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

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19 Responses to “In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    What a wonderful event. I can almost hear the rippling water.

  2. Beautiful – love the last capture – What an honor to be part of this event – there is no stopping you – go and share more of your poetry 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • Yeah, as I was standing there with my camera searching for photo ops, I noticed Susan’s dress swaying and it clicked for me that this symbolized water. Thank you for your encouragement re. my poetry. I got encouragement from others also at Sunday’s event, from another poet and from an audience member. I needed that.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Although the written word read by it’s author is a treasure, it is the dancing in such a perfect “Midwest prairie” setting that stirs my dreams. Fresh mown hay, prairie flowers, the rustle of green leaves on swaying branches that seem to keep beat with the dancers’ movements…………..and, lest I overlook, the puffy white clouds floating overhead in the clear blue sky ‘sea’…………

  4. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    Just beautiful; wish I had been there but you gave me the next best thing with your photos and words. I love the shot of the blue dress and also noted that someone appreciated “the puffy white clouds floating overhead in the clear blue sky ‘sea.” That’s poetic! You are in good company with all these talented people.

  5. Don Says:

    Wow Audrey, now you’ve done it! Your pictures and story of the Historic site outside of St. Peter brought memories flowing full strength back to me. It was sometime in the 1900’s when I was an elementary student that I was on a school field trip to the Capitol in St. Paul and we stopped here! The only thing there at the time was the log cabin. It still looks the same only now it is not as weathered as it was back then and the modern building was not yet in existence. How time flies yet it seems like only yesterday!

    As Bob Hope would have said “thanks for the memories”!

    • I never expected this post to elicit a past memory like yours. Let me guess. You took that field trip in sixth grade, in the spring, after a year of studying Minnesota. That’s when my sixth grade class at Vesta Elementary School traveled from the prairie to tour the Capitol and the Minnesota History Center. I took a photo inside the log cabin. I will email that to you later.

  6. Don Says:

    Yup the 6th grade would have been correct! You have an excellent memory! I only wish I had taken more photos back then but alas I was just getting into photography with my Kodak Instamatic. A picture would be great thanks, more memories to process!

  7. You find so many interesting things to do outside of the house. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    • You are welcome. There’s so much to do in this region of Minnesota. I bet you can find lots to do in your area also. When my kids were still at home, I didn’t attend as many events. It’s difficult to find activities that interest the entire family. I am thankful my husband is so supportive of my poetry.

  8. Kay Herbst Helms Says:

    Audrey, thank you so much for your coverage, participation, photos and write-up of this event. Love your photos and the writing – and the plugs! Oh, and I loved your poem as well. You are multi-talented – and energetic!

  9. jim Muyres Says:

    I wasn’t able to be there. Thanks so much for this story and photo’s. Jim Muyres

  10. Wãshē Kōdä Says:

    Amassing ~ Thanks for sharing 🙂


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