Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

To the Minnesota northwoods for a book release party September 20, 2017

 

 

TWO READINGS BEFORE MINE, Norma Thorstad Knapp stepped to the microphone to share “How Much She Had Lost.” As she read of her aging mother’s desire to waltz one more time, emotions rose. My throat constricted. Tears seeped from my eyes. Thinking of my 85-year-old mother, I wondered how I could possibly compose myself enough to read my short story.

 

I pose in front of Blueberry Pines Golf Club, setting for The Talking Stick book release party. Photo by Randy Helbling.

 

I signaled my husband for a tissue, then wiped my eyes. I sipped water through a straw. And I struggled to pull myself together before I stood behind the podium in this room full of writers and their supporters gathered at Blueberry Pines Golf Club between Menahga and Park Rapids for the release of Fine Lines, The Talking Stick, Volume 26.

 

 

Too soon, Sharon Harris, co-editor along with her niece, Tarah L. Wolff, introduced me and my story, “Art Obsession.”

 

Reading “Art Obsession.” Photo by Larry Risser Photography, Minneapolis.

 

I was on, reading the words that this year earned an honorable mention in fiction. Four other pieces, among the six I submitted, also published: “Grocery Shopping” (fiction); “A Lot of Prairie and a Little New York” and “The Weekly Phone Call” (both creative nonfiction); and “Not Quite Perfect Penmanship” (poetry).

 

 

 

 

It’s an honor to have my writing published in this outstanding collection of works by Minnesota writers or those with a strong connection to Minnesota. The 2017 anthology includes 152 pieces by 100 writers. I don’t envy the task of The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc editorial board in selecting stories and poems for publication from among 370 submissions by 159 writers. Noted writers LouAnn Shepard Muhm, Marge Barrett and Rochelle Hurt selected the first and second place winners from the board’s top picks.

As I listened to stories and poems for several hours with minimal comprehension of time, I delighted in the talent of these writers. Marlene Mattila Stoehr drew me in with her “Spurned Heirloom” poem that left me pondering whether my family treasures will some day, too, end up as thrift store cast-offs.

I laughed at Charles Johnson’s “Jimmy Gets an Earful” poem that sounded, oh, so Minnesotan to my ears.

 

The book cover photo was taken by Tarah L. Wolff.

 

A strong sense of place, of Minnesota, imprints upon the pages of The Talking Stick. I can relate to the settings, the experiences, the observations and more crafted into so many of the pieces in this exceptional anthology.

 

After the readings, some of us socialized. That’s Randy and me at the end of the table. I am seated next to Sharon Harris. Photo courtesy of Larry Risser Photography, Minneapolis.

 

This book is a labor of love for co-managing editor Sharon Harris. She holds a passion for writing and for this area of Minnesota. After the readings, a group of us gathered in the bar to celebrate and to talk. I’d never met Sharon, although we’ve corresponded and talked via phone many times through the years. Past commitments have kept me from attending previous The Talking Stick release parties. Sharon is as delightful in person as I anticipated. Her appreciation for the craft of writing is evident in her dedication to creating this anthology.

 

 

I felt an energetic vibe and sense of community among all of the writers. We share a love of writing. That passion flowed in words read to an appreciative audience gathered on a grey Saturday afternoon in a sprawling log cabin style building tucked among the jackpines of northern Minnesota.

Updated below at 4:30 p.m. September 20

FYI: I will be signing and selling (limited) copies of the anthology during a Local Authors Fair from 6 – 7 p.m. November 9 at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Fine Lines, The Talking Stick Volume 26 is also available for purchase online. Check amazon.  Or order through The Talking Stick website by clicking here.

Photos by Larry Risser Photography are copyrighted and used with permission here.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Recommended Minnesota reads December 5, 2016

THIS TIME OF YEAR, when daylight fades too early into evening darkness, when I want nothing more than to stay indoors cozied against the Minnesota cold, I find myself gathering books. Stashing, stacking, sequestering them in my home.

And then I read, snugged into a corner of the reclining sofa that no longer reclines (unless the husband yanks on the redneck handle he’s improvised to replace the broken pull). I tuck into a fleece throw in hues that linger autumn.

Then I read. Of mystery in prose and poetry. Of fictional places. Of memories. Words wrapping stories around me. Writers writing so I can read. Of their experiences. Of their imaginations. Of their struggles and joys and moments.

Often I choose to read local, a subconscious decision tracing to my years writing book reviews for a now-defunct Minnesota magazine. But I am also drawn to Minnesota writers because of the connection I have to them. We are, or were, of this place, of these people.

In honor of Minnesota reads, I direct you to these books:

 

under-minnesota-skies

 

Under Minnesota Skies: John and Dorothy Hondl Family History and Farm Memories, penned by sisters Bernadette Hondl Thomasy and Colleen Hondl Gengler, is promoted as a family memoir of farm life in the 1940s-1960s that reflects on Czech and German heritage. The farm referenced in the book sits near Owatonna and has been in the Hondl family since 1881.

I can relate to much of the book’s content. The hard work and joys of farm life. Making hay. Filling silo. Tending livestock. This memoir, too, prompts long-forgotten memories of licking Gold Bond Stamps, of the South St. Paul Stockyard, of listening to WCCO 8-3-0, of driving tractor, of yearning for books.

Turning the pages of Under Minnesota Skies is like flipping the pages of a photo album detailing rural life. Except in words. Email the authors at kbthomasy at aol.com or dcgeng at frontiernet.net to purchase an autographed copy. Or buy the book at Little Professor Book Center in Owatonna or online at amazon.

 

ts-book-cover-2016

 

Voices: Past & Present, The Talking Stick Volume 25, is an eclectic collection of writing by Minnesota authors, or those with a strong Minnesota tie. Published by the northern Minnesota Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, this anthology includes 139 poems, 26 pieces of creative nonfiction and 20 works of fiction from 118 writers. So a good sampling of Minnesota talent.

Getting published in this book is a competitive process. Two of my poems, “Confessions in a Grocery Store Parking Lot” and “Prairie Garden Memories” are among the works printed in this 25th anniversary edition. Order on amazon.

 

farm-country-christmas

 

Finally, anyone interested in rural life, should read the books penned by prolific husband and wife team Gordon and Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville. The pair offer children’s picture books in their “A Farm Country” and “If I Were a Farmer” series. They have also written American Farm Heritage and poetry volumes for adults.

The Fredricksons’ books truly are a tribute to the rural way of life. These books can be purchased on the authors’ website, via amazon or at these Minnesota locations: Secret Attic in Northfield; The Old Hotel, New Market; and Bongards Cheese Shop, Bongards.

TELL ME: What local books have you read? What local books are you purchasing as Christmas gifts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota Class Reunion in Poetry April 30, 2015

LAST SEPTEMBER THE WABASSO High School Class of 1974 gathered at the Wabasso Community Center for our 40-year reunion. That’s on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, in Redwood County.

I lived on a farm 15 miles to the north and west, just outside of Vesta, an hour’s bus ride away from Wabasso. It takes time to travel gravel roads, backtracking and weaving to farm sites to pick up all those country kids.

Forty years. I used to think people who’d been out of high school for four decades are really old. I don’t think that anymore.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Still, that’s a lot of years and much has happened since 89 fresh-faced rural Minnesota kids walked across the gym stage in May 1974 and received their diplomas. As you would expect, the reunion mixed nostalgia and reconnecting, sharing of memories and sharing of lives.

And for me, the gathering inspired a poem, “Class Reunion,” recently published in Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9. My other entry, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” was also published, among the 30 winning poems chosen from 157 submissions in the adult division.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

I attended and read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening. The event was a delight with some poets reading their works and Minneapolis poet Todd Boss as the featured speaker.

I am grateful to Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for publishing this annual collection of poetry from writers in the 11-county SELCO region. I’ve entered the competition eight times with 10 poems published in seven volumes.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

And because April is National Poetry Month, here is the poetic version of a rural southwestern Minnesota high school reunion:

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right. That’s me in the pink striped shirt, front right in image on the right.

 

Class Reunion

Bulbous red clown nose clamped onto face,
boa thrust around neck movie star style,
pirate hat tilted upon bald head,
skull patch positioned across left eye,
we cram into the photo booth, all smiles,
pretending to be someone we are not.

“How are you?” We pause, then hug,
hoping the response will be a lie
rather than the truth of the past forty years
chiseling our faces, greying our hair
(if we still have hair),
etching grief into our souls.

A classmate pulls the curtain tight,
shuts out reality for the lens.
Memories overtake us, filling the booth with laughter.
We remember when nothing seemed more important
than our anti-establishment defiance of choosing
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

The camera flashes again and we swap accessories—
Vikings horns for Peter Pan hat,
leather biker hat for Mickey Mouse ears—
the promise of never growing up
and living in a happily-ever-after fairytale world
almost Disney believable if we didn’t know the truth.

In this moment, all seems right with the world.
No husbands dead. No children buried. No cancer battled.
No eyes blackened. No marriages broken.
The future lies before us, full of promise and hope
and all that is good and wonderful and perfect.
Except it isn’t and wasn’t and never will be.

The camera flashes for the third, and final, time.
A classmate draws back the curtain.
We drop props into a basket, revealing receding hairlines
and sagging necks and worry lines edging our eyes.
Then we chat about our children and our grandchildren
and our dreams, as if our entire lives lie before us.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

 

And the winner is… April 21, 2015

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SUE READY, I don’t know if you’ve ever won at bingo, or even played the game.

Not quite Vegas, but bingo balls at a church festival.

Bingo balls photographed at a Minnesota church festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But today your number tumbled from the cage—or more accurately, your name was pulled from a hat—as the winner of 2015 Poetic Strokes and Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota.

Poetic Strokes 2015 Publication Cover

 

Later this week I’ll drop an autographed copy of the collection, which includes my poems, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion” and “Class Reunion” in the mail to you.

Thank you for entering this give-way and to all of the Minnesota Prairie Roots readers who shared their favorite poets as part of this contest.

Sue named Billy Collins, two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and perhaps America’s most popular current poet, as her favorite. Here’s what she had to say about Collins’ poetry:

His poems appeal to a wide range of literary tastes. He is a master at capturing the nuances of everyday life and inspiring readers to wonder and think about the simple things in their lives. Often Collins’ wry sense of humor comes across in the poems. He does not take himself too seriously. Collins is a master at engaging his reader in the first stanza by starting small not making too many demands and setting up the scene. Then he makes the poem more complicated and a little more demanding as he moves it along to completion. Each line is simply stated but layered in meaning.

Other readers’ favorites were Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, Donald Justice, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Carlos Williams and Pablo Neruden. (Two readers also chose me as their favorite.)  Click here to learn why readers chose these poets.

Winner Sue is not only a reader, but also a writer of poetry. Visit her blog, Ever Ready, to learn more about this Minnesota woman and her love of poetry, cooking, travel and more. She coordinates the annual August Northwoods Arts Council Art & Book Fair poetry competition in Hackensack. I am blessed to call Sue my friend.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating National Poetry Month with a give-away April 15, 2015

WHAT IS POETRY if not a connection to a person, place, thing, emotion, event or time?

Poetry is rhythm and music, a poet’s voice versing words.

It’s love of language. It’s thoughts flowing from brain through fingers to keyboard onto screen. It’s words rolling off the tongue, pleasing the ear.

Strong verbs. Cohesiveness. Tight writing.

Poetry pushes the writer to write with conciseness. Sparse. Choose each word with care. Delete those words that don’t belong. Banish the cliché. Write. Set aside. Edit. Edit some more until you finally call it done.

Then dare to put your poetry out there.

Large-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

In celebration of National Poetry Month in April, I am giving away an autographed copy of 2015 Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota. This collection includes 55 poems by poets from 10 southeastern Minnesota counties. Two are mine: “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion” and “Class Reunion.”

Southeastern Libraries Cooperating sponsors this annual competition and publication of this two-part anthology. The first section, Poetic Strokes, features winning poems from adult writers in the SELCO region, this year 30 poems by 27 poets. Word Flow is a competition for writers ages 14-18, with 25 poems from 25 young poets published in the 2015 anthology.

Poetic Strokes 2015 Publication Cover

TO ENTER:

Submit a comment on this post naming your favorite poet and why you chose this poet. I will then randomly select one winner from all qualifying entries. The winner’s name will be posted here next week with instructions on how to claim the prize.

Entry deadline is Sunday, April 19. Only individuals living in the U.S. are eligible to enter.

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EVEN IF YOU DON’T WIN, you can still get your hands on this anthology. Copies of Poetic Strokes & Word Flow are available for check-out from all 37 public libraries in the SELCO system. Minnesotans who live outside this library region can borrow a copy through the statewide interlibrary loan system, MnLINK. 

Click here to read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion.”

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I won at bingo without playing the game April 13, 2015

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

John and Lavonne call bingo at the North Morristown, MN., Fourth of July celebration. This photo won first place in the People Category of the National Mutual Benefit annual photo contest. This image also helped inspire my winning bingo poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

BINGO! We have a winner!

Here’s my winning poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” recently published in 2015 Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9:

Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion

Wooden balls rattle in the cage,
orbs of numbers and letters tumbling
in the comforting rhythm of a rural rite
that transcends time and generations.

All eyes focus on the officiant, The Bingo Caller,
a slight elderly man with wisps of fly-away hair.
He grasps the selected ball between forefinger and thumb,
pulls mic to mouth and purses his chapped lips.

Silence presides in that sacred moment
when daubers poise above cards,
when hearts beat fast with anticipation,
when nothing seems as blessed as the hope of a win.

“O-62,” he pronounces with faithful clarity of conviction
to the congregants seated on worn folding chairs,
ice clinking against glass in the dim light of The Legion
where service to country rates reverent respect.

From the back corner her voice erupts. “Bingo!”
A collective sigh heaves disappointment
as The Bingo Caller pauses, confirms, then declares
The Blessed Benediction: “We have a winner!”

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YOU, TOO, CAN BE A WINNER. Check back on Wednesday for a give-away.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

 

My prize winning poetry: rooted in rural Minnesota September 19, 2014

LAST SATURDAY I SHOULD HAVE BEEN in northern Minnesota reading my poem, “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn,” at a book release party.

Should have been mingling with other writers at Blueberry Pines, between Park Rapids and Menahga, at lunch, during a writer’s workshop and during readings from The Talking Stick Volume 23, Symmetry.

But, instead, I was cleaning my mom’s house in preparation for putting it on the market. It’s a matter of priorities and setting aside one’s own desires to do what must be done.

While others were enjoying the fellowship of many fine Minnesota writers, I was scrubbing walls and woodwork and floors and holding back tears.

Turek's Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been "serving Minnesota since 1958." Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

Turek’s Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been “serving Minnesota since 1958.” Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate. Photographing this auction barn last winter inspired my poem.

Oh, yes, I would much rather have been in the Minnesota northwoods reading my prize winning poem. Margaret Hasse, who’s published four collections of poetry, awarded “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn” second place, selected above 89 other poems for that honor.

She wrote:

“I loved how you turned a humdrum occasion of bidding on antiques in an old barn into a closely observed and luminous occasion. The writer John Ciiardi once wrote that close and careful observation can “leak a ghost.” The surprise of your poem was the elevation of a commercial or material enterprise into a spiritual gathering—with a fellowship, liturgy, reverent respect, and people who commune. The ending—visual and concrete—was just right. The poet Franklin Brainerd wrote a poem something to the effect, “in a world of crystal goblets, I come with my paper cup.” There’s something both unpretentious and appealing about “sipping steaming black coffee from Styrofoam cups.”

TS 23

 

I can’t publish the actual poem here. To read it, you’ll need to order a copy of The Talking Stick 23, Symmetry. I’d highly recommend doing so. This anthology features 91 poems, 23 pieces of creative nonfiction and 15 works of fiction from some outstanding Minnesota writers or writers with a strong connection to our state.

The Talking Stick, published annually by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, holds a strong reputation, evidenced by the more than 300 submissions from 159 writers. Another one of my poems, “The Promised Land,” and a short story, “Eggs and Bread,” also published in this volume.

Last year I earned honorable mention for my short story, “The Final Chapter.” And before that, my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” also garnered honorable mention.

Such awards reaffirm one’s skills as a writer.

Cornfields snuggle up to one side of Vista's church yard. It's the most beautiful of settings.

Cornfields snuggle up to Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And recently, also in northern Minnesota, my poem, “Hope of a Farmer,” was selected as a Work of Merit by judges at the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack. That poem I can publish here. Like nearly every poem I pen, this poem is rooted in rural Minnesota.

Hope of a Farmer

In the slight breeze of a July afternoon,
when ninety degrees and humidity press upon me
at the edge of a corn field stretching into forever,
memories rise and shimmer like heat waves.

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.

And I remember how he hung onto harvest hope,
to the promise of golden kernels
brimming grain wagons that swayed
and rumbled to the Farmer’s Co-op Elevator.

This the wind-blown corn leaves whisper
while stalks rise toward the prairie sky,
reaching, reaching, reaching
toward the heavens like the faith of a farmer.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling