grass and from the poets reading in to the wind.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the St. Peter history center.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the history center.

Still, despite the traffic noise from busy U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter, the focus remained primarily on “When Water Dreams: A Celebration,” hosted Sunday afternoon at the Treaty Site History Center.

This photo of Swan Lake near Nicollet is one of 19 black-and-white images included in an exhibit by Kay Herbst Helms.

This photo shows a side view of Kay Herbst Helms’ photo of Swan Lake, one of the largest prairie potholes in the contiguous United States. Located in Nicollet County,  the lake covers 14 square miles. I’ll tell you more about Kay’s exhibit of 19 black-and-white photos in a follow-up post.

I was part of that event thanks to Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms. Kay’s latest photo project, “Water Rights,” sidebars “Water/Ways,” a Museum on Main Street exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution showing through September 25 at the Nicollet County Historical Society host site in St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon, along with other invited southern Minnesota poets, I read “In which Autumn searches for Water,” a poem published four years ago as part of an “It’s All One Water” collaboration in Zumbrota. I clarified before reading my poem that I wrote this when our region was suffering a drought, unlike now when Minnesota has been deluged with rain. Here’s the third verse in my five-verse poem:

But she finds at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. John Hurd and Susan Stevens Chambers also read their poetry.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. Christina’s mother, Susan Stevens Chambers, also read, both her poetry and that of Henry Panowitsch. Two others, Craig Nelson and Mira Frank, read the works of published poets, including that of local poet Jim Muyres who was unable to attend.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

I’ve come to enjoy poetry readings—listening to the rhythm of words penned by those who, like me, are moved to string words together in a lyrical way that touches emotions.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday's event.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday’s event venue site.

With water as the theme for Sunday’s celebration, poets read of lakes and rivers, of rain and of drought, of ships steaming immigrants across the ocean, and more.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Those clustered in lawn chairs, on blankets and standing—some folding paper cranes for the Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1000 Peace Crane Project—focused on the scene unfolding before them.

Water celebration, #47 dancer close-up arms up

 

Water celebration, #49 dancer close-up arms behind

 

Water celebration, #57 dancer with hands together

 

Water celebration, #67 dancers with hands up

 

Dressed in blue, members of Rural Route Dance Ensemble moved with such grace, like water lapping at the shore, waves rolling in the ocean, rain falling from the heavens. I won’t pretend to be an expert in dance; I have viewed few dance performances. But dance, like poetry, is open to interpretation.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

Life experiences, emotions and more shape poetry—how it is written, read and interpreted.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book, Good Thunder, Blue Earth.

The poetry readings of Good Thunder writer Susan Stevens Chambers mesmerized me. Susan has a melodic voice that soothes and comforts like the sound of rushing water. Except her words don’t rush. They flow. I especially savored Susan’s selected readings from her recently published compilation of rural-themed poems, Good Thunder, Blue Earth, published by River Place Press.

 

Water celebration, #94 Susan's dress blowing in breeze

 

As this poet read, her long blue dress swayed in the wind and I thought of gentle waves. Of water.

FYI: Check back for a post on the Smithsonian “Water/Way” exhibit, including more information on Kay Herbst Helms’ photography exhibit, “Water Rights.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling