Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How I’ve composed poetry that dances (in the barn) April 4, 2013

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. Rural Redwood County is the setting for most of my poetry.

POETRY. That single word encompasses language, music, art, emotion and more. It’s a word to be celebrated in April, designated as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets.

I’ve written poetry for about four decades, but not with particular passion or regularity until recent years. Something has evolved within me as a writer, directing me from the narrow path of journalistic style writing to the creativity of penning poetry.

Perhaps a parcel of my new-found enthusiasm can be traced to my publishing success. Seventeen, soon to be 18, of my poems have been published in places ranging from literary journals to anthologies to billboards to a devotional and more. I figure if editors have accepted my poetry for publication, I must be doing something right. And when they reject my poetry, as has happened often enough, they were correct in those decisions.

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

An abandoned farmhouse, like this one along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, inspired my poem, “Abandoned Farmhouse,” published in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 3.

Most of my poems are rooted in childhood memories from the southwestern Minnesota prairie. I write about topics like barns, walking beans, an abandoned farmhouse, canned garden produce, taking lunch to the men in the field and such.

My poetry rates as visually strong and down-to-earth. There’s no guessing what I am writing about in any of my poems.

Barns, like this one along Minnesota Highway 60 west of Waterville, have woven into my poetry.

Barns, like this one along Minnesota Highway 60 west of Waterville, have woven into my poetry.

Here, for example, is my poem which published in Volume One of Lake Region Review, a high-quality west central Minnesota-based literary magazine of regional writing. To get accepted into this journal in 2011 and then again in 2012 significantly boosted my confidence as a poet given the level of competition and the credentials of other writers selected for publication.

This Barn Remembers

The old barn leans, weather-weary,
shoved by sweeping prairie winds,
her doors sagging with the weight of age,
windows clouded by the dust of time.

Once she throbbed with life
in the heartbeats of 30 Holsteins,
in the footsteps of my farmer father,
in the clench of his strong hands
upon scoop shovel and pitchfork.

This barn spoke to us,
the farmer and the farmer’s children,
in the soothing whir of milking machines
pulsating life-blood, rhythmic, constant, sure.

Inside her bowels we pitched putrid piles of manure
while listening to the silken voices of Charlie Boone
booming his Point of Law on ‘CCO
and Paul Harvey wishing us a “good day,”
distant radio signals transmitting from the Cities and faraway Chicago.

This barn remembers
the grating trudge of our buckle overshoes upon manure-slicked cement,
yellow chore-gloved hands gripping pails of frothy milk,
taut back muscles straining to hoist a wheelbarrow
brimming with ground corn and pungent silage.

This barn remembers, too,
streams of hot cow pee splattering into her gutters,
rough-and-tumble farm cats clumped in a corner
their tongues flicking at warm milk poured into an old hubcap,
and hefty Holsteins settling onto beds of prickly straw.

A rural scene along U.S. Highway 14 near Nicollet.

A rural scene along U.S. Highway 14 near Nicollet.

Let’s examine “This Barn Remembers” to see how I created this poem. Always, always, when penning a poem like this, I shut out the present world and close myself into the past.

I rely on all five senses, not just the obvious sight and sound, to engage the reader:

  • sight—sagging doors, clouded windows, manure-slicked cement
  • sound—soothing whir of milking machines, grating trudge of buckle overshoes, silken voices of Charlie Boone
  • taste—tongues flicking warm milk
  • touch—in the clench of his strong hands, gripping pails of frothy milk, settling onto beds of prickly straw
  • smell—putrid piles of manure, pungent silage

Strong and precise verbs define action: shoved, throbbed, booming, gripping, brimming, splattering, flicking

Literary tools like alliteration—pitched putrid piles of manure—and personification—the barn taking on the qualities of a woman—strengthen my poem.

The words and verses possess a certain musical rhythm. This concept isn’t easy to explain. But, as a poet, I know when my composition dances.

I also realize when I’ve failed, when a poem needs work and/or deserves rejection.

That all said, the best advice I can offer any poet is this:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write from the heart.
  • Write in your voice.
  • Write with fearlessness and honesty. (Note especially this line: “…streams of hot cow pee splattering into her gutters…”)
I grew up on a dairy and crop farm, so I know cows well enough to write about them in my poetry.

I grew up on a dairy and crop farm, so I know cows well enough to write about them in my poetry.

