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

 

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

 

Establishing my voice: Writing rooted in rural Minnesota May 7, 2014

I ARRIVED HOME on a recent Saturday afternoon to the answering machine blinking.

When I reached Sharon Harris of the northern Minnesota based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc a few moments later, I was pleased to hear her news. I’d placed second, she said, in the poetry division of The Talking Stick 23 competition with my poem, “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn.”

Such news could not have come at a better time. Just the day prior, my mother had entered a nursing home. I needed to hear something positive.

TS 19 in which my poem, "Hit-and-Run," received honorable mention.

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

Getting work accepted into this well-respected literary journal is always an honor. This marks my fifth year in the book in six years of submitting. Twice I’ve earned honorable mentions, for my poem “Hit-and-Run” and for my short story, “The Final Chapter.”

And now this year, I bumped up a spot to get that second place award. Another poem, “The Promised Land,” and a short story, “Eggs and Bread,” will also publish in volume 23.

The Talking Stick editorial team read and considered more than 300 submissions (of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction) before forwarding their top picks in each of the three divisions to selected “celebrity” judges. Poet Margaret Hasse judged this year’s poetry.

Finishing second, I not only receive a $100 cash prize, but also Hasse’s comments on “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn.” She writes:

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.”

Hasse gets it. She totally understands my poem, how each well-crafted line defines, as she says, a “spiritual gathering” in a small town auction barn.

If I could share my auction poem with you today, I would. But I’ve signed a contract not to do so for a year.

Suffice to say, this poem, like nearly every other poem I’ve written and/or had published, is rooted in my rural memories, my connection to the land and/or my appreciation for rural Minnesota.

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.

Specifically, a photograph I took this past winter of a Montgomery, Minnesota, auction barn prompted the idea for this winning poem. I also drew on my experiences attending auctions, albeit not in recent years, to pen the 12 lines of verse.

Likewise, “Lilacs,” a poem I will read this coming Saturday evening, May 10, during the Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII reception at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota, was inspired by my rural rooted memories. (Click here to learn more about that poet-artist collab.)

When I consider my poetry, I clearly hear the rural voice in my words. There’s nothing pretentious about me. I remain, as I always have been, rooted to the land in my writing.

FYI: The Talking Stick 23 publishes late this summer with a book release party set for Saturday, September 13, in the Park Rapids area. To purchase past volumes of the anthology, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stepping off a fictional cliff & landing on my feet May 8, 2013

TS 19 in which my poem, "Hit-and-Run," received honorable mention.

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

IMAGINE THE SWEET SURPRISE of learning you earned honorable mention in a writing competition.

That would be reality for me, dear readers.

I received a thick envelope from Sharon Harris of the Menahga-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc recently announcing that two of my entries, a poem titled “The Farmer’s Song” and a short story, “The Final Chapter,” were accepted for publication in The Talking Stick 22.

Getting my work accepted into this Minnesota anthology of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry is nothing new; this marks my fourth time in the annual book. I’ve previously had poetry and creative nonfiction published here.

Neither is the award of an honorable mention novel. In 2010 I received honorable mention for my “Hit-and-Run” poem based on the real-life experience of my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver at age 12.

But this year marks my first time submitting a short story. Decades have passed since I penned fiction. I can’t recall ever entering fiction in a contest. So when I submitted “The Final Chapter,” I did so with minimal, if any, confidence.

I labored over every word, every paragraph, of my short story before finally deciding if I didn’t submit, I would never know whether I’d written a piece worthy of publication. Sometimes you just have to step off the cliff.

I would have been content simply getting my story about an 80-year-old woman losing her grip on reality accepted. (Twenty-five pieces of fiction were selected for publication.) But then, to experience that additional affirmation of honorable mention…, well, my confidence level soared.

It gets even better, dear readers. After members of the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc read all of the submissions, they forwarded their top picks to published writers in each category. St. Paul author John Reimringer, who won the 2011 Minnesota Book Award in novel and short story for his book, Vestments, chose and critiqued the top three short stories, including mine.

Rare is the opportunity to receive such personal, professional feedback. Until you read “The Final Chapter,” you will not fully understand Reimringer’s comment. But, here’s what he wrote:

I like the economical, unsentimental sketch of Clara’s life, and the way she chose third person narrative in the last few paragraphs keeps us in Clara’s pov (point of view) even as it’s clear she’s losing her grasp on reality.

OK, then, basically Reimringer likes my story, just as I enjoyed Vestments when I read, and then reviewed, his award-winning book several years ago for Minnesota Moments magazine. Little did I know then that I would connect with him several years later.

I was hopeful I could meet Reimringer at The Talking Stick book release party in late September. But that won’t happen. My eldest daughter is getting married the same weekend. And that wedding, dear readers, easily trumps honorable mention.

FYI: To learn more about The Talking Stick, which publishes for the 22nd time late this summer, click here. And click here to learn more about The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry & more in Paul Bunyan land August 18, 2011

The lake side of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette Diana Kensack..

Lucette Diana Kensack

SEVERAL SUMMERS AGO while vacationing in northern Minnesota, my family stopped in Hackensack, 50 miles north of Brainerd. The initial draw to this town of 285 was the 17-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. I appreciate kitschy roadside art. What can I say?

Two other discoveries, however, trumped seeing Lucette. A stone’s throw from Lucette, along the shores of Birch Lake, sits the cutest log cabin—a Works Progress Administration project and today home of the Hackensack Lending Library.

And just down the street from Lucette and the library, I found the sweetest pink fairy tale cottage.

Those small-town treasures marked my introduction to Hackensack.

Now, fast forward to last summer. I wasn’t back in Hack, not physically anyway. Rather my poetry was among poems displayed at the town’s annual Northwoods Art and Book Festival. During that event, the featured poets are invited to read their poetry. Fest-goers can also vote for their favorites with six poems selected for “Popular Choice” awards. Six poems are also recognized as “Poems of Merit.” All of the original and unpublished poems are posted without author names attached.

I didn’t attend last year, didn’t win and didn’t deserve to win. My poetry wasn’t worthy of an award.

This year my poetry is back at the Northwoods Festival set for this Saturday, August 20, and I’m more confident that I’ve actually written poems that could win an award. Oh, I’d love to tell you which poem is mine (or it could be both poems that I submitted; I haven’t been told). But I won’t unfairly sway the voting. Suffice to say my rural background shines in my writing.

If Hackensack wasn’t such a long drive from Faribault, I’d be there taking in the poetry, the art, the music, the book-signings, the food. However, if you’re in the Brainerd lakes area or parts north on Saturday, check out the Northwoods Art and Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and then tell me all about it by submitting a comment.

Voting for the “Popular Choice” awards begins at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m.

If you’re already thinking, “Audrey, I don’t like poetry,” rethink your thinking. I promise you that my poetry rates as down-to-earth, understandable and not at all stuffy.

This whole concept of getting poetry out to the public via a display like the one in Hackensack pleases me. Just like the Roadside Poetry billboards in Fergus Falls. I was fortunate enough to win the spring competition and have my four-line poem plastered across four billboards there.

These new poetry venues, and the increasingly popular sidewalk poetry in cities like St. Paul, Mankato and now Northfield, are bringing poetry to the people. That’s a good thing because, in reality, how many of us actually pick up a book of poetry for leisure reading?

Minnesota poet Todd Boss and designer/animator Angella Kassube are also making poetry even more appealing by utilizing visuals in their acclaimed motion poems. Click here to read some of those.

Poetry has certainly evolved through the years, a necessity to keep writers interested in writing it and readers interested in reading it.

Professionally, I’ve only begun to unfold my wings as a poet. Even publicly calling myself a “poet” still sounds foreign to my ears. But with publication in two magazines and four anthologies, soon to be five (The Talking Stick, Volume 20, published by Park Rapids-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc); winning the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition; inclusion at the Hackensack festival; and recent notification that one of my poems will publish in the Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine, I finally feel worthy of the title “poet.”

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

The sweet fairy tale house in Hackensack, located near Lucette and the park and photographed in 2009.

"Curve around the corner/You are free/To change directions/Or your mind," reads this poem by Marlys Neufeld of Hanska and imprinted in a Mankato sidewalk.

HOW DO YOU FEEL about poetry? Do you read it? Why or why not?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling