Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault poets reading at Northfield bookstore January 8, 2019

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at a poetry event. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

POETRY. For some, the word likely holds memories of high school English assignments that sparked deep angst. Write poetry. Read poetry. Nope, don’t wanna. But you had to in order to pass a class.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” selected several years ago for inclusion in the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As a poet, I understand that the poetry of yesteryear wasn’t always that appealing. Too many rules existed with way too much rhyming verse. Poetry today, that I like. I better. I write poetry.

Thursday evening I will be among five Faribault-connected poets featured in an informal Poetry Reading at Content Bookstore in downtown Northfield. Rob Hardy, Northfield’s 2018 Poet Laureate (isn’t that great?) is organizing the event which begins at 7 p.m., ends at 8:30 p.m.

Featured poets are Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, John Reinhard and Kristin Twitchell. We will each read for 10 minutes. I’ve previously been connected with every one of these poets.

 

It was shoulder to shoulder people at a poet and artist reception at Crossings in April 2014. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Let’s start with Peter Allen, a prolific poet who has self-published two poetry books and has been published in several anthologies. Peter and I first met at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota where we’ve both had our poetry featured in the Poet-Artist Collaboration, an annual pairing of poetry and visual art. Peter and I also presented together several years ago in a poetry reading at the local library.

 

A collection of Larry’s poetry published by Red Dragonfly Press. File photo.

 

Larry Gavin and I initially met at Faribault High School, where he teaches English. All three of my kids were in his classes. Larry writes down-to earth descriptive poetry with a strong sense of place. Place connects us. Larry, for awhile, lived in my native southwestern Minnesota. He understands the prairie and I see its influence, and that of the natural world in general, in his writing. Red Dragonfly Press has published three collections of his poetry. One other thing about Larry—he has the most incredible voice for reading poetry.

 

A Chamber Choir performs artsongs written from poems. Song writer David Kassler directs.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The connection I share with John Reinhard, who teaches at South Central College in Faribault and who has authored two poetry collections, comes in a concert. Several years ago, a Rochester musician chose our poems and those of several others to write into artsongs performed by a Chamber Choir. What an incredible experience.

 

The historic Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Finally, my link to Kristin Twitchell comes not through poetry but via her role as executive director of the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. We’ve spoken many times and I’ve seen her numerous times at Paradise events. I look forward to hearing the poet side of Kristin.

 

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then there’s event organizer, poet laureate Rob Hardy. We met awhile back at Imminent Brewing in Northfield during an open mic beer poetry reading. Yup, write a poem about beer and then stand up and read it. There won’t be any beer at Thursday’s bookstore reading. But be assured you’ll hear some good poetry read by some talented writers. With treats served afterward. And poetry books for sale.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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How my poetry inspired a still life painting of lilacs April 10, 2014

POETRY INSPIRING ART. It’s a fabulous concept and even better when you are part of such a pairing.

A poem I penned has inspired art for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII, which opened March 31 and runs through May 15 at Crossings at Carnegie, 320 East Avenue, Zumbrota.

"Lilacs on the Table" by Jeanne Licari

“Lilacs on the Table” by Jeanne Licari. Photo courtesy of Crossings at Carnegie.

I recently connected with “my” artist, Jeanne Licari, to learn how my poem, “Lilacs,” inspired her to paint “Lilacs on the Table,” an 11 x 14-inch still life oil on linen.

Twenty-six poems were chosen from nearly 210 submissions with 26 artists then selected via a juried process. This is Jeanne’s ninth time participating in the collaboration and my second.

Artist Jeanne Licari

Artist Jeanne Licari in her studio. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Licari.

A mostly self-taught artist who drew and painted as a child, this Rochester resident also furthered her talent through painting classes and workshops. She terms herself a representational oil painter who prefers to paint from life, whether a landscape or a still life.

Jeanne is both plein air—painting outdoors on location—and studio painter.

“My art reflects the beauty I see in mankind and nature,” she says. “My paintings are a direct response to what I see.”

Or, in the case of “Lilacs,” to what she read.

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of lilacs.

Jeanne explains how she created “Lilacs on the Table”:

“…I wanted to tell the viewer how I felt about lilacs. The poem triggered memories of many bouquets of lilacs in my lifetime. I love the dense bouquet of purple flowers, the beauty of the different pinks and purples against the green leaves, and the abundant fragrance of lilacs. Since there were no lilacs blooming in March, I painted them using memories of lilacs and how they grew, an oil study of lilacs painted from life, and photos.

I painted the lilacs on a table in response to the line, ‘to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table.’ That line, plus the words about farming, made me remember many bouquets of lilacs on our Formica table in my childhood home on the farm.”

How fabulous to know that Jeanne comes, like me, from a rural background. Her words and oil painting show me that she understands and connects to my words in a deeply personal way.

And that is my hope as a poet—that those who read my poetry will connect to it.

A promotional for the collaboration features "Li Bai at the South Fork," art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist XII collaboration.

A promotional for the collaboration features “Li Bai at the South Fork,” art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist Collaboration XII.

FYI: A reception, poetry reading and slide show honoring the featured poets and artists is set for Saturday, May 10. Mingle and meet for an hour beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Crossings gallery. Then, at 7:30 p.m., move next door to the historic State Theatre where poets will read their works and artists will also briefly discuss their art, shown on a screen.

Another poet from my community of Faribault, Larry Gavin, who has published several poetry collections and teaches English at Faribault High School, will read two of his selected poems, “Ashes” and “Two Cranes.”

Collaboration participants come from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The featured artwork is available for sale, including “Lilacs on the Table,” priced at $395. Jeanne Licari’s art is also sold at the SEMVA (South Eastern Minnesota Visual Arts) Gallery in downtown Rochester.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. I love the rural atmosphere with the hardware story and grain elevator just down the street.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

If you can’t attend the May 10 reception, you can view the exhibit during gallery hours from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday; or from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday.

Click here for more details about Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Click here to see how my poem, “Her Treasure,” inspired Connie Ludwig to paint “Pantry Jewels” for the Poet-Artist Collaboration XI in 2012.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Roses & poetry September 29, 2012

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

WHAT WOMAN DOESN’T love roses and poetry?

After work on Wednesday, my 56th birthday, my dear husband brought me a dozen wrapped long-stem roses. Then he disappeared, tools and parts in hand, down the basement stairs to the laundry room to repair my clothes dryer which no longer was producing heat. Roses from the repairman. Perfect.

Simultaneously, I was upstairs in my office checking my email while my birthday supper, homemade lasagna, finished baking.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Waiting in my in-box was this message from Crossings at Carnegie, a privately-owned arts center in Zumbrota:

Thank you for submitting poetry/prose to be considered for Crossings’ “It’s All One Water” exhibit. We received about 110 poems, from which jurors chose 28. It was exciting to receive such a fine outpouring of exceptional work from so many talented writers. Jurists told us they were a pleasure to read, and selecting those to be included was a difficult task.

We are pleased to inform you that your entry, “In which Autumn searches for Water,” was chosen to be part of this exhibit. Your poem will be on display, along with other written works and photographs, through the month of October.

How sweet is that? Another dozen roses, figuratively speaking.

I’ll admit that when I submitted “In which Autumn searches for Water,” I was confident my poem would be selected for Crossings’ joint collaboration with the Zumbro Watershed Partnership. I don’t mean that in an arrogant, haughty way. But I think those of us who write realize when we’ve written a piece that sings.

Not that I’m going to sing. You would not want to hear me sing. But I will read my water-themed poem during the Friday, October 19, “It’s All One Water” reception which begins at 7 p.m. A reading of written pieces, with screen projection of water-themed photos, will start at 7:30 p.m. next door to Crossings at the Zumbrota State Theatre.

A chapbook of selected photos and writing (maybe my poem?) also will be published.

There you have it, roses and poetry. Perfect.

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ANOTHER FARIBAULT RESIDENT, Larry Gavin, a writer who teaches English at Faribault High School (he’s taught all three of my kids), is also among the “It’s All One Water” selected poets. Larry, however, is eons ahead of me in poetry. He’s already published three poetry collections. Like me, though, he also was published on Roadside Poetry project billboards (now ending after a run of 22 seasonal poems). You can learn more about this gifted Faribault poet in a post I published nearly a year ago by clicking here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stone & Sky October 27, 2011

LARRY GAVIN once lived in Belview.

So, you’re likely thinking, “What does that matter and who is Larry Gavin and where the heck is Belview?”

Well, dear readers, especially readers of poetry, Larry Gavin is a poet. He moved to Belview, a southwestern Minnesota prairie town of 375, to study writing with great writers like Howard Mohr, Leo Dangel, Fred Manfred, Joe and Nancy Paddock, Phil Dacey, Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Don Olsen and many others. Do you recognize some of those names? You should.

I’m not trying to be uppity here. But Bly, who was born in Madison (Minnesota, not Wisconsin) and still lives in the western part of our state, is one of Minnesota’s most distinguished poets. Holm, a well-known essayist, author and poet, wrote numerous books, including Boxelder Bug Variations. Up until his death, he lived in his prairie hometown of Minneota (Minnesota without the “s”), where residents celebrate Boxelder Bug Days. Howard Mohr penned How to Talk Minnesotan, a must-read for every transplant to our state.

Driving through the southwestern Minnesota prairie near Morgan, about 25 miles from Belview.

Larry Gavin learned from these great writers of the prairie, where he lived for 15 years many years ago. Gavin made his home in Belview, just off State Highway 19 and some 10 miles or so from my hometown of Vesta. He served as the town’s mayor for two terms and taught English at Redwood Valley High School, back then Redwood Falls High School.

It is that connection to my home area and our shared love of language and writing and of the prairie that has connected me to Gavin, who today lives in Faribault and teaches English at Faribault High School. At least one of my daughters, if not both, has been taught by him.

We both won Roadside Poetry competitions–Gavin the first in 2008 and me, this past spring–and had our four-line poems showcased on billboards in Fergus Falls.

I once asked Gavin to read one of my poems at a local author event. Gavin is meant to read poetry. He has the kind of rich, deep voice from which words flow with the rhythm and inflection of someone who clearly loves language.

Larry Gavin during an author event at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.

Gavin is also meant to write poetry. And he’s written enough to fill three slim books—Necessities, Least Resistance and his just-released Stone & Sky. All have been published by Red Dragonfly Press, a noted not-for-profit literary press based in Red Wing.

When I read Gavin’s poetry, I can sense his deep connection to the land and to nature, shaped, I would like to think, partially by his years on the prairie. When you live on the stark prairie, where the land stretches flat and far and where the sky dwarfs all else and where the wind blows nearly unceasing, you can’t help but write with a strong sense of place and with detail. I see that in Gavin’s poetry.

In his newest book, Stone & Sky, I read of woods and firewood, of raccoon tracks and a walk along a deserted street. Of stone and sky and snakes. I recognize places from here, in Faribault. I recognize, too, prairie-influenced writing.

I don’t pretend to understand every poem in Gavin’s latest collection. But poetry is always open to interpretation and that which I may not find meaningful today I may come to understand at a later time.

All that said, I posed a series of questions to Gavin, who has written more than poetry. For fifteen years he worked as a field editor for Midwest Fly Fishing magazine, taught at the magazine’s school in Montana in the summer and helped with the Chicago and Minneapolis fly fishing expos each spring. He currently writes for Outdoor News.

My questions to him, however, specifically address his poetry writing. I found his answers insightful and, at times, surprising.

Q:  How long have you been writing poetry, why, and when did you consider yourself a poet?

A:  I started writing poetry in sixth grade and that’s when I started considering myself a poet. I’ve written ever since.

Q: What inspires you and/or influences your poetry?

A:  Work inspires me. Everyday I get up and write something. I don’t miss a day. Inspiration has very little to do with it for me. I like working out ideas and problems in writing each day.

Q:  How would you define your poetry style and content?

A:  I consider myself an inheritor of the great romantic tradition of poetry. That, in my mind, goes from Wordsworth to Yeats and Hopkins to Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens, to Gary Snyder and others. The natural world as reflected and defined by human thought and feelings. The great gift we give to the world is our thoughts and feelings about big issues: transcendence, hope, justice, peace, and love.

Q:  This is your third collection of poetry issued by Red Dragonfly Press. What was the process to getting published by this well-respected Minnesota press?

A:  Scott King is the publisher and I submit a manuscript to him. He responds either yes or no and if he accepts it the manuscript gets in line to be published. The most recent book took about four years to appear. Publication is based on press funding and a variety of other factors. I’m patient and not particularly ambitious.

Q:  Tell me about the content and theme in your first two collections, Necessities and Least Resistance.

A:  They are very different from one another. The poems deal with the natural world as seen through simple objects and ideas. They attempt to make sense of complex subjects like love and our interaction with nature in a pure form of language, and the tools poetry gives us like meter and rhyme. The poems are an explication of the world in the context of the universal individual.

Q:  Stone & Sky just released. It’s an interesting title. How does the title tie in with the content? What is the common thread running through the poems in this collection?

A:  Stone & Sky stretches the boundaries of what is real. It looks at the world in a more magical way. Not magical as fabricated but more magical as mystical – as another way of being real. The language, the images, and the poems stretch the boundaries of what is real and hopefully get at reality in a new way. They are still anchored in the natural world, still anchored in the local, but the themes, like the title, are basic, elemental.

Q:  If you were to select your favorite poem in Stone & Sky, which would it be and why? How about a favorite line?

A:  Actually they are all favorites right now. And you have to remember, I’m on to new things after four years.

Q:  Your love of nature shines in your writing. So does your love of language. How do you combine the two into poetry that sings with descriptive lines? How do you know when you’ve “nailed it,” when you have a poem exactly where you want it?

A:  The old elements of poetry combined in new ways. Rhyme, meter, repetition – give poems life. Everything is a work in progress; they’re never really finished.

Q:  Are you working on another collection? Or are you simply just always writing poetry?

A:  My next collection is called The Initiation of Praise and I’ll start sending it out soon. I also have a selected works which focuses just on outdoor poems. I’m also working on some short stories, and I write an article each week as well.

READERS, Stone & Sky is available from Red Dragonfly Press at  www.reddragonflypress.org and also at Monkey See Monkey Read (in person or through internet sales), an independent bookstore at 425 Division Street, Northfield. Eventually, Stone & Sky will also be available through Amazon. Cover cost is $10.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo and book cover courtesy of Larry Gavin

 

Count me in on Roadside Poetry April 26, 2011

“We’ve selected YOUR poem for our spring Roadside Poetry installment!”

For nearly a month now, I’ve kept that exciting, boldfaced news mostly to myself, sharing it with only my immediate family, my mom and a few select friends and extended family members.

But now that the billboards are up—yes, I said billboards—I no longer feel obligated to keep this a secret.

I won the spring Roadside Poetry competition and my poem now sprawls across four billboards, Burma Shave style, 50 yards apart in Fergus Falls.

That’s it, my poem, the winning poem, which is posted along North Tower Road west of Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, just down the road from Fleet Farm. Take exit 54 off I-94 on the west edge of Fergus.

Paul Carney, the project coordinator who delivered the good news to me via e-mail in early March, tells me that 100,000 vehicles drive by the billboards each month. “How’s that for readership?” he asks.

Well, mighty fine, Paul. Mighty fine.

Getting my poetry out there in this unusual, highly-public venue really is an honor for me, adding to my poems already published in two magazines and four, soon-to-be five, anthologies.

The mission of The Roadside Poetry Project “is to celebrate the personal pulse of poetry in the rural landscape,” according to roadsidepoetry.org. The first poem went up in September 2008 and was, interestingly enough, written by another Faribault resident, Larry Gavin, a writer and Faribault High School English teacher.

The poems, all seasonally-themed, change four times a year. Mine will be up through the third week of June when a summer poem replaces it. Yes, entries are currently being accepted for the summer competition.

About now you’re likely, maybe, wondering how I heard about this contest. I honestly cannot remember. But I do remember thinking, “I can do this.” So one night I sat down with a notebook and pencil and started jotting down phrases.

Like most writers, I strive to find the exact/precise/perfect/right words.

I scribbled and scratched and thought and wrote and crossed out and jotted and erased and counted and filled several notebook pages.

These poems do not simply pop, like that, into my head, onto paper.

To add to the complexity of this process, poets are tasked with creating poetic imagery that describes the wonderment of the season, all in four lines. But there’s more. Each line can include no more than 20 characters.

Now that character limitation, my friends, presents a challenge. Just when I thought I had nailed a phrase, I counted too many characters. Again and again, I had to restart until, finally, I had shaped and molded the poem I would submit.

“I love the language and the imagery,” project leader Paul said of my winning spring poem.

Honestly, when I wrote this poem, I could feel the sun warming my back as I stooped to drop slips of zinnia seeds into the cold, damp earth. Visualizing has always been a part of my creative process. Choosing the words “vernal equinox” simply seemed so much more poetic than the single, plain word, “spring.”

Even though Paul loved my poem and it fit the contest guidelines, there was a problem: Audrey Kletscher Helbling. Count and you get 23 characters and two spaces in my name, putting me five over the 20-character limit.

I understood the space limitations, but explained to Paul that I really wanted Audrey Kletscher Helbling, not Audrey Helbling, on the billboard because that’s my professional name. He agreed to see if the sign-maker could fit my full name and keep it readable. From my experience years ago writing newspaper headlines, I knew that the letters “l” and “i” took less space than other letters. The sign-maker was able to honor my request.

I haven’t been up to Fergus Falls yet to see my poem and Audrey Kletscher Helbling splashed across four billboards. But a trip will be forthcoming.

FYI: Paul Carney hopes to expand Roadside Poetry, supported in Fergus Falls by the Fergus Area College Foundation, to other locations in Minnesota. However, additional funding is needed to finance start-up, printing and other costs. If you would like to support this public art venue, have questions, need more information or wish to enter the seasonal contest, visit roadsidepoetry.org.

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Paul Carney