Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part V from La Crosse: A final look at downtown March 29, 2017

 

IN ONE FINAL PHOTO sweep through downtown La Crosse, I present a collage of images.

 

 

I am drawn to signs and architecture, to distinct characteristics which define a town’s personality.

 

 

 

 

La Crosse is a river town, storied in history. You can see that in the aged buildings which flank streets that bend, like the Mississippi River. History holds a place of honor within this downtown.

 

 

 

 

Yet, this Wisconsin city is not stodgy, existing only in the past. Rather, La Crosse is like a sometimes flamboyant relative claiming attention with loud colors and signs and messages. I doubt I’ve ever seen more vivid and unique signage in a small Midwestern city.

 

 

 

But that does not surprise given La Crosse’s considerable number of downtown drinking establishments. Wisconsinites love their booze. And this is a college town. Visit in the daytime or early evening and you can avoid that whole bar scene, although remnants of night life may linger the morning after with beer in a glass outside a bar door. (True sighting.)

 

 

 

 

La Crosse seems, too, part big city urban yet rooted in rural. Somehow the blend works in a downtown that draws all ages.

 

 

FYI: Please check back for one more post in this “From La Crosse” series as I take you to one of the city’s most notable natural landmarks.

© Copyright 2017 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

 

Part IV from La Crosse: Applauding this city’s entertaining visuals March 27, 2017

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DOWNTOWN LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN presents a visual delight that requires spotlight focus to view every detail.

 

 

 

 

Colorful signs compete for attention along storefronts that are themselves architectural attractions.

 

Stained glass art displayed in the front window at Vision of Light Stained Glass, 129 S. Fourth Street.

 

A vintage department store box showcased in a window display.

 

Shoppers enter Antique Center, which presents an inviting window display.

 

Creative window displays draw more interest.

 

 

From almost any place, you hold a ring-side seat to pedestrians and vehicles performing should I cross/should I stop theatrics.

 

Buzzard Billys serves fantastic Cajun-Creole food. Be forewarned that it’s a busy place.

 

This riverside town rates as a must-see destination for anyone who delights in entertainment. Actual entertainment and the kind of entertainment that comes from being a watcher, an observer, an appreciator of a city with a visual character all its own.

 

The Starlite Lounge, a 1950s style cocktail lounge, is located on the second floor of Buzzard Billys. It was closed during the time frame I visited La Crosse. But I saw the lounge on a previous visit and hope to photograph it next time I’m in town.

 

La Crosse performs well under the scrutiny of my camera lens, earning my applause for a place that draws my photographic and personal interest.

TELL ME: Have you visited La Crosse? If, yes, what do you like about the city? If not, would you visit and why?

FYI: Please check back as I continue my “From La Crosse” series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style March 24, 2017

 

DRIVING PAST THE HOLLYWOOD Theater on the fringes of downtown La Crosse, I wondered whether the theater was open. It appeared closed. An online search later confirmed that.

Not that efforts haven’t been made to restore the 1936 theater. It has opened and closed multiple times, last closing as a live music venue in the late 1990s, according to an article published on the La Crosse Public Library website. The current building owner planned to renovate and reopen the theater. But then a fire damaged the building in 2013 stalling that project.

Black-and-white images in the library’s “La Crosse Movie Palaces” story show a splendid 42-foot high illuminated HOLLYWOOD tower gracing the theater along with a wrap-around marquee. Both were removed after World War II. What happened to those? The article doesn’t reveal that and perhaps it’s unknown.

I hope finances fall into place for the current owner to complete renovation plans and reopen the Hollywood Theater. In my community of Faribault, a former theater is now the Paradise Center for the Arts, a gem of a place that includes galleries, clay works and textile labs, classrooms, a library and a theater performance space.

I appreciate when aged theaters are valued and saved.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with a similar vintage theater that has been restored to its original glory? Please share.

Or, if you’ve been inside the Hollywood Theater when it was open, I’d like to hear your stories.

FYI: Please check back for more stories in my “From La Crosse” series. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from La Crosse: The impressive Pearl Street Books March 23, 2017

The tiled entry to Pearl Street Books reveals its history as the home of Arenz Shoe Company, founded in La Crosse and once housed at 323 – 327 Pearl Street. The La Crosse shoe store once boasted eight stores in Wisconsin and Iowa. Today only one, a fifth generation family-owned Arenz Shoes, remains open in nearby Sparta, Wisconsin. 

 

FIRST I NOTICED the sprawling oak and the organic shoe store message of Quality to the Roots embedded in the entry way tile.

 

 

Then I glanced to the window display and the heart shaped note of appreciation purposely placed among earthy books.

 

 

Both drew me inside Pearl Street Books as if I really need anything to get me inside a bookstore. I don’t.

 

An overview of the bookstore taken from the second floor and looking toward the front.

 

Ladders slide along the built-in towering shelves allowing access to the books.

 

Chairs scattered between shelves invite shoppers to sit and peruse books.

 

But I’ve never been in a book shop like Pearl Street Books in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. I walked inside and then just stood there for a minute taking in the scene before me.

 

The wood floor lends a signature vintage look to Pearl Street Books.

 

A Minnesota mom snapped a photo of her daughter and I asked to do likewise. Shortly thereafter the daughter climbed much higher and was kindly asked to come down for safety reasons.

 

This inviting section houses kids’ books, new and used.

 

From the worn wood floor that speaks of age and history to the ladders that slide along side shelves packed with books to the massive quantity of books, this place impresses. The shopkeeper working the day I visited said 55,000 volumes fill this store. Now I don’t know how that compares to your average mass market book retailer. But for an indie bookstore, I’d guess that’s a significant number beyond the norm.

 

Just another overview from upstairs.

 

This beautiful stairway leads to the upper floors, including a lounge space on the second floor for book groups or just a spot to hang out.

 

You could spend hours here…

 

Pearl Street Books, on its Facebook page, bills itself as a specialty used, new, collectible and antique bookstore that “can procure almost anything.”

 

My husband purchased this updated adult version of the Dick and Jane books.

 

 

Pearl Street Books offers some additional merchandise such as these bumper stickers.

 

Based on the extensive inventory, I believe that statement. And, yes, I bought a book and so did my husband.

TELL ME: Have you ever visited Pearl Street Books or a similar bookstore?

FYI: Please check back for more stories as I continue my series from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Click here to read my first story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I from La Crosse: The historic downtown through my camera lens March 22, 2017

Crossing the Mississippi River from La Crescent, Minnesota, into La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

WITH MY APPRECIATION of historic buildings, La Crosse, Wisconsin, has become a favorite occasional destination. This Mississippi River town bordering Minnesota is about a half-way meeting point between my Faribault home and my second daughter’s home in eastern Wisconsin. We recently met there for a Saturday afternoon of dining and exploring.

 

Nearing downtown La Crosse.

 

I love shopping in La Crosse. Mostly photoshopping. While the rest of the family focuses on getting from one shop to the next, I am constantly distracted by the endless photo opportunities. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up,” I repeat.

 

Entering the historic downtown.

 

Signage painted on buildings draws my eye.

 

Some communities restrict signage on historic buildings. But in downtown La Crosse, anything seems to go, creating a visually diverse landscape of signs that pop color and interest into the streetscape. It works, adding character to this downtown.

 

Then I stand and swing my camera lens upward to photograph architectural details, vintage lettering on buildings and the many colorful and creative signs that landmark downtown businesses.

 

Downtown La Crosse is one busy place. On-street parking is a challenge to secure. However, four parking ramps are situated in the downtown and offer free parking on weekends. Same goes for street parking. The downtown features lots of one-way streets.

 

Everywhere you look, there’s something to catch a photographer’s eye.

 

Bridesmaids head for an ice cream treat at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor, a must-stop ice cream shop and more along historic Pearl Street. Love The Pearl’s homemade ice cream.

 

Or I keep my camera at street level, capturing streetscapes. This downtown pulses with people and traffic.

 

Outside Kroner True Value Hardware store.

 

The day after St. Patrick’s Day, I spotted this cup of green beer on a window ledge in a bar. I also saw a glass of beer outside a bar entrance. Downtown La Crosse is packed with bars, I believe the highest per capita of any U.S. city, according to numerous online sources. (Google it.)

 

The ultimate (in my opinion) “I’m from Wisconsin” t-shirt showcased in the window of The Cheddarhead Store on Pearl Street.

 

Occasionally I direct my lens down to at-my-feet details or toward window scenes.

 

This colorful signage welcomes downtown visitors to Historic Pearl Street West.

 

I photographed this barge on the Mississippi River which edges downtown La Crosse.

 

The dining options in La Crosse are many, including Big Boar Barbecue. No, I haven’t eaten there. Yet.

 

Downtown La Crosse truly rates as a photographer’s/visitor’s dream—if you love historic river towns with aged, detailed architecture; colorful signage; character; diverse dining and drinking options; and a variety of unique shops.

FYI: Please check back for more posts from La Crosse.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry in Minnesota beyond the classroom, beyond anthologies March 21, 2017

I EXPECT MANY OF YOU dislike poetry. You sat in a high school English class bored to death by the required reading of poems you didn’t understand. Or worse, you had to pen a haiku or a rhyming poem or free verse. And then you had to take a test. You couldn’t wait until the poetry unit was done.

You struggled. You didn’t care. I get it. I felt that way about math. But poetry I’ve always embraced. I am grateful for the educators who taught, and continue to teach, poetry to resistant students.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you’re one of those non-poetry people, I hope you’ll give this literary art a second chance. Poetry is certainly less rigid and stuffy than years ago. It’s also much more accessible beyond a collection published in a book. Now you’ll find poetry creatively presented in videos such as Minneapolis-based Motionpoems; online in Gyroscope Review, co-founded and co-edited by a Minnesotan; imprinted in sidewalks in cities like Northfield and St. Paul and Mankato; and more.

 

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Cardboard walls that once held poetry inside an intellectual box have collapsed and been recycled. The result is poetry that maybe, just maybe, you will find approachable, understandable and enjoyable.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” posted in 2014 in Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems are changed annually. Each poem must be 18 lines or less with no more than 40 characters per line. They must also be themed to the area. “Bandwagon” was inspired by a Mankato TV show by that name. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take the 2017 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. I’ll join other poets at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild Gallery in Mankato for a poetry reading and awards reception. I’ll read my poem, “Cornfield Memories,” which won honorable mention. While that’s an honor, the truly exciting aspect of this project is the public accessibility and visibility of poetry.

Michael Torres, a CantoMundo fellow, creative writing teacher and co-host of art workshops for homeless and at-risk youth in the Mankato area, selected 29 poems from about 70 submissions for inclusion in the Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems will be posted on signs along recreational trails in Mankato and North Mankato. This endeavor brings poetry to people in parks, playgrounds and other outdoor spaces in an unassuming way. What a great idea. Poems cover a broad range of topics from experiencing the outdoors to Minnesota to water, says Erin Dorney, writer and project organizer.

 

My poem initially printed in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota, has been crafted into a song by Rochester, Minnesota composer David Kassler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The next day, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, poetry will also be showcased publicly, this time at a concert. My poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” is among seven being sung by a chamber choir at the Hill Theater at Rochester Community and Technical College. Admission is $7.50. The same concert will be presented for a free-will offering at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. I’ll attend that Sunday concert and read my poem. A reception follows the Sunday concert.

I appreciate that Rochester composer David Kassler invested considerable time in creating choral settings for selected poems. It’s just one more way to bring poetry to the people of Minnesota in an inviting public way. Please join me and other Minnesotans in celebrating poetry at either or both events.

TELL ME: What’s your attitude toward poetry?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling