Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Featuring poetry in original songs at a Minnesota concert & I’m in March 28, 2017


INSIDE THE SANCTUARY of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, voices rose in poetic song while the composer/director focused with eyes intent, arms rising and falling in a mesmerizing rhythm.

From my aisle seat chair, I watched and listened, swept into details of the concert—the shape of a singer’s mouth, the hands of the cellist gliding bow across strings, the strength of the piano in a place with wonderful acoustics.



I listened, too, to the strong voices of poets who read or recited poetry with the practice of seasoned writers. I was one of them, reading my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” selected for inclusion in the weekend world premiere of “A Choral Song Cycle on Texts of Regional Poets” at two concerts in this southeastern Minnesota city.

Rochester composer David Kassler crafted music for seven selected poems written by myself, Jana Bouma, Meredith Cook, Janelle Hawkridge, Robert Hedin, John Reinhard and Michael Waters. Mine was part of a Minnesotan Rondos trio: “The Famous Anoka Potato,” “The Farmer’s Song” and “The Old Scandinavians.”



To hear my rural-themed poem performed by an impressive and talented Chamber Chorale with accompaniment of an equally gifted cellist and pianist, was humbling and honoring. I am grateful for this unique opportunity as a poet.



When I consider music, I view it as poetry in the sound of instruments, in the lyrics, in the voices that sing, in the direction of the conductor, in the reaction of the audience. I received numerous positive comments on “The Farmer’s Song,” including that my poem reflects a way of life that is disappearing from rural America. It is. The small family farm and the intense backbreaking labor that once defined agriculture is mostly gone, replaced by automation, equipment and large farms.


Audrey Kletscher Helbling reading “The Farmer’s Song.” Photo by Randy Helbling


My inclusion in this particular project, funded through a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant, is especially notable for me personally. I cannot read a single note of music. I never had the opportunity as a child growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm to pursue anything musical. Yet, despite the absence of studied music in my life then, music was a part of the daily rhythm of farm life, expressed today in the poetry I write.


A scene from the 2012 Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


The Farmer’s Song

Out of rote he follows the path from house to barn,
from barn to shed, steel-toed boots beating a rhythm
upon the earth, into this land which claims his soul.

He reaches for the paint-chipped handle,
his grease-stained fingers connecting with worn metal
like hammer to nail in the movements of his day.

Farming defines the lyrics of his life written upon hands
that have measured yields, directed tractors, pitched manure,
stroked calves, performed seasons of backbreaking labor.

Inside the shed, as he latches wrench to bolt,
he ponders the final verses of his years, the songs he’ll sing
when age frays his memory, grips his hands in a hallelujah chorus.


FYI: The Friday evening “A Choral Song Cycle on Texts of Regional Poets” concert at Hill Theatre, Rochester Community and Technical College, was recorded and will be available soon for viewing online. I will share that link with you when it becomes available.

“The Farmer’s Song” originally published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology produced by Park Rapids based The Jackpine Writer’s Bloc.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Featuring poetry in original songs at a Minnesota concert & I’m in”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I think this is one of your best ones yet, Audrey. At least of the ones I have had the privilege to read. I absolutely love the imagery and the tone. It must have been so thrilling to hear your words put to music. Thank you for sharing and congratulations. What a wonderful tribute to your talent.

  2. Looking forward to viewing this! Well done

  3. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Beautiful poem! The farmer in the bib overhauls reminds me of my Gramp! Thanks for putting a smile on my face this morning

  4. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Congratulations, Audrey! That’s a wonderful tribute to your poetry and that of the other poets whose work was set to music. What a fun event. And thank you for putting your poem in the post so we could read it, too.

  5. Carol Says:

    Congratulations, Audrey, and thank you for sharing your beautiful poem!

    I’m not a farm girl but have great memories of being a city kid staying with cousins who lived on a farm. I loved their whole different way of life. But even as a youngster I was aware of the hard work and the all-day every-day aspect of it. Thank you for reminding us about that, too.

    • We had city relatives who would come to the farm for summer stays and for the Christmas holidays. They, too, hold fond memories of the farm. Likewise, the rare visits our family made to the Cities reinforced for us that our desired place was on the farm, away from the noise and busyness of the big city.

  6. Valerie Says:

    What an honor for you…and wonderful how it was set to music since you didn’t have a music background. Thanks for sharing your poem!

  7. Jackie Says:

    It was a splendid event! I loved hearing the poems be set to music. Yours, was my favorite! Such a fun afternoon.

  8. Sue Ready Says:

    A pinnacle of your writing career in my estimation Indeed what a tribute to your talents!!congratulations

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