You can bet I smelled that hot cow pee, watched the urine gushing from Holsteins into the gutter, pictured a younger version of myself dodging the deluges, when I penned “This Barn Remembers.” Writing doesn’t get much more honest than cow pee.

IF YOU’RE A POET, a lover of poetry and/or an editor, tell me what works for you in composing/reading/considering poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The evolution of poetry January 15, 2013

EXCEPT FOR THE POETRY of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, the poetry I studied in my youth seemed mostly complicated and unapproachable.

I expect you may have felt the same about any poetry you read, studied and critiqued as part of a high school and/or college English class. You could not wait to get through the required course and put poetry behind you.

Today, though, poetry has become much more approachable, even understandable. Would you agree?

I write poetry. Seventeen of my poems have been published in places ranging from the pages of a newspaper, magazine and anthologies to billboards. Yes, billboards. Recently, the Roadside Poetry Project, which began in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, in 2008 and featured seasonally-changing poetry billboards, ended.

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

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Venues like this expose poetry to the masses in an unassuming and everyday way. When a poem is limited to four lines, a maximum of 20 characters per line, every word, every letter, counts and thus the poem is penned with great care. Take my poem, winner in the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition:

Cold earth warmed
by the budding sun
sprouts the seeds
of vernal equinox.

Sidewalk poetry, which graces Minnesota sidewalks in St. Paul, Mankato, Northfield and St. Cloud, also holds similar word limitations and a certain everyday appeal. Those who long ago dismissed poetry for its complexity and arrogance may develop a renewed interest in verse upon reading sidewalk poetry. That would be my hope.

A poem by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau imprinted  in the sidewalk at Riverfront Park, Mankato, as part of the WordWalk project.

A poem by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau imprinted in the sidewalk at Riverfront Park, Mankato, as part of the WordWalk project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve viewed some of the sidewalk poems in Mankato (WordWalk) and Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry). While these poems may be limited in words, they certainly are not limited in depth. Sometimes less is more. Writing a short poem with word limitations can be more of a challenge than penning a lengthy poem. Ask any poet.

A poem by Patrick Ganey is stamped into the sidewalk near the Northfield Public Library. It reads: still winter thaw  tall pines bend, grey sky drops rain  even at midday  a train whistle sounds lonely

A poem by Patrick Ganey is stamped into the sidewalk near the Northfield Public Library. It reads: still winter thaw/ tall pines bend, grey sky drops/ rain even at midday/ a train whistle sounds lonely. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This whole concept of stamping poems into concrete, putting poetry out there to the public, appeals to me as a truly creative way to bring verse to the people, to those who might not pick up a poetry book.

Even more creative is Motionpoems, a nonprofit poetry film initiative developed under the guidance of Twin Cities animator/producer Angella Kassube and St. Paul poet Todd Boss. The pair co-founded Motionpoems in 2009. The process “turns contemporary poems into (animated) short films.”

Among my favorite Motionpoems is an adaptation of Boss’ poem titled “The God of Our Farm Had Blades,” a poem about a windmill. While some would argue that visuals detract from the words and the reader’s interpretation of a poem, I would argue that visuals and listening to verse read aloud enhance the poetry experience.

Northern Community Radio, based in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, recently embraced poetry via “The Beat,” which each weekday features a poem by a poet with a Minnesota connection. How lovely is that to listen to a poem read on the air?

For those who still prefer the old-fashioned book-in-hand method of reading poetry, as I also enjoy, plenty of excellent collections exist out there, including Boss’ two books, Yellowrocket and Pitch.

Minnetonka poet Carol Allis also recently published a particularly understandable poetry collection appropriately titled Poems for Ordinary People. Her no-frills style of writing and the content of her verse allow readers to easily connect with her words.

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by  Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by Charles Beck

I can’t end this post without recommending two outstanding Minnesota-based collections of regional writing (including poetry) in the long-standing The Talking Stick published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc and Lake Region Review, in its second year of publication by the Lake Region Writers Network. Both feature a diversity of fine, fine regional writing. (And just to clarify, my work has been published in both.)

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Tell me how you experience, or don’t experience, poetry. Do you write, edit, listen to, read poetry?

What are your thoughts on creative poetry venues like billboards, sidewalks and film?

What are your thoughts on poetry in general?

Let’s talk poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Support regional writing this Christmas via the gift of words December 6, 2012

WITH ALL THE “SHOP LOCAL” buzz this time of year, have you ever considered how that applies to the printed word?

Are you supporting local and regional authors, writers from within your state?

Allow me to show you two Minnesota publications that would make ideal Christmas gifts for anyone who appreciates regional based writing. Both feature collections of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry.

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by  Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, a literary magazine centered in Battle Lake in the northwestern part of our state, showcases work by writers from Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas selected in a competitive process. This year 34 pieces were culled from some 430 submissions for publication in volume two.

In their introduction to this 160-page soft-cover book-style collection produced by the Lake Region Writers Network, co-editors Athena Kildegaard and Mark Vinz write in part:

Our aim in selecting writing for this issue is simply to look for the best writing that engages and enlightens through attention to language. In these pages you’ll find characters challenged by circumstances (and weather), poems charged with vitality (and weather), and essays that will provoke and move you.

How true. With topics like polio and Alzheimer’s, installing a satellite dish on a snowy rooftop and falling through the ice, unemployment and death, and even some stories—“Norwegian Love” and “Julebukking”—of Scandinavian influence, you are certain to find writing that entertains and evokes emotional reactions.

The writers themselves range from beginners to seasoned.

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck.

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A bonus to both volumes of Lake Region Review is the original regional-based cover art. This year’s cover features “Cardinals,” a wood print by well-known Minnesota artist Charles Beck of Fergus Falls.

Stephen Hennings painting on the cover of Lake Region Review, volume one.

Stephen Henning’s painting on the cover of Lake Region Review, volume one.

Last year a detail of an original landscape painting, “Christina Lake: View from Seven Sisters,” by nationally-renowned artist Stephen Henning of Evansville graced the cover of volume one.

Like Lake Region Review, The Talking Stick produced by the Jackpine Writer’s Bloc based in Menahga (near Park Rapids) offers a quality selection of works in a book-style collection.

The cover of The Talking Stick, Volume 21, Nightfall, also has a Minnesota bend with a stock photo of loons on a lake from iStockphoto.com.

The cover of The Talking Stick, Volume 21, Nightfall, also has a Minnesota bend with a stock photo of loons on a lake from iStockphoto.com.

According to the Jackpine website, “…we publish to encourage solid writing that shows promise, creativity and brilliance.”

Especially heavy in poetry (94 poems), volume 21 of this literary journal features 130 pieces (chosen from 278 submissions) by writers from Minnesota or with a Minnesota connection.

With titled works like “Bologna Sandwich,” “Memories of Duluth,” “And a Bier for Dad,” “January Snow,” “Iceout,” “Blueberry Woods Symphony,” and more, the Minnesota influence presses deep into the 192 pages of this volume, subtitled Nightfall.

Therein lies the beauty of buying local in the printed word: a strong regional imprint.

That local connection also ties into the financial support provided to these two literary collections. Otter Tail Power Company, an energy company servicing western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas, provided “generous support” to Lake Region Review. And a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council with funding from the Minnesota Legislature financed, in part, volume 21 of The Talking Stick.

HAVE YOU PURCHASED/or will you buy local books or literary collections as Christmas gifts this year? If so, please share your recommendations.

FYI: To learn more about the two literary collections highlighted here and how to purchase them, click here for the Lake Region Review. Then click here for The Talking Stick.

Some of the writers published in Lake Region Review, volume two, will read from their works beginning at 2 p.m. this coming Sunday, December 9, at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway Avenue, in downtown Fargo, N.D. (If only I was going to be in Fargo this weekend. But I will read some of my poetry beginning at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, December 6, in the Great Hall at Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault.)

Disclaimer: My work has been published in both volumes of Lake Region Review and in several volumes of The Talking Stick. However, I received no monetary compensation for that or for this review, nor was I asked to pen this post.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My writing connection to a Fargo bookstore November 9, 2012

A snippet of the many bookshelves at Zandbroz Variety. So artful and colorful and inviting.

MY PURPOSE IN CHECKING OUT a downtown Fargo, North Dakota, bookstore/gift shop recently focused on a single reason—Lake Region Review.

I wanted to see this Minnesota literary journal on the shelves of Zandbroz Variety because, well, my poetry is published in volumes one and two. Recently-released LRR 2 features 34 pieces of writing by selected authors in Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas.

Lake Region Review 2, with wood print cover art by well-known Minnesota artist Charles Beck of Fergus Falls, nestles next to the first volume of LRR. Beck’s cover art is titled “Cardinals.”

