Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An enlightening, poetic moment and more January 21, 2012

SOMETIMES I’M A SLOW LEARNER, mostly in math and science. But this time my delayed learning applies to words, specifically poetry.

Dear readers, don’t stop reading now simply because I mentioned the word “poetry.”

I prefer to read and write poetry that is down-to-earth and not so open to interpretation or overloaded with big words that I cannot possibly comprehend the content.

With that perspective, consider this: Poetry is meant to be read aloud.

“Duh,” you say. “She just figured that out.”

Yes, I did.

Poet Derek Liebertz reads a poem during "The Image and the Word 2012" reception. The poems are displayed next to the photos that inspired them.

Thanks to Derek Liebertz and Yvonne Cariveau, organizers of “The Image and the Word 2012” exhibit at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild in downtown Mankato, I now fully grasp the importance of reading poetry. Out loud. To an audience.

You see, I attended a reception Thursday evening for the poets and photographers whose work is featured in an exhibit that pairs photos and poems. During that event, Derek and Yvonne read poems inspired by those photos and also invited other participating poets, me among them, to read their works.

Only once, many, many years ago, have I read my poetry in public, unless, of course, you count all those times I read silly “married life” poems at cousins’ bridal showers decades ago. Public reading was not the easiest thing for me to do, but I managed.

The atmosphere on Thursday evening was so relaxed and casual, however, that I nearly breezed through reading two of the three poems I’d written. In hindsight, my readings could have been much better had I practiced at home. But I didn’t, and what’s done is done.

Yvonne Cariveau reads a poem. To the left is a photo taken by Kay Helms and voted as the "favorite photo" during the Thursday evening reception. The landscape image was taken along Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna.

The other poets, though, clearly were accustomed to and comfortable sharing their poetry with a listening audience. I listened with a learning ear, picking up on the drama, the cadence, the tone, the volume, the movement of the hands, the facial expressions and every nuance that conveyed the meaning and depth of a poem.

I got it. Finally.

That does not mean I’m eager to read poetry in public again. But I understand how a poem can be more fully appreciated when read aloud by its author.

Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

BESIDES THE POETRY lesson I learned Thursday evening, I also met and learned a bit about several other “The Image and the Word 2012” participants. Derek, for example, works as a programmer at his wife Yvonne’s company, Voyageur Web. Who would expect techies to write poetry? Not me. Derek, the most dramatic of the readers, tagged his day job as his “Clark Kent” persona. You have to appreciate a guy with that type of humor, which weaves into his writing.

Then I met John Othoudt, a retired highway department employee turned photographer. His exhibit photo of farmers gathered at the tailgate of a vintage pick-up truck was taken at the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show. With a single click of his mouse, John edited the image into a pencil drawing style that makes the photo appear vintage 1950s. It inspired me to write “Taking lunch to the men in the field,” recalling the afternoons my older brother and I did exactly that on the Redwood County crop and dairy farm where we grew up.

"Lunch Time" by John Othoudt of Lake Crystal

I’d encourage you to click here and check out John’s photography. This man has talent. I share his passion for noticing details and photographing the often overlooked everyday and ordinary things in life. He shoots in the moment, he says. His “Lunch Time” photo, for example, happened as he was planning another shot. I understand. Some of my best photos have simply happened, unexpectedly.

Then I met Terri DeGezelle, whose credentials are even more impressive than those she shared with me Thursday. Click here to learn more about this woman who has written 64 nonfiction children’s books and is also an avid nature photographer. Her “Artist’s Colors,” a photo of colorful chalk, won the best paired photo-to-poem honor at the reception. Susan Stevens Chambers wrote the accompanying poem. I loved Terry’s enthusiasm and warm personality and the pure passion she exudes for the crafts of writing and photography.

As I was preparing to leave and thanking Yvonne for organizing the exhibit, I talked briefly with John Calvin Rezmerski, who encouraged me in my writing. His “Window” poem was voted as the favorite poem. Only until later, back home, did I learn that he is the League of Minnesota Poets current Poet Laureate and a well-known, established poet with 20 books, chapbooks and anthologies to his credit. He’s retired from teaching creative writing, journalism, literature, storytelling and more at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. Unlike me, he’s quite experienced at reading his work in public.

I met other delightful individuals, too, including Kay Helms, whose “The Witness Tree” was selected as the favorite photo at Thursday’s reception. The stunning sunset image was taken along U.S. Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna.

Helms’ photography will be displayed February 17 – March 18 at the Arts Center of Saint Peter in a collection of words and photos highlighting individuals who worked the land in south central Minnesota. Click here for details.

IN SUMMARY, Thursday’s reception proved invaluable for me. I learned that I could stand (or sit) before an audience and read my poetry without too much trepidation. I learned that poetry shines when read. And, finally, even though I was likely the most novice of the participating poets, I felt comfortable among all that talent. They are a fine bunch of poets, but more important, they are warm, kind and welcoming individuals with whom I enjoyed networking.

CLICK HERE TO READ a previous post I wrote about “The Image and the Word 2012.”

Click here to learn more about me, my writing and photography, including my published poetry credits.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Lunch Time” photo courtesy of and copyrighted by John Othoudt


Photos plus poetry equals what? January 17, 2012

OK, READERS, LISTEN UP. Time for a brief math lesson. Yes, math. Didn’t expect that from me, did you? But today I want you to solve a word problem. Remember those? Oh, how, as a child, I hated word problems like this:

If  Susie goes to the grocery store and buys 3 apples for 25 cents each, an orange for 33 cents and a candy bar for $1, how much change will she get if she gives the clerk $5?

Questions like that taxed my pathetic little math brain back in grade school. This equation requires multiplication, addition and subtraction skills, all of which challenged me considerably and still do.

But present a word problem (perhaps more of a riddle) like this and I will solve it in a snap:

If you add poetry to a gallery full of photos, what do you get?

Ah, so have I stumped you on this one?

The answer: “The Image and the Word 2012”

Of course, you might stop right now and say I tricked you into believing we really were doing math. And you would be mostly correct. But since I prefer words to numbers, what would you expect?

You can expect to see three of my poems exhibited at “The Image and the Word 2012,” a show that pairs poems with photos. The exhibit opened January 11 at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild, 523 South Second Street, in downtown Mankato.

The brainchild of poets Derek Liebertz and Yvonne Cariveau, “The Image and the Word” features photograph-inspired poetry from southern Minnesota poets. This photo by Antje Meisner, for example, prompted me to write “I am not Martha.”

"Cartwheel" by Antje Meisner and the inspiration for one of my poems.

You might expect that this playful image inspired an equally carefree poem. It did not. Rather, I penned a poem about my not-so-fond memories of a junior high gymnastics class. Any of you who could not, like me, execute a perfect cartwheel, somersault or tumble will surely relate to “I am not Martha.”

A second poem recalls memories of my brother and me taking lunch to our dad and Uncle Mike working in the fields. The third poem I will not discuss here, in print.

All of the poems in the exhibit were inspired by photos from Mankato area photographers, including members of the Bend of the River Photography Club. This fifth annual “The Image and the Word” exhibit is presented in cooperation with the Southern MN Poetry Society.

I’d encourage you to attend an opening reception for this exhibit from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.  on Thursday, January 19.  This free-form event, where visitors can wander in and out of the gallery, will feature poetry readings. (I’m not so sure about that “reading” part; I prefer solitary writing to public speaking.) The photographers will also talk about their photos.

Just to entice you, wine and snacks will be available and all who attend this free event will receive a free poetry book. Yes. Free and free.

And while you’re there, vote for your three favorite poems, three favorite photos and the best pairing of photo to poem. Three, three and three.

Plan also to stop at numerous artistic locales during the Third Thursday Gallery Walk from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. You can view new art and visit with area artists. Click here to see a complete listing of sites on this monthly gallery walk.

REGULAR GALLERY HOURS  for this exhibit are from noon – 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Thursdays.

The show continues through February 15.

Mankato offers many other cultural opportunities, including WordWalk at Riverfront Park and a CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour. Check my June and July 2011 blog archives to read posts on those attractions.

I’m sorry if you don’t live in or near Mankato. I will try to take photos of the exhibit.

OH, AND THE ANSWER to that first word problem, well, it’s $2.92.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo courtesy of Antje Meisner