Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Lyon County: Prairie-rooted poetry at the museum September 20, 2022

The sprawling Lyon County Historical Society Museum in the heart of downtown Marshall, across from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

RECENTLY I TRAVELED back to my native southwestern Minnesota, destination Marshall, 18 miles west of my hometown of Vesta. Specifically, I targeted the Lyon County Historical Society Museum to view the award-winning “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are featured therein.

Me, photographed next to the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” My one regret is that my mom (pictured in two smaller photo insets) never saw this exhibit in person. She died in January. (Photo by Randy Helbling, September 2022)
To the far left is the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” In the center is my poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
My poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” That is not my dad in the photo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The exhibit, which won a 2021 Minnesota History Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, opened in January of the same year. Finally, I got to Marshall last week. Up until my visit, I was unaware that two, not just one, of my poems are included. When I read the title “Hope of a Farmer,” I thought to myself, I wrote a poem with that title. And then, as I read, I realized this was my poem.

The second floor exhibit celebrates Lyon County in the award-winning exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Now I’m doubly honored that my rural-themed poetry inspired by my farmer father and farm wife mother were chosen to be part of this outstanding exhibit focusing on the people, places, businesses, communities, activities, events, history and arts of Lyon County.

A clothes pin bag hangs in an exhibit space near my “Ode” poem, quite fitting. Visitors can turn a dial to generate “wind” blowing dish towels on a clothesline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Excerpt from “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” (click here to read the entire poem):

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,

but to the beat of farm life—

laundry tangled on the clothesline,

charred burgers jazzed with ketchup,

finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

This panel honors literary and visual artists of the region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I read the “Imagining the Prairie” informational panel, my gratitude to the LCHS staff, volunteers and Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis (lead contractor for the exhibit) grew. I appreciate that an entire panel focuses on the arts: The Lyon County landscape…has inspired painters and poets and artists of all kinds. I’ve long thought that as I see the prairie influence in my writing and photography. Farms, vast prairies, wide skies and tumbling rivers define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota.

Corn rows emerge in a field near Delhi in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Excerpt from my “Hope of a Farmer” poem (click here to read the entire poem):

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.

A fitting quote from Bill Holm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A quote from poet, essayist and musician Bill Holm of nearby Minneota, summarizes well the lens through which we prairie natives view the world and the creative process. The prairie eye looks for distance, clarity, and light…

A grain complex and the Oasis Bar & Grill in Milroy, near Marshall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Holm, who died in 2009, was among southwestern Minnesota’s best-known writers, having penned poetry and multiple books such as his popular The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth and Boxelder Bug Variations. His boxelder bug book inspired his hometown to host an annual Boxelder Bug Days, still going strong.

Poetry by Leo Dangel in the ag-focused part of the exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To see my poems featured alongside the work of gifted writers like Holm and equally-talented poet Leo Dangel in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was humbling. Dangel, who died in 2016, wrote six collections of poetry. The prairie and rural influence on his work show in the featured poems, “A Farmer Prays,” “A Clear Day,” and “Tornado.”

My poem honoring my mom… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Both men taught English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, reaffirming their devotion to this rural region and to the craft of writing. The exhibit includes a section on the university, which opened in 1967 within 10 years of my leaving the area to attend college in Mankato. I sometimes wonder how my writing would have evolved had I stayed and studied on the prairie.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, which is right next to Lyon County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When I returned to Marshall for the first time in 40 years, nothing about the town seemed familiar. Time has a way of changing a place. But when I reached the top floor of the county museum, saw my poems and began to peruse the “home” exhibit, I felt like I was back home. Back home on the prairie, among cornfields and farm sites and grain elevators and all those small towns that dot the landscape. Back home under a wide prairie sky with land stretching beyond my vision. Back home where I understand the people. Back home in the place that influenced my writing as only the prairie can for someone rooted here.

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Please check back for more posts featuring the Lyon County Museum and the area.

The ode honoring my mother initially published in South Dakota State University’s 2017 literary journal, Oakwood.

And the poem about my father was chosen as a “Work of Merit” at the 2014 Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

18 Responses to “In Lyon County: Prairie-rooted poetry at the museum”

  1. Those are amazing! Job well done to you and all the others who have poetry displayed. Of course I love the farming theme.

    • Thank you, Beth Ann. I’m thankful I FINALLY got to the museum as this exhibit has been up already for 1.5 years. The quality of this museum is impressive. Every single exhibit is well done and showcases well the history of this rural region.

  2. What an Honor to your mother and your father as well as you and your family! The museum did a beautiful setup too. I am like you in that I live in the city now, however; when out in the rural/country I feel like it is home (there is a little girl without care running barefoot in my heart and soul). How Cool & Exciting – Congrats 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy

    • Thank you! I’m truly humbled and honored to have my poems included in this outstanding exhibit. I hope others, especially those living in the Marshall area, take time to tour the Lyon County Museum. It’s a gem. Truly. I have many extended family living in southwestern Minnesota and I want them, especially, to view “Making Lyon County Home” to see the poems I wrote honoring my beloved parents (and indirectly all farmers and “farm wives”).

  3. Norma Says:

    Congratulations Audrey. What an honor for you and your family.

  4. Jane Sarles Larson Says:

    Thanks for sharing your poetry – and congratulations on all the accolades! I didn’t know about Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, so I went ahead and ordered a copy. I’m excited to learn about this group. Hackensack is a throwback to my childhood years staying at my grandparents’ cabin.

    • Thank you, Jane. Jackpine Writers’ Bloc held a book launch party this past Saturday for “The Talking Stick 31, Escapes”. Is that the book you ordered? I have three stories published therein. I won second place in creative nonfiction for “Barbershop Prompt” and honorable mention in fiction for “Plans.” The third story is a work of fiction titled “Between Sisters.” My stories and poetry have been published in many past volumes of TS, some garnering awards. Thank you for supporting Minnesota writers by buying TS. To other readers, the book is available through amazon. I’ll post about this soon.

  5. Valerie Says:

    Congratulations Audrey!

  6. Valerie Says:

    I’m sure I would. I checked to see how far it is and it is a ways…;-)

    • If you head that way to camp at Lake Shetek or Camden State Park, you would be near Marshall. Yes, it’s a long journey, made longer by road construction on US Highway 14 between Nicollet and New Ulm (a much-needed expansion of that road to four-lane). That adds considerably to the drive, as we discovered.

  7. Congratulations, Audrey! Your keen eye is there in your poetry regardless of your leaving Vesta; I was struck by your wondering how your poetry would have evolved had you stayed on the prairie. Sometimes we have to leave a place in order to see it for what it truly is.

  8. beth Says:

    wow, what an exhibition, and how wonderful that your work has such a wonderful place here. i’m quite sure your mother would have been so moved and proud. what a stunning tribute to her and to your farm life. bravo, audrey


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