Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The music of poetry comes to Rochester February 15, 2017

Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota

Poetry on Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

POETRY. Do you throw a mental roadblock the instant you encounter that word? Or do you embrace poetry? And, yes, you can be honest. I realize poetry isn’t for everyone. Just like science fiction or fantasy. I don’t read either. But I do read and write poetry.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls in 2011. This is the fourth billboard with the posting of my poem: Cold earth warmed/by the budding sun/sprouts the seeds/of vernal equinox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

My poems have been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, in poet/artist collaborations, on signs along recreational trails and on billboards. I’ve also read my poetry at events and for radio. But now my poetry will be showcased in another way—in a song to be performed at two concerts.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers' Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

Rochester, Minnesota, composer David Kassler selected my poem, The Farmer’s Song, for inclusion in a project that pairs his original music with poetry by seven regionally and nationally-recognized poets. In other words, my poem became the lyrics for his song. It’s part of a set, Minnesota Rondos.

I nearly flipped when I saw this toy accordion, just like one I had as a child. I loved my accordion and it is the only musical instrument I've ever played.

The only instrument I ever learned to play was a toy accordion exactly like this one, photographed several years ago in a Mankato antique shop. I received the accordion one childhood Christmas.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The irony in all of this is my inability to read a single note. I never had the opportunity growing up to take piano lessons, to participate in band or anything musical. I ad libbed my way through required school music classes. So to now have my rural-themed poem set to music is, well, remarkable for me personally. I am honored.

Connie, right, and I posed for a photo after a 90-minute presentation in which poets read their poems and artists talked about how their art was inspired by the poem. Note Connie's "Pantry Jewels" painting just above my head to the left. If I could buy this $490 watercolor on aqua board, I would in a snap.

Connie Ludwig, right, created a painting, Pantry Jewels, based on my poem, Her Treasure, as part of a 2012 Poet-Artist Collaboration at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I am especially honored to be in the company of poets with incredible resumes of teaching, leadership, advanced degrees, publication of their own poetry collections and more. Featured poets include Jana Bouma of Madison Lake, Meredith Cook of Blue Earth, the late Janelle Hawkridge of Winnebago, Robert Hedin of Red Wing, John Reinhard of Owatonna and Michael Waters of New Jersey.

Randy has enough musical knowledge to play a short tune.

In downtown Mason City, Iowa, home of The Music Man, pianos sit outdoors for anyone to use. Here my husband plays a simple tune during a visit several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Kassler, who teaches music at Rochester Community and Technical College and is the music director at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, received a $5,000 established artist grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to help fund the project that includes two concerts. A 30-member chamber choir of collegiate and professional musicians conducted by Kassler with piano and cello accompaniment will perform the choral works.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

Two years ago I read my poem, Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion, at a Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater. Two of my poems published that year in an anthology compiled by my regional library system. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am excited to hear the music my poem inspired. Concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at Rochester Community and Technical College. Tickets are $7.50 and will be sold at the door; Kassler needs to recoup an additional $2,000 of his own monies invested in the project. He’s that dedicated to this.

The second concert, and the one I plan to attend, is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. A free-will offering will be taken.

A lone musician performs.

A Shattuck-St. Mary’s student plays the cello at the Faribault school’s annual Christmas Walk. Stephen Pelkey will play the cello at the Kassler concerts in Rochester. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2016.

If you’re so inclined, attend either concert. Please seek me out if you come on Sunday. But, most of all, enjoy this opportunity to hear poetry set to music. Because really, when I consider it, all music is poetry.

© Copyright 2017 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

 

Celebrating the wordful art of poetry in southeastern Minnesota April 19, 2013

SELCO's seventh volume of Poetic Strokes.

SELCO’s seventh volume of Poetic Strokes.

POETIC STROKES. The title resonates with a graceful image of fountain pen dipped in ink sweeping words across a blank page.

In my idealistic poet’s eye, I envision letters flowing onto paper with ease and passion.

In reality, I understand that inspiration more likely comes in halting clicks on a computer keyboard, screen idling, fingers poised, poet pausing to claim the muse. If only poetry were as easy to write as it might seem.

My poem, "Life Cycles."

My poem, “Life Cycles.”

These are my thoughts as I read the recently-released volume 7 of Poetic Strokes 2013—A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO). My poem, “Life Cycles,” is among 18 selected for publication from 110 submissions. This marks the fifth Poetic Strokes volume in which my poetry has printed.

As I thumb through the pages of this anthology, which also includes youth poetry in a Word Flow section, I am impressed by the talent of poets who call this 11-county SELCO region home. Southeastern Minnesota claims some mighty fine poets. I recognize many poets’ names from past anthologies and other contests. I am in fine company.

If I were to ask these poets what inspires them, how would they respond?

How have they come to write about an aged woman going to the beauty shop, sweet memories from the summer of ’68, picking strawberries, perusing library shelves, baking bread and a dozen other topics which, without their creative pens, would seem rather ordinary topics?

The poet’s gift is to dip a pen into the inkwell of a memory, an emotion, a moment in time, a scene—whatever inspires—and create a wordful work of art. As a poet, there is nothing sweeter than words flowing into lines and verses, connecting to the reader in some way.

When I read about gardening or peeling an apple (not really about peeling an apple) or any of the other subjects covered in this seventh volume of Poetic Strokes, I take away my own interpretation based on my experiences. Therein lies a truth. Poetry is as much about writing as it is about experiencing this wordful art.

Eighteen poems were selected for publication from 110 submissions to Poetic Strokes. In the Word Flow section of the anthology, 14 poems were published from 99 submissions.

Eighteen poems were selected for publication from 110 submissions to Poetic Strokes. Faribault High School English teacher and writer Larry Gavin joins me as the other Faribault poet included in the anthology.  In the Word Flow youth section of the anthology, 14 poems were published from 99 submissions. All but two of those students attend Cannon Falls High School.

YOU CAN MEET Poetic Strokes poets at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, during a Meet and Greet hosted by the Owatonna Public Library and the Owatonna Poetry Writer’s Group in the third floor Gainey Room at the library, 105 North Elm Avenue. Poets will discuss and share their poetry. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Bonnie Krueger at the library by emailing bonnie@owatonna.info or calling (507) 444-2460. Because refreshments will be served, she needs a head count.

Following the Meet and Greet, at 7 p.m., Minnesota Book Award Poet Todd Boss, one of my favorite Minnesota poets, will share his works. I cannot wait to hear Todd read during this “Poets at the Library Tour” event celebrating National Poetry Month in April.

THIS EVENING, Friday, April 19, Better Brew Coffeehouse, 301 North Main Street, Pine Island, is hosting an Open Mic Poetry Night beginning at 7 p.m. The event calls for participants of all ages and all forms of poetry to read their works or that of others. Participant registration opens at 6 p.m. Better Brew, the Van Horn Public Library and Pine Area People for the Arts are sponsoring the poetry reading. Given the unfolding weather situation, I’d advise checking whether this reading is still “on” or postponed.

FYI: If you live in the SELCO system, you can check out a copy of Poetic Strokes from your local library. The anthology was funded in part or in whole with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here to see the names of poets published in the 2013 Poetic Strokes. To read the list of youth poets published in Word Flow, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Presenting poetry: Practice makes perfect December 7, 2012

THAT WELL-KNOWN ADAGE of “practice makes perfect” proved prophetic for me Thursday evening during a poetry reading in Faribault.

An event which I had fretted/worried/stressed about for the past week nearly went off without the proverbial hitch. (I struggled only once, as I read a poem about my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver six years ago.)

Peter Allen presented with me Thursday evening at the Faribault library. I handed my camera to my husband and he tried to get some decent shots shooting available light. This one is the best.. And, no, I am not not sleeping. I'm either contemplating Peter's poem or glancing at my script. Photo by Randy Helbling

Peter Allen presented with me Thursday evening at the Faribault library. I handed my camera to my husband and he tried to get some decent shots shooting in available light. This one is the best. And, no, I am not not sleeping.

Yes, I did it. I stood before an audience and read/discussed poetry along with a co-presenter for 1 ½ hours.

The secret to that success most certainly was practice and, as I emailed my virtual, now real-life, blogger friend Beth Ann, prayer. Beth Ann traveled all the way from Mason City, Iowa, 20 miles south of the Minnesota border, with her husband, Chris, to hear me and Peter Allen present.

Me reading "Prairie Sisters," my first poem of the evening. The poem was published in volume two of Poetic Strokes.

Me reading “Prairie Sisters,” my first poem of the evening. The poem was published in volume two of Poetic Strokes.

About that practice… I’ve been reading my poetry and scripts to my kitchen walls for the past week, rehearsing twice on Thursday and even more on Wednesday. When I phoned my husband, Randy, late Thursday afternoon to remind him of the presentation (he’d asked me to do so), he inquired, “Have you been smoking? Your voice sounds hoarse.”

He was joking, of course, as I don’t smoke and can’t even tolerate cigarette smoke.

I’d been practicing, I told him. Perhaps I’d rehearsed enough if my voice was growing raspy.

The scene in the Great Hall before the audience arrived. It's a gorgeous venue.

The scene in the Great Hall before the audience arrived. It’s a gorgeous venue. I used a few props and visuals in presenting.

Here’s one of the biggest surprises of all from the evening: Because I felt so confident going into the presentation, I actually, truly, enjoyed myself. Who would have thought? Not me.

Second, the turn-out of 32 audience members floored me and Peter. I expected perhaps a dozen. Buckham Memorial Public Services Librarian Allyn M. McColley, who coordinated the event, shared my enthusiasm for the high audience attendance. And, honestly, I did not personally invite a single person, although I did post about the event here last week.

I am grateful that so many ventured out of their warm homes on a cold December evening to embrace poetry. Such interest warms this poet’s heart. I could hear that interest in the laughter, in the questions, in the comments.

It also warms my heart that my two dear friends, Billie Jo and Tammy, both the mothers of young children, would choose to hear me read poetry on their girls’ night out.

And then to think that blogger Beth Ann, whom I’d never met prior to Thursday evening, drove more than an hour with her husband from northern Iowa to listen to me and Peter present simply touches me. (Beth Ann blogged this morning about our meeting and the poetry presentation, so be sure to click here and read her engaging piece.)

Finally, my dear husband, Randy, who helped me tote a van full of props and books and food to the library and then assisted with props and hand-outs, took me out to dinner afterward. We dined at a lovely Italian restaurant, Augusto’s Ristorante, several blocks from the library. It was the perfect way to end a fabulous evening.

FYI: Click here to link to photos posted on the Buckham Memorial Library website.

I believe this is a bust of Judge Thomas Scott Buckham, after whom the library is named. His wife, Anna, gifted the city of Faribault with this Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style building constructed in 1929-1930. The bust is located above the fireplace in the Great Hall, right behind where Peter and I presented.

I believe this is a bust of Judge Thomas Scott Buckham, after whom the library is named. His wife, Anna, gifted the city of Faribault with this Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style building. The bust of this pioneer settler is located above the fireplace in the Great Hall, right behind where Peter and I presented.

One of several Greek murals gracing the Great Hall.

One of several Greek murals gracing the Great Hall.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929-1930 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Beat: “In Minnesota, poetry matters” September 27, 2012

WHY DID IT TAKE ME until recently to determine that poetry is meant to be read aloud, preferably by the poet, and not just silently to one’s self?

I came to that realization in April after reading my poem, “Her Treasure,” to an audience gathered in an historic Zumbrota theater for Crossings at Carnegie’s “Poet-Artist Collaboration XI.”

That poetry-inspired art celebration proved pivotal for me, prompting a personal recognition that poetry is as much performance art as it is an intimate experience.

The Beat logo

And now the independent, nonprofit Northern Community Radio, with studios in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, Minnesota, recognizing the importance of poetry read aloud, is bringing poetry to the public via The Beat, broadcasting a poem a day by a poet with a Minnesota connection.

The Beat, according to NCR’s website is “Northern Community Radio’s daily reminder that, in Minnesota, poetry matters, and Minnesota poets are proving that every day.”

I proved that on September 17 with the reading of my poem, “Her Treasure.” Because traveling hundreds of miles up north from southern Minnesota was neither practical nor cost effective for me, The Beat producer Steve Downing, himself a published poet, read my poem. You can listen to Downing’s fine rendition of “Her Treasure” by clicking here.

Minnesota’s 2011 Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen of Chaska.

Since early July, an assortment of about three dozen poets—from the well-known John Berryman, James Wright, Joyce Sutphen, Louis Jenkins, Will Weaver and Sean Hill—to the complete unknowns have been featured on The Beat.

Poet Sean Hill recently moved from Bemidji to Alaska where he is teaching creative writing at a university in Fairbanks. Milkweed Editons will publish his second collection of poetry in 2014.

The show airs weekdays between 7:30 – 8 a.m. and then again between 3:30 – 4 p.m. on 91.7 FM in north-central and northeastern Minnesota, 90.5 FM in north-central and northwestern Minnesota and on 89.9 FM in the Brainerd area. With 150,000 listeners under the NCR signal, coverage extends from Grygla on the north to Pierz on the south to Fertile on the west and Hermantown on the east.

And for those outside the coverage area, like me, The Beat can be heard via audio streaming from kaxe.org or via the KAXE online archives.

“Reaction from poets and listeners, including folks who thought they hated poetry, has been unconditionally affirmative, making us think this was a success story waiting to happen,” says producer/poet Downing, also a former high school English teacher, published essayist, arts administrator and lifelong musician.

Steve Downing, poet and producer of The Beat

He and two others—NCR’s program director, who interviews writers for her long-standing RealGoodWords show, and a design-artist NCR staffer who is also a poet and has taught English at the college level—have been evaluating the hundreds of poetry submissions coming in from across the state.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but no one thought we’d be swamped, which we are,” Downing says. “It’s a nice problem to have but a problem nevertheless.”

The three-person jury meets every Friday to look at/listen to submissions. “The jury looks for creative work that, first, sparks a positive ‘gut’ response; that demonstrates originality; that makes smart word choices; and that’s provocative, in the best sense of the word,” Downing explains.

He advises submitting poets to avoid the topics of partisan politics, religion and lost love and to remember that the Federal Communications Commission is listening.

The range of topics is “all over the place,” Downing says, although some poems are somewhat “Minnesota-centric,” covering subjects like family farms, old barns, and the state’s flora, fauna and weather.

Broadcasting these poems on its community-based public radio stations helps fulfill NCR’s overall mission “to build community in northern Minnesota by way of radio programming, cultural events and interactive media.”

The Beat is currently funded by a one-year $30,000 allocation from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

The history of The Beat, however, stretches back several years to The Beat Cafe, a live-on-air pledge drive program which, among other Beat content, featured Downing reading his poems, with live bass and percussion accompaniment. The success of that first show prompted discussion on how to make this happen again. So come spring 2013, The Beat Cafe fundraiser will be back with live-on-air poetry and music.

Says Downing: “Think berets, dark glasses, shawls, candles in wine bottles…”

Between now and then, though, Downing will continue to air selected poetry by Minnesota poets, known and unknown, and will apply again for state funding to continue the popular poetry program, The Beat.

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FYI: If you’re a Minnesota poet and would like your writing considered for The Beat, email text or, preferably, audio versions (e.g. MP3) of your poetry to Downing at this address: sdowning@kaxe.org

A poem should take three minutes or less to read.

Once accepted for The Beat, poets have recorded their poems at KAXE in Grand Rapids, KBXE in Bemidji and at KFAI in Minneapolis or on their own devices. NCR also offers the option of Downing or others reading a selected poem if the poet cannot record his/her work.

I contacted Downing about writing this post after my poem was selected by the jury for airing on The Beat.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork and photos courtesy of Northern Community Radio

 

Understanding poetry & connecting it to art in one Minnesota community April 23, 2012

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Viewing art paired with poetry at Poet Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

“POETRY KIND OF SCARES ME….I’m kind of rough around the edges…I don’t always get poetry.”

If anything, I appreciate the honesty of Dale Lewis, a Hastings artist who Saturday evening spoke about the table-size chess board he created in response to 12-year-old Fiona Kiger’s poem, “Chess.”

Dale was among 52 artists and poets participating in Poet Artist Collaboration XI, a poetry-inspired art celebration organized by Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

Pieces in the chess set, comprised of wood, