Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In celebration of National Poetry Month: One April day April 18, 2022

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

ON THE AFTERNOON of the April morning I scanned the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library for poetry books, I raked a banana from the boulevard.

“Hey, I found a rotten banana,” I hollered to Randy, who had just switched off the lawnmower as he mulched leaves.

“You didn’t eat it, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I shouted back, rolling my eyes at his humor.

“I found a dead mouse or squirrel earlier,” he shared in an apparent effort to top my discovery of a dried black banana. (We never know what we’ll find while raking in the spring.) He walked across the lawn to the curb along busy Willow Street and kicked up the dried carcass I really did not want to see.

“Mouse,” I concluded, and looked away.

Mira Frank reads the works of Minnesota poets from “County Lines” at an event in St. Peter in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2016)

That takes me back to those poetry books I checked out, including County Lines: 87 Minnesota Counties, 130 Poets. Published in 2008 by Loonfeather Press of Bemidji, this volume features poems collected from Minnesota poets and representing all 87 Minnesota counties. It was published on the 150th anniversary of our statehood.

It’s a must-read book which accurately, and poetically, reflects Minnesota. Among the poems published therein, “April” by Connie Wanek. The first four lines of her five-verse poem from St. Louis County, are so relatable. She writes:

When the snow bank dissolved

I found a comb and a muddy quarter.

I found the corpse of that missing mitten

still clutching some snow.

As someone who’s lived in Minnesota her entire life, I “get” most of the poetry published in this collection. These poets write about land and weather, experiences and observations, small town cafes and polka dancing and trains roaring down tracks and closing the cabin and picking rock and…

The plentiful large rocks pictured here at Blue Mounds State Park are likely similar to those referenced in Leo Dangel’s poem. The park in rural Luverne is about 20 miles from Jasper, which Dangel names in “Stone Visions.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

I laughed aloud when I read Leo Dangel’s “Stone Visions” from Pipestone County in my native southwestern Minnesota. The topic—picking rock. For those of you who’ve never picked rocks, it’s exactly what it says. Walking through a field gathering and tossing rocks that seem to sprout every spring. Poet Dangel viewed oversized stones in a field near Jasper in a poetic way while his farmer uncle observed, “I’d hate like hell to start picking rock in those fields.”

Image source: Goodreads.

Uncovering rocks. Uncovering a dried mouse carcass. Uncovering a dried black banana. Uncovering poetry that resonates. Within the span of several hours, I found winter’s remains and a treasure of a poetry collection.

County Lines uncovers the stories of Minnesota in poetic voice from lesser-known to well-known Minnesota writers. Poets like David Bengston, Robert Bly, Philip S. Bryant, Susan Stevens Chambers, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Angela Foster, Larry Gavin, Laura L. Hansen, Sharon Harris, Margaret Hasse, Bill Holm, John Calvin Rezmerski, Candace Simar, Joyce Sutphen and so many more.

From Willmar to Hibbing to Lac qui Parle and, oh, so many places in between, the layers of our state, our people, our stories, our history, our heritage are revealed. This April day I celebrate National Poetry Month in a Minnesota poetry book pulled from the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.


FYI: Former Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen will read from her newest poetry books, Carrying Water to the Field and The Long Winter, at 1 pm Saturday, April 23, at the Little Falls Carnegie Library. “Making Rural Connections Through Poetry with Joyce Sutphen” focuses on the loss of small farms in Minnesota. Sutphen grew up on a Stearns County farm. Three of her poems are featured in the “Stearns County” entries in County Lines.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite book of poetry you’d like to recommend? Or, if you’ve written a book (s) of poetry, please feel free to share information here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “In celebration of National Poetry Month: One April day”

  1. beth Says:

    Wonderful poetry and appreciation for those who know the place firsthand

  2. Larry Gavin Says:

    Here are some poetry month readings for Larry Gavin. Some prairie readings actually!
    April 21 I’m doing a workshop for poetry month with a local LGBTQ group. This is not open to the public, but I’m totally pumped to do it.
    On April 28 I’m off to the prairie. Noon reading at Redwood Falls Chapter Two books. Then at night at the Minneota public library! The 29th I’ll be reading in Redwing Mn. Thanks, Audrey, for the chance to mention these.
    Tom Hennen “The Darkness Sticks to Everything” a great book!

    • Larry, thank you for sharing about your upcoming poetry readings. I didn’t know that Redwood had a bookstore. That is fabulous and that you are reading there is wonderful. It sounds like you have a full weekend of reading on the prairie. Good for you. Will you swing through Belview?

      I need to head that way sometime soon to see my poem, “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. But now that Mom is gone, I don’t get “back home” very often.

      Enjoy your prairie time! And your poetry readings. I love listening to you read your poetry. You have such an ideal voice for reading poems.

  3. “The corpse of the missing mitten”

    Someone has a great sense of humor. I can’t say that I have a favorite poetry book but I enjoy reading the poems that you post. I’ve been devouring anything and everything by Janette Oke over the last few months.

  4. Valerie Says:

    There is a poetry reading in Northfield on Thursday April 21, at Content Books.
    NF Poet Laureate Rob Hardy and Greta Hardy-Mittel.
    I will not be there, we are heading to FL for a few days!

    • Thanks for that share about the poetry reading Thursday evening. I have a post about Rob Hardy and his newest poetry collection, “Shelter in Place,” publishing here on Wednesday. That will include info about the April 21 event.

      Enjoy Florida! It’s gotta be warmer and sunnier there than here.

  5. Jane Says:

    I was raised in a Minneapolis suburb. When I married, we moved to rural North Dakota. One day, I saw an ad on local TV for farm equipment that would pick rocks. I literally thought it was some kind of joke!

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