Given that 430 fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry submissions were submitted to the Battle Lake-based Lake Region Writers Network for volume two, getting into the collection is an honor and accomplishment. I’m in the company of mighty fine writers, many of them with an impressive list of writing credentials.

I also happen to live in southeastern Minnesota, far, far away from most of the writers featured in LRR and also far away from events related to the release of the second volume.

The back room of Zandbroz Variety, site of readings, book club meetings and other events and gatherings.

Visiting Zandbroz Variety offered me an opportunity to connect with the Fargo bookstore which will host a Lake Region Review Two Reading Event at 2 p.m. Sunday, December 9. I didn’t know about the event when I visited Zandbroz and introduced myself. And when I photographed the delightful back room of Zandbroz, I was unaware LLR 2 contributors will soon be reading in this cozy and inviting space.

Artwork in Zandbroz Variety’s back room with a favorite quote of mine from the book, The Help.

It was pure coincidence that, two days later, I would receive an email from Luke Anderson, president of the LRWN inviting me and other LLR 2 writers to participate in the reading at Zandbroz. I wish I could, but a 300-mile (one-way) road trip to Fargo is not in my plans as I’ve been to that North Dakota city four times already since February. (My son attends North Dakota State University.) Gas, hotel and dining expenses add up.

Likewise, I couldn’t join other LRR 2 writers who recently read their works for a program to be aired November 30 – December 2 on nine western Minnesota radio stations from Worthington in the extreme southwest to Fergus Falls on the north.

So it goes. I’m not much anyway on public appearances, preferring to write rather than perform. But I’m learning, too, the value in reading poetry aloud to an audience, having done that thrice now.

Promoting is also part of this writing gig. And that, too, can be a challenge given my Minnesota predisposition not to call attention to myself.

However, I did inform the young man staffing Zandbroz Variety that I had poems in both volumes of Lake Region Review. “Perhaps you remember the first; I mentioned cow pee,” I told him. “And in the second, I mention beer.”

He laughed, considered for a moment and replied that “cow pee” sounded familiar to him. Maybe. Maybe not. But I expect he’ll remember me now.

The lines, the books, the setting…this a scene in the back reading room. Love the ambiance.

A close-up of the chair back in the photo above. I have no idea from what book these pages were pulled. But I’d place a literary chair like this in my home any day.

Jolts of color on a door in that welcoming back room.

A rug for sale in the variety section of Zandbroz where you will find an eclectic mix of funky and retro and otherwise interesting merchandise. This made me think of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

An enchanting Christmas display near the front of the store.

Outside a front door of Zandbroz, I found this lovely tile work. I apologize for the lack of exterior store photos. But a light mist was falling at the time and I was reluctant to pull out my camera. I also limited my interior shots as Zandbroz was busy, busy and other shoppers do not always appreciate someone aiming a camera at them.

FYI: To learn more about Lake Region Writers Network, click here to reach the writers’ group website.

To see where you can find copies of Lake Region Review, published in 2011 and 2012, click here. LRR 2 includes writing by the following: Maxine Adams, Luke Anderson, Joe Baker, Frances Ann Crowley, Holly Dowds, Cindy Fox, Yahya Frederickson, Susan Gilbert, Ruby Grove, Vinnie Hansen, Audrey Kletscher Helbling, Nancy Klepetka, Karla Klinger, Elisa Korentayer, Judy R. Korn, Ryan Kutter, Julie C. Larson, Kim Larson, Linda Frances Lein, Kathleen Lindstrom, Ethan Marxhausen, Linda Back McKay, Travis Moore, Kristine Price, Candace Simar, Doris Lueth Stengel, Liz Sweder, Francine Marie Tolf, Benet Tvedten and Kevin Zepper.

Click here to see where you can listen to readings from LRR 2 airing soon on nine western Minnesota radio stations.

Finally, click here to learn more about Zandbroz Vareity, founded by brothers Jeff and Greg Danz and with stores in Fargo (420 Broadway) and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Do you see how they came up with the clever name for their business?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What’s with all those dangling bras in downtown Fargo? November 8, 2012

SO…MY HUSBAND and I are driving through downtown Fargo Saturday afternoon, en route to Zandbroz Variety because I want to see Lake Region Review on bookshelves there. Sometimes I am vain like that. But I’ve had poetry published in the first two volumes of LRR and, as any writer will tell you, there’s a certain thrill in seeing a book, which includes your work, shelved and for sale.

I digress.

Before we reach Zandbroz, which rates as a quite cool variety store, we pass the Hotel Donaldson, locally referenced as the HoDo. This stately brick building anchoring the corner of First Avenue North and Broadway in the heart of downtown Fargo was built in 1893 as an Odd Fellows Lodge. Today it’s been transformed into a hotel, cultural and entertainment center and fine dining establishment. Not that I’ve been inside; I’ve only read this.

My first view of Bras on Broadway at the HoDo.

And for the month of October and apparently into November, the HoDo has become the canvas for Bras on Broadway.

Looking up on the First Avenue side of the bras dangling from the HoDo.

Yes, you read that correctly. The exterior of the HoDo is adorned/decorated/covered (choose your verb) in strings of bras reaching from rooftop to first floor window level.

The Bras on Broadway art installment on the corner of First Avenue North and Broadway.

Fortunately, as we approach the HoDo, the stoplight turns red, thus allowing me enough time for a quick photo shoot while we wait and then turn the corner onto Broadway. I try not to think about the mist as I stick my camera out the van window and aim the lens upward, hoping I will get a few publishable shots.

Turning onto Broadway, I shoot this scene of Bras on Broadway.

With no parking spaces available, I will figure out what the whole bra thing is about later. And so, at the variety store, I ask, “What’s going on with all the bras on that building?”

“It’s Bras on Broadway at the HoDo, raising funds for breast cancer,” I am informed, but do not press for details given Zandbroz is teeming with shoppers.

According to the Bras on Broadway website, the event “supports those in our area fighting breast cancer by providing accommodations, gas cards and wigs.” Last year $102,000 was donated to the American Cancer Society, bringing the six-year donations total to $264,000. (I couldn’t find a total for 2012.)

This October marks the seventh annual Bras on Broadway with monies raised in a variety of ways: For a minimum $5 and donation of “any old bra,” a bra can be added to the garlands of bras. Teams and individuals collect bras and monetary gifts. Sales of event related merchandise go toward the cause. Artists reinvent wearable and non-wearable bras that are auctioned off.

The Broadway side of the HoDo exhibit.

All of this Bras on Broadway fundraising apparently is finished for this year. Even so, I want to share this story and photos with you because, wow, something like thousands of bras dangling from an historic building in Fargo, of all places, grabs your attention.

And get this, Bras on Broadway hosted a “Deck the Bras” event at the Fargo Civic Center where anyone could bring bras and enhance them with bling and trinkets for the HoDo installment. The mobile mammography truck from the local medial center also showed up at the decorating party.

One final shot of Bras on Broadway as we drive past the HoDo.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the first two volumes of the regional literary journal Lake Region Review are stocked at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway, just blocks from the Bras on Broadway at the HoDo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Give the gift of Minnesota writing December 20, 2011

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ALRIGHT THEN, I’m going to put in a days-before-Christmas gift plug idea here for Lake Region Review, a Minnesota literary magazine. Even though the founders, term it a “magazine,” I’d call this 138-page volume a “book.”

Anyway, magazine/book/journal, whatever word you choose, it’s a collection of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry by 27 Minnesotans, including me.

In my “This Barn Remembers” poem, you’ll read my memories of laboring in my childhood dairy barn on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. You may want to pull on your old boots as you muck your way through my true-to-reality poem. I tell it like it was, right down to “putrid piles of manure” and “streams of hot cow pee.”

I’m not going to choose a favorite piece of poetry or prose to highlight from Lake Region Review. But you’ll find regional writing from those as well-known as New York Times bestselling author Leif Enger to unknown college student Travis Moore in a collection that melds work by experienced and emerging writers. By the way, getting published in the Review was a competitive process. You’ll read quality writing here.

That all said, Lake Region Review would make an ideal gift for anyone who appreciates regional writing.

You can purchase the $10 volume in these Minnesota, and one North Dakota, locales:

  • Becker County Museum, 714 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes
  • Cherry Street Books, 503 Broadway, Alexandria
  • Lakes Area Theatre, 2214 Geneva Road, N.E., Alexandria
  • Minnesota Historical Society Bookstore, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul
  • Otter Tail County Historical Society, 1110 Lincoln Ave. W., Fergus Falls
  • Victor Lundeens, 126 West Lincoln Ave., Fergus Falls
  • Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway, Fargo, N.D.

Or click on this link for instructions on how to order. (Sorry, the anthology won’t arrive by Christmas.)

Thanks for supporting Minnesota writers like me (not that I earned any money from the Review—I didn’t). But I certainly appreciate readers who value regional writing.

IF YOU’VE READ Lake Region Review, I’d like to hear your review.

CLICK HERE to read a previous post I wrote about Lake Region Review and another Minnesota literary journal, The Talking Stick.

 

Gaining confidence as a poet October 19, 2011

I THINK ALL WRITERS, if we’re honest with ourselves, face insecurities about writing.

Can we write? Is our writing “good enough” to publish? Will anyone read, or even care about, what we write?

I’ve long overcome any issues I faced about journalism style writing. I’m confident in my abilities to pull together a good feature story or another journalistic piece given my educational background in mass communications and my years of experience in journalism. And with several years of blogging to my credit, I’m also confident in that writing style.

It’s poetry which has challenged my confidence. Although I’ve written poetry off and on since high school—which stretches back nearly four decades—I’ve never written much poetry, at least not enough to consider myself a true poet. Until now.

Finally, this year, with the publication of two poems in two Minnesota literary journals and winning the spring Roadside Poetry contest, I’m comfortable adding “poet” to my writing credentials.

Getting to the point of feeling comfortable with the term “poet” really began 11 years ago with publication of a poem in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 2. I considered that a stroke of good fortune. But when four more poems published in the next two volumes, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could write poetry. After all, I had competed against other writers to get into the Poetic Strokes anthologies.

Then I had a poem accepted for publication in The Lutheran Digest.

Next, I earned an honorable mention for my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” published last year in The Talking Stick, Forgotten Roads, Volume 19.

Finally, this year, I had an official poet epiphany when I entered three poetry competitions and was subsequently published on Roadside Poetry billboards, in The Talking Stick, Black & White, Volume 20 and Lake Region Review.

Although I don’t know how many poets I competed against in Roadside Poetry, I do have the numbers for the two literary journals. The Talking Stick this year published 140 pieces of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction from 99 writers, me being one of them with my poem, “Abandoned Barn,” and my creative nonfiction, “Welcome Home.” That’s out of 326 submissions from 171 writers.

Look at the list of writers, and you may recognize a few names like Marge Barrett, Tim J. Brennan, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Jerry Mevissen, Candace Simar…

It’s quite a process to get into The Talking Stick with five members of The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc reading all of the entries and then an editorial board meeting to vote and discuss. The top four to seven favorites in each category are then forwarded to celebrity judges—this year Kris Bigalk, Kevin Kling and Alison McGhee—to choose first and second place winners in each division.

As for Lake Region Review, the process of selecting the works for publication is equally as rigorous. Co-editors Mark Vinz—author, professor emeritus of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead and first coordinator of MSUM’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing—and Athena Kildegaard—author and lecturer at the University of Minnesota Morris—worked with a staff of 10. They read more than 200 submissions before narrowing the field to 27 established and emerging writers.

I’m one of those 27.

And so is Leif Enger, author of the 2001 New York Times best-seller Peace Like a River, which happens to be a favorite book of mine. It’s nice to be in the company of someone who, like me, writes with a strong sense of place.

Most of my poetry connects to the southwestern Minnesota prairie, where I grew up on a dairy and crop farm. Specifically, the barn on the home place inspired my two distinct barn poems which published in The Talking Stick and Lake Region Review.

I don’t know what moved the editors of either publication to select my poems for inclusion in their literary journals. But I did incorporate lines such as “hot cow pee splattering into her gutters” and “rusty hinges creaking like aged bones.”

According to Co-editor Kildegaard at Lake Region Review, editors chose pieces that were “fresh, creative, lively, interesting. We were looking for writing that has something new to say.”

Apparently I had something new to say about the old barn.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals.

WRITERS FEATURED in the recently-published 212-page The Talking Stick, Black & White, Volume 20, are from, or have a strong connection to, Minnesota. Those published in the 138-page debut of Lake Region Review live primarily in west central Minnesota. Eight writers have been published in both collections.

The cover of Lake Region Review is a detail of an original landscape painting, “Christina Lake: View from Seven Sisters,” by American impressionist painter Stephen Henning of Otter Tail County.

IF YOU’RE A WRITER, specifically of poetry, did you/do you struggle with confidence issues? At what point did you/will you call yourself a poet?

FYI: For more information or to purchase copies of either literary journal featured here, click on the appropriate link below:

www.lakeregionreview.net

www.thetalkingstick.com

And click here for more information about Roadside Poetry.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling