Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

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

 

Meander west this weekend September 29, 2011

WEST WOULD BE my destination of choice this weekend.

Not west as in West. But west as in Fergus Falls or the Upper Minnesota River Valley.

Two arts events in western Minnesota this weekend will take you nearly into the Dakotas.

I’d like to be at the Lake Region Writers Network Conference at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus listening to author Leif Enger (of Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young and Handsome) talk about “place” in writing.

I’d like to be there picking up my copy of Lake Region Review, a literary magazine of regional writing. You see, two months ago I received this e-mail:

Dear Ms. Helbling,

The Editorial Board of Lake Region Review 2011, after careful consideration, has finalized selections for Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine. While editors and readers were pleased with the number of submissions, the sheer volume of entries also made their choices much more difficult.

Regardless, the board is pleased to inform you that the work indicated below HAS BEEN ACCEPTED WITH REVISION for publication in Lake Region Review 2011, which will be released at the LRWN Oct. 1 writing conference at M-State in Fergus Falls:…

But I won’t be in Fergus on Saturday at the conference. It’s a long drive there from Faribault and I have this room to paint and…

…not only that, but back in June my husband and I traveled the 200 miles to Fergus Falls to see my winning entry in the spring Roadside Poetry competition splashed across four billboards near the college.

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

So I’ll wait for the LRWN folks to send me a copy of their literary magazine, which I’m mighty pleased to be a part of because, well, any time you win a highly-competitive contest judged by others of literary talent, it’s an honor.

I’LL HAVE TO WAIT until another year also to attend an arts event that’s long been on my list of “things I want to do.” That’s Meander—Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl. Thirty-three art studios featuring the work of 45 artists will be open during a free self-guided tour that begins Friday (2 p.m. – 6 p.m.), continues into Saturday (9 a.m. – 6 p.m.) and ends Sunday (9 a.m.– 4 p.m.).

This event is happening in the Minnesota River Valley region of western Minnesota near the towns of Ortonville, Appleton, Madison, Milan, Dawson, Montevideo and Granite Falls. It’s beautiful land—prairie and fields, rock and woods, rivers, small towns, farms…

The region seems a mecca for artists, which doesn’t at all surprise me given I’m a southwestern Minnesota native. Something about this land fosters creativity. Remember my earlier mention of Leif Enger and his focus on place? At the writers’ conference in Fergus Falls, he’ll “look at how geography of a tale infuses it with gravity, wit and credibility.”

I suspect place, as much as anything, influences the photography, paintings, pottery, fiber art, woodworking and other art created by those artists featured in the Meander.

Meander featured artist Kerry Kolke-Bonk of Appleton created the painting, "What goes around comes around," to promote this year's art tour.

According to economic impact information I received from Kristi Fernholz, Community Development Planner for the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, the Meander brings in an average of $1,652 in art sales per artist (2010 and 2009 statistics).

Last year, art sales during Meander weekend totaled $69,395. In addition, attendees infuse the area with more money spent on food, lodging and other shopping.

I won’t be one of those shoppers this year. But you could be. If you have an open schedule this weekend, consider a trip west, as in western Minnesota.

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FYI: Click here for more information about Meander—Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl.

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Click here for more information about the Lake Region Writers Network. If you would like to purchase a copy of the first-ever Lake Region Review with my poem (sorry, not going to yet divulge its title), send $10 plus $3 for shipping and handling to:

Lake Region Writers Network, P.O. Box 356, Battle Lake, MN. 56515

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Click here for more information about Roadside Poetry.

© Text and photos copyright 2011 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