Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Promoting Faribault March 10, 2017

A snippet of Faribault’s just-published 2017 tourism guide cover shows Faribault’s signature angled name graphic overlaid on a photo taken along Central Avenue.

 

NEARLY 35 YEARS AGO, I moved to Faribault, relocating to this southeastern Minnesota city after my May 1982 marriage. My husband had the more secure job in an area with more employment opportunities.

I’ve grown to love this community and its people. I can go almost anywhere in town and run into a friend or acquaintance. While Faribault, with a population of around 23,000 still seems big to me in comparison to my rural southwestern Minnesota hometown of under 400, I feel here the closeness of a small town. Paths cross at events and in churches, schools, grocery stores, shops, restaurants, parks and more. That creates a sense of community.

Among events fostering community closeness is the monthly May – August Car Cruise Night along Central Avenue in our historic downtown. The well-kept aged buildings in Faribault’s central commercial district are among our strongest assets and provide an ideal backdrop for car enthusiasts to gather.

For a blogger like me, Car Cruise Night presents an abundance of photographic opportunities. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new and creative ways to photograph the car show, showcased many times on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

My July 2016 Car Cruise Night photo is the cover of the 2017 Faribault tourism guide.

 

Now my car shoots have extended beyond this space to tourism. A photo I shot at the July 2016 Car Cruise Night graces the cover of the just-released 2017 Visit Faribault Minnesota tourism guide published by the Faribault Daily News in collaboration with the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. I am delighted and honored to have my work chosen by a committee for this placement.

In a single photo, potential visitors get a snapshot of Faribault. In the backdrop architecture, they see the history and the care Faribault has taken to preserve historic buildings. In the people and cars, they see a fun event. In the green Faribault banner and lush, hanging flower basket, they see community pride.

 

My original photo from the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. The left side of this photo is printed on page 22 of the tourism guide in the section titled “Explore historic downtown.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But there’s more to this photo than seen in the vertical tourism guide cover. I shot the image in a horizontal format, my view stretching along nearly the entire length of the 200 block (west side) of Central Avenue. The 1884 Fleckenstein building, beautifully renovated and restored by Faribault-based Restoration Services, Inc., anchors the image on the right. But just look at all those buildings beyond. I cannot say enough about how lovely the historic architecture in downtown Faribault.

Of course, Faribault is about much more, so much more. I’ve also had the opportunity recently to pen pieces on River Bend Nature Center and the historic murals in our downtown for the tourism website. I’m proud to promote Faribault, pronounced fair-uh-boh. That would be French in a community that’s today culturally diverse.

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TELL ME: What would you like to know about Faribault? Or, what do you know about Faribault? Or, what do you love about Faribault?

FYI: In addition to my cover photo, my Midway photo from the Rice County Fair is printed in an ad on page 20 and a photo I took of Twiehoff Gardens & Nursery is published on page 30.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Weaving memories and thoughts into a winning water story March 2, 2017

AS SOON AS I READ the first six words of the email—I am so pleased to announce—from Plum Creek Initiative, I knew I had won.

I finished reading the good news, then burst out the kitchen door into the garage. “I won! I won! I won!” I shouted. My husband gave me a questioning look. “I won the contest.”

 

From the Plum Creek Initiative Facebook page.

From the Plum Creek Initiative Facebook page.

 

And then I explained. My nearly six-page “Water Stories from a Minnesota Prairie Perspective,” was selected as the winning entry in the nonfiction division of a contest sponsored by Plum Creek Initiative and the League of Women Voters. The placing earned me a $250 prize and publication in a New Ulm-based magazine, River Valley Woman.

 

I photographed these"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at an exhibit last summer at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter.

I photographed these pins in a jar at an exhibit last summer at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter. “We Are Water MN,” telling the story of Minnesota water, accompanied a “Water/Ways” exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street Program. I participated in a “When Water Dreams: A Celebration” by reading my poem, “In which Autumn searches for Water.” Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms invited me and other poets to read our water poems, connecting with her photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Tasked to write on the theme of “We are Water,” I tapped into my growing up years for water memories, weaving in my relationship with water and the importance of water. It worked. I felt really good about the story when I submitted it. But when I read that the sponsors were “overwhelmed with the participation and quality of the submissions,” I doubted myself. I shouldn’t have.

 

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna.

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Here’s what nonfiction judge Renee Wendinger wrote in part about my story: …noted your ability to “retain a balance of idea, craft, and theme resonant to water…[she] reminds us that water is an integral component, making the processes of life possible, a resource we too often take for granted.”

As a writer, I appreciate such specific feedback. This judge, herself a noted author of orphan train fiction and historical nonfiction books, understood and valued my story. That’s reaffirming.

 

Water rushes over limestone ledges in Wanamingo's Shingle Creek.

Water rushes over limestone ledges in Wanamingo’s Shingle Creek. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Writing about water proved much easier than I expected. My stories flowed one into the other, including a reference to Plum Creek. I grew up only 20 miles from Walnut Grove, where author Laura Ingalls Wilder lived along the banks of that rural waterway. I’ve waded in that creek to the Ingalls’ dugout site.

 

The water runs clear in the North Branch of the Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The water runs clear in the North Branch of the Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Plum Creek Initiative, a long-term water quality improvement and women’s leadership program focusing on water quality in southern Minnesota, draws its name from Plum Creek. The organization has launched a pilot program in my native Redwood County to address water quality issues. That pleases me.

 

The Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I am pleased, too, with this opportunity to write on the subject of water in a way that will perhaps make a difference. Two North Mankato residents won the other divisions—Holly Ahlbrecht with her fictional “Weaving the Water” (selected by judge Nicole Helget) and Laura K. Murray with a collection of poetry (selected by judge Gwen Westerman).

FYI: Click here to learn more about Plum Creek Initiative. Read the official contest winners’ announcement on the Plum Creek Facebook page.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The music of poetry comes to Rochester February 15, 2017

Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota

Poetry on Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

POETRY. Do you throw a mental roadblock the instant you encounter that word? Or do you embrace poetry? And, yes, you can be honest. I realize poetry isn’t for everyone. Just like science fiction or fantasy. I don’t read either. But I do read and write poetry.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls in 2011. This is the fourth billboard with the posting of my poem: Cold earth warmed/by the budding sun/sprouts the seeds/of vernal equinox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

My poems have been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, in poet/artist collaborations, on signs along recreational trails and on billboards. I’ve also read my poetry at events and for radio. But now my poetry will be showcased in another way—in a song to be performed at two concerts.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers' Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

Rochester, Minnesota, composer David Kassler selected my poem, The Farmer’s Song, for inclusion in a project that pairs his original music with poetry by seven regionally and nationally-recognized poets. In other words, my poem became the lyrics for his song. It’s part of a set, Minnesota Rondos.

I nearly flipped when I saw this toy accordion, just like one I had as a child. I loved my accordion and it is the only musical instrument I've ever played.

The only instrument I ever learned to play was a toy accordion exactly like this one, photographed several years ago in a Mankato antique shop. I received the accordion one childhood Christmas.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The irony in all of this is my inability to read a single note. I never had the opportunity growing up to take piano lessons, to participate in band or anything musical. I ad libbed my way through required school music classes. So to now have my rural-themed poem set to music is, well, remarkable for me personally. I am honored.

Connie, right, and I posed for a photo after a 90-minute presentation in which poets read their poems and artists talked about how their art was inspired by the poem. Note Connie's "Pantry Jewels" painting just above my head to the left. If I could buy this $490 watercolor on aqua board, I would in a snap.

Connie Ludwig, right, created a painting, Pantry Jewels, based on my poem, Her Treasure, as part of a 2012 Poet-Artist Collaboration at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I am especially honored to be in the company of poets with incredible resumes of teaching, leadership, advanced degrees, publication of their own poetry collections and more. Featured poets include Jana Bouma of Madison Lake, Meredith Cook of Blue Earth, the late Janelle Hawkridge of Winnebago, Robert Hedin of Red Wing, John Reinhard of Owatonna and Michael Waters of New Jersey.

Randy has enough musical knowledge to play a short tune.

In downtown Mason City, Iowa, home of The Music Man, pianos sit outdoors for anyone to use. Here my husband plays a simple tune during a visit several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Kassler, who teaches music at Rochester Community and Technical College and is the music director at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, received a $5,000 established artist grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to help fund the project that includes two concerts. A 30-member chamber choir of collegiate and professional musicians conducted by Kassler with piano and cello accompaniment will perform the choral works.

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.

Two years ago I read my poem, Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion, at a Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater. Two of my poems published that year in an anthology compiled by my regional library system. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am excited to hear the music my poem inspired. Concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at Rochester Community and Technical College. Tickets are $7.50 and will be sold at the door; Kassler needs to recoup an additional $2,000 of his own monies invested in the project. He’s that dedicated to this.

The second concert, and the one I plan to attend, is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. A free-will offering will be taken.

A lone musician performs.

A Shattuck-St. Mary’s student plays the cello at the Faribault school’s annual Christmas Walk. Stephen Pelkey will play the cello at the Kassler concerts in Rochester. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2016.

If you’re so inclined, attend either concert. Please seek me out if you come on Sunday. But, most of all, enjoy this opportunity to hear poetry set to music. Because really, when I consider it, all music is poetry.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What makes a winning photo December 8, 2015

IT’S ALWAYS A THRILL, as a photographer, to be recognized for one’s work. It validates what I create with my camera and fuels my passion to continue pursuing photography.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

My winning photo: “A Dinner Date at the Lakeview Drive Inn”, Winona, Minnesota.

For the third time, a photo I entered in the National Mutual Benefit annual photo contest has placed. This year I earned honorable mention in the people category for my image, “A Dinner Date at the Lakeview Drive Inn.” I shot the scene in August 2014 at this iconic drive-in in the Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota. My husband and I were returning from a vacation to Iowa and Galena, Illinois, when we visited the Lakeview on a mid-week Farm Tractor Night.

Lighting—the golden hour of photography—was perfect. And the scene and setting were so iconic Americana that I was giddy about the photo possibilities. You just know as a photographer when photo ops abound.

I was familiar with the Lakeview, having dined there a few times while our eldest daughter attended nearby Winona State University. I’d also written and taken photos for a magazine feature story about this long-time eatery noted for its homemade root beer.

When I saw an elderly couple dining in their convertible, I framed the scene and clicked the shutter button. The result was a winning photo that captures a sweet moment in time and memories of yesteryear. Nostalgia.

Click here to see all of the winning photos in the 2015 National Mutual Benefit contest.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo taken on July 4, 2013.

Last year I also entered a photo of an elderly couple to win first place in the people division of National Mutual’s photo contest for my “Fourth of July BINGO callers.” That scene was shot in 2013 at North Morristown. Again, I managed to recognize and snapshot a moment that is grassroots connective.

My first photo win, though, in a National Mutual contest came back in 2003 when I won first place in the scenery division for an image of a butterfly settled upon a daisy in my backyard. That was taken with my 35 mm film camera, before I owned my Canon DSLR. I’d show you that photo, too, except I have no idea where the print may be.

My new camera.

A mirrored self-portrait when I was trying out a different Canon earlier this year. I shoot with a Canon EOS 20D.

I love photography. Along with writing, it’s a creative outlet for me. But it’s also a source of income. Numerous people have found my work via this blog and purchased rights to use my images—on websites, in books, on annual reports, in magazines, as framed prints, in an educational app and more. I am pleased and thankful when others recognize and value my work. No, I do not give away my photos for credit and/or a link. Many people apparently think I do based on the numbers of inquiries offering that type of “payment.”

Email me at audrey at mnprairieroots.com if you are interested in purchasing digital rights to my images.

I use photography to tell a story in the most creative way I can. I am not a stand in the corner and shoot person. I squat and kneel and even lie on the ground if necessary to get the proper perspective. Sometimes I hold my camera above my head, aim the lens down and shoot. Other times I place the camera on the ground, tilt it up and click.

One of my favorite close-up VBS photos shows the VBS leader clutching crosses to be used in a craft project.

One of my favorite close-up VBS photos shows the VBS leader clutching crosses to be used in a craft project.

I shoot from afar and I shoot up close. During a stint of volunteering to photograph my church’s Vacation Bible School this summer, I took more than 1,000 photos in eight hours of work. And if anyone was expecting me to simply photograph obscure groups of kids, they were wrong. Sure, I snapped images of groups. But I also told the VBS story in detailed photos of hands and faces and other close-ups.

Many think taking good photos is all about the equipment. Yes, good equipment is nice. But it’s ultimately lighting, creativity, composition and observation skills (and sometimes luck) that lead to quality memorable images.

This quote by noted advertising and documentary photographer Elliott Erwitt summarizes well my thoughts on photography:

“Photography is an art of observation…I’ve found that it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

I’ve been shooting long enough, first as a photojournalist (a necessity back in my days working as a small town newspaper reporter), to feel confident in my work, in my style. Thank you for appreciating me and my photography.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots needs your “best of” vote August 5, 2015

TYPICALLY, I AM NOT ONE to promote myself. That is why, perhaps, I am not some famous worldwide blogger.

I have, though, made a name for myself in Southern Minnesota. Not because that’s highest on my priority list. Rather, I am passionate about writing and photography and my work seems to resonate with readers, Minnesotans or not. Minnesota Public Radio has noticed as has MinnPost.

Best of Southern MN 2015 logo

That all said, I am once again among nominees for the “Best Local Blog/Blogger.” The regional arts and entertainment magazine, Southern Minnesota Scene, is sponsoring a competition to choose the “best ofs” in Southern Minnesota. And I happen to fall in to the miscellaneous category.

Now, if you think my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog worthy of this honor, please vote for me in the miscellaneous section of the ballot. There are lots of other categories to vote in, too, such as art, music, theater, restaurants and more.

You can vote once a day per email address.

I am competing against four other blogs/bloggers. So your vote is important. Please share this on social media, if you wish.

Minnesota Prairie Roots has been voted the best in southern Minnesota.

Minnesota Prairie Roots was voted the “Best Local Blog/Blogger” in Southern Minnesota in 2014.

Thank you for your support as I defend my title of “Best Local Blog/Blogger” in Southern Minnesota.

FYI: Click here to vote.

© Copyright 2015 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.