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

 

Showcasing the talent of Faribault’s student artists March 14, 2017

The art exhibit threads along hallways, into corners and into a room on the second floor of the Paradise.

 

EVERY TIME I VIEW the annual Student Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I want to snatch several pieces from the walls for my art collection. I’m that impressed by the student art. And I’m not just saying that because I want to be nice and tell the kids they do a great job. My praise is genuine.

 

Gracie, a sixth grader from Faribault Lutheran School, created this cat art.

 

The soulful eyes drew me to this drawing by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Victoria.

 

Variations of a block print by Adreanna, a student at Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

From block prints to paintings to collages to weavings to drawings done in a range of mediums, this art is diverse, introspective, often colorful and worthy of showcasing.

 

Abstract art created by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School.

 

Twelfth grader Derek from the Faribault Area Learning Center drew this fox.

 

Lincoln Elementary School students created this art.

 

What I especially appreciate about this second floor show is the opportunity for students to put their art out there in a public venue. I expect one day the works of some of these artists will hang in the Paradise’s main floor galleries or in other galleries.

 

This photo shows part of high school student Audrey Petersen’s “Peacock Feathers” acrylic on canvas. Her art is currently displayed in the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery.

 

Already the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery in the Paradise is devoted to artwork by a high school student artist.

 

Student artist Faith created this cartoon style character.

 

Lots of variation in the art showcased on this wall.

 

Roosevelt Elementary fifth grader Jose painted this portrait.

 

It’s reaffirming for young people to have their talents validated and appreciated, whether on the floor of a basketball court, the stage of a theater or in the hallways and rooms of an art center. All too often the arts lag behind sports in societal importance. Arts are to be valued, too.

 

Art angles into a corner.

 

A streetscape by Brooklyn, Faribault Lutheran School fourth grader.

 

I angled my camera upward to photograph this floral art by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Baylee.

 

To the students from the nine Faribault schools—Roosevelt, Jefferson, Lincoln, Faribault Middle School, Faribault Area Learning Center, Faribault Lutheran School, Cannon River STEM School, Divine Mercy and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind—with artwork on display, thank you. I enjoyed your creativity.

 

So much creativity…

 

This skull art by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Bailey features symmetry.

 

The variety of subjects and artist styles and mediums impresses.

 

I see a lot of potential as these artists continue to grow and learn.

 

Bold, vivid art by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School.

 

FYI: The Student Exhibit will be on display until April 1 at the Paradise, 321 Central, in downtown Faribault.

Please check back for a story on art created by students from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.

© Text copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork is the copyright of each artist and photographed with permission from the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Beyond just a game of dodgeball January 6, 2017

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A JCC player prepares to throw the football, left.

A Minnesota State High School play-off game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

RECENT REPORTS THAT ONE STUDENT punched another in a game of dodgeball during a gym class at a Wisconsin high school have prompted unpleasant memories of my own p.e. experiences. I can still feel the sting of those rubber balls slammed by muscled farm boys in a fierce game of bombardment. Even the game name suggests violence. I took plenty of physical, and emotional, hits.

I don’t understand the value in kids targeting balls at one another. Call it dodgeball. Call it bombardment. Why engage in this game? In the Wisconsin case, a student is now facing battery charges following the punch that resulted in a facial fracture.

A ref makes a call.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Back in the day, I hated gym class. There, I said it. I was a bookish kid, small in size, wearing glasses (since age four) and among the last chosen for a team. I couldn’t wait until class ended and I could escape team pressure, demanding expectations of a gym teacher and the sting of rubber balls, a bow string or a volleyball.

I tried. Really tried. But no amount of effort could turn me in to an athlete. If only teachers, and classmates, recognized that.

I recall one junior high p.e. teacher in particular who expected students to perform like Olympic gymnasts, comparing us to Martha, the one girl in class who could tumble, swing, leap and balance with amazing agility. The teacher allowed us to choose our grade based on a list of requirements. Unable to ever physically complete the tasks required for an A or B, I selected C. I fail to understand that teacher’s grading methods; the system only served to humiliate students. Grading based on personal improvements seems a better way to gauge progress in a physical education class.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

My experiences with sports during recess and then gym classes shaped my attitude toward athletics. I understand the value of sports in building confidence, physical and mental strength, leadership and teamwork skills. But at what cost? I see a society so focused on sports that we’ve lost perspective on the value of family time, morals, time for kids just to be kids and a balance in life.

Yes, this is just my opinion and you can choose to disagree. Perhaps your sports experiences differed significantly from mine. I hope so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A community Christmas welcome at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School December 13, 2016

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WHENEVER I VISIT the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School on Faribault’s east side, I feel like I am walking onto an East Coast college campus. This place of aged stone buildings presents a scholarly image that seems more post-secondary than prestigious college prep school. Known for producing hockey legends, SSM has a current enrollment of nearly 500 students in grades 6 – 12. Most board here.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Some of those students mingled and participated in Shattuck’s Campus Christmas Walk, an annual holiday gift to the community. I try to attend each December, enjoying the figure skating show, music and treats and the opportunity to view the historic buildings in holiday splendor.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

Inside the historic dining hall.

Inside the historic dining hall.

The dark handcrafted woodwork, the sagging stairs, the stained glass windows and more speak to the history of SSM. The school traces its roots to an Episcopal mission school and seminary established in 1858.

Students study in a newer area of the campus.

Students at a computer station in a newer area of the campus.

But today it’s every bit technologically modern within aged walls. There’s a strong vibe of arts and culture and academics. That Shattuck welcomes locals like me onto campus is a good thing in building community relations and exposure of all this school offers. I couldn’t help but think while at Shattuck on Saturday how much my son would have liked this educational setting and the challenges offered therein. He graduated last spring from Tufts University in greater Boston.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary's Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

As I watched the figure skating show, I swayed to “Feliz Navidad” and other holiday tunes while talented skaters glided and twirled across the ice in their sparkly sequined costumes. I remembered then how much I once loved to skate on a bumpy pond in the shadow of a small town grain elevator.

Signs directed visitors.

Signs directed visitors.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

A lone musician performs.

A lone musician performs.

A short walk from the ice arena, I listened to string instrument solos, delighting in that music and the holiday tunes of carolers performing in an entry hallway. And I remembered how I once stood on the stage of my high school dressed as a Dickens caroler with a yellow posterboard bonnet wrapped around my head.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids' activities.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids’ activities.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Farther down, in the Morgan Refectory (the dining hall), kids munched on cookies they’d decorated, green and red frosting outlining their lips. They also created Christmas ornaments. I paused with my husband to sip a cup of hot chocolate, trying to warm myself after an hour in a cold ice arena. Years ago, after completing farm chores, I would thaw my numb fingers over the milkhouse stove.

A prop at the figure skating show.

A prop at the figure skating show.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

The sight of kids sticking their fingers inside the mouths of oversized nutcrackers caused me to chuckle. I recall doing the same decades ago with a nutcracker my sister received from her godfather. There’s something about a nutcracker…

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

A reading nook in an addition.

A reading nook in an addition.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

And there’s something about Shattuck during the Campus Christmas Walk. Even without any kids in tow, I experienced the holiday magic of this historic place.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Raising awareness about domestic violence because I care & so should you October 28, 2016

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Becky Kasper's portrait.

Northfield, Minnesota, native Becky Kasper was only 19 and a student at Arizona State University when her abusive ex-boyfriend killed her on April 20, 2013. Her murderer is serving a total of 30 years in prison followed by a life-time of probation with mental health terms. Read Becky’s story by clicking here. She died in a vicious act of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Domestic violence thrives when we are silent; but if we take a stand and work together, we can end domestic violence.the National Network to End Domestic Violence

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

 

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

“Homicide” and “murdered,” strong and accurate words on a t-shirt that is part of The Clothesline Project from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Have you thought much about domestic violence? I’ve always thought the word “domestic” minimizes the crime, as if it’s less brutal, less meaningful, less harmful. It’s not. The emotional wounds, especially, run long and deep.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women's bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Have you been impacted by domestic abuse/violence? If you answer, no, I’d be surprised. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women will be the victims of physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Victims of domestic abuse are as close as your next door neighbor, your co-worker, the woman worshiping next to you, your hair stylist, your friend, your niece, your college roommate…you just may not realize it. I can personally list about 20 women by name (family, friends and indirect acquaintances) who have been victims of domestic violence/abuse. Several of them died. Murdered by their abusers.

 

Profound words for anyone who's been abused or known someone who's been abused or is in an abusive relationship.

Profound words for anyone who’s been abused or known someone who’s been abused or is in an abusive relationship from the book, The Help. In this section, Aibileen is talking on the phone with her friend, Minny, who is hunkered down in a gas station after leaving her abusive husband.

 

Are you in an abusive relationship? If you are, I want you to know that you do not deserve this. You are not somebody’s property. You are stronger than you think. There are individuals and organizations who can help you. Don’t do it alone. Leaving an abuser is dangerous; have a safety plan in place before you attempt to leave. You can break free. I believe in you.

 

Bird art perched on a front yard rock.

Survivors are no longer birds in a cage. They are free. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Are you a survivor? I admire you and your strength. You are F-R-E-E. Your abuser can no longer claim you.

 

Reasons she stays, published on page 18. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

Reasons she stays, published on page 18 of She Stays, written by HOPE Center Director Erica Staab. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

 

Through the years, I have written on this topic, and I will continue to do so. Because we need to speak out, to understand, to educate ourselves, to support victims and survivors, to hold offenders accountable, to care.

It’s that important.

#

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Trust your gut. If someone raises red flags (whether in words or behavior) in a relationship, trust your instincts. Trust yourself, not him.
  • Educate yourself. If you learn one thing about domestic abuse, it should be this: Do not blame the victim. Ever.
  • Believe her.
  • Support her. Listen. Keep the communication open. Simply be there.
  • Realize you cannot “save” a woman who is in an abusive relationship. She must decide, on her own, to leave her abuser.
  • When she is ready to leave, help her stay safe. Reach out to resources in your community. Support her. Believe her.
  • Support the victim’s/survivor’s family, too.  Listen. Encourage. Be there. The impact of domestic abuse spirals like a stone dropped in water.
  • Talk to your daughters, your sons, your grandchildren, about healthy relationships.

#

FYI:

Domestic abuse is about control, manipulation and power. It can take the forms of physical (including sexual), mental, emotional, financial and spiritual abuse. Abusers want to “own” their victims; they do not.

If you are in an abusive relationship and are in immediate danger, call 911. Leaving an abuser is an especially dangerous time.

Seek help from a local resource center or safe house. Or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-800-799-7233. You deserve to be free.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

For purposes of this article, I reference women as victims of domestic abuse, realizing that men and children are also victims.

 

Should this Minnesota country schoolhouse be saved? June 24, 2016

 

The Le Sueur School District 18 schoolhouse, located at 35278 141st Avenue, rural Montgomery, Minnesota.

The Le Sueur County School District 18 schoolhouse, located at 35278 141st Avenue, rural Montgomery, Minnesota.

THE WEATHERED SCHOOLHOUSE sits on a slight rise along the gravel road, surrounded by a clipped lawn bordered by farm fields.

Hardy daisies thrive next to the schoolhouse.

Hardy daisies thrive next to the schoolhouse.

On this Sunday summer afternoon when I’ve discovered the aged building just off Le Sueur County Road 26 two miles east of Montgomery in Montgomery Township, the wind is rippling grain fields and bending daises nestled into an exterior corner of the schoolhouse.

Windows need repair/replacing.

Windows need repair/replacing.

As I brace myself against the wind, I notice shingle debris scattered across the grass. I notice the weathered grey of unpainted siding, the rotted boards, the barn swallow and wasp nests. I notice how much this schoolhouse needs care and upkeep.

A rear shot of the country school.

A rear shot of the country school.

In 1888, Wencel and Mary Petricka sold this parcel of land to Le Sueur County School District 18 for $1 to build this school. In 1957, when the Le Sueur district consolidated with the Montgomery School District, the little one-room country school closed.

Consider the hands that once turned this knob opening the door to an education.

Consider the hands that once turned this knob opening the door to an education.

And here it stands, a year shy of sixty years after closure, seemingly abandoned. Except for that mowed lawn and that patch of daisies. Someone still cares. And that gives me hope. Hope that someone will find the money and the inclination to save this piece of rural Minnesota’s educational history. Before it’s too late.

#

Three rooflines: entry, classroom and bell tower.

Three rooflines: entry, classroom and bell tower.

IT’S EASY FOR ME TO WRITE, Save the School. But the issue of financing often blocks the path to such endeavors. Do you have any creative ideas to fund a repair and restoration project? Perhaps I should first ask, should the schoolhouse be saved? I don’t even know who owns it.

Perhaps an American flag will fly again some day on the corner of the schoolhouse.

Perhaps an American flag will fly again some day on the corner of the schoolhouse.

In September of 2015, Le Sueur County School District 18 held its first ever reunion. With 31 alumni and guests in attendance (including a former teacher), there’s clearly an appreciation for this Minnesota country school.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring Tufts University in greater Boston June 6, 2016

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

PRIOR TO MY SON considering Tufts University as a potential transfer college three years ago, I’d never heard of this Massachusetts university. But Caleb had done his research, followed by a flight to Boston to explore three colleges there. All three eventually accepted him, with Tufts offering a financial aid package that would allow him to afford an education at the Medford/Somerville campus.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts' war dead, to the campus. There are a lot of steps.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts’ war dead, to the main campus.

I shall always be grateful to the benefactor who gave my son this opportunity to learn at a highly-ranked student-centered research university. Caleb needed the challenges Tufts offered. He needed to leave the Midwest. He needed a place like Tufts.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

After visiting Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus for the first time the day before commencement, I understood why Caleb loves this university. The college, set atop a hill and with a spectacular view of the distant Boston skyline from the roof of Tisch Library, is stunningly impressive.

Eaton Hall

The political science, sociology and classics departments, among other offices, are located in Eaton Hall.

A newer building on campus.

A newer building on campus.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That's the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That’s the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

Aged buildings define the campus, although newer ones also stand and are under construction.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed on campus.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed at Tufts. It’s a popular spot for photo ops.

Tufts (with four campuses) was established in 1852 and has an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students. It’s mascot is Jumbo the elephant of circus fame. President Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughter Malia toured Tufts in March 2015, settling later on Harvard University in next-door Cambridge as her college choice. Noted individuals like Meredith Vieira, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Michlle Kwan are Tufts alum.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54. Graduation ceremonies were held on the adjacent green.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood dominate Goddard Chapel.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood define Goddard Chapel.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

Given my appreciation for old buildings and lovely architecture, I loved the historic feel of Tufts. There’s something comforting and storied about structures that have existed for a long time. There’s an ongoing connection to generations of students who’ve walked these halls and this campus under a canopy of trees with spacious green space, seemingly a premium in the greater Boston neighborhoods I saw during my late May visit.

I adore the reading room in the Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School.

The Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School looks like something out of a movie set. Oh, to study here. And my son did.

A sculpture on campus.

A sculpture on campus.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

It is easy to love Tufts.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

I understand why, at age 22, my son likes living in greater Boston. This metro area teems with young people. There’s a certain vibe, a constant hum, a busyness that prevails. People are walking/hurrying everywhere. The mass transit system makes getting around easy.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

It’s not a place I would choose to live. But it is, for now, my son’s home. And although I don’t like having him 1,400 miles away, I have accepted that he lives here, too far from Minnesota, in a city he loves.

FYI: Check back for a tour of a neighborhood surrounding Tufts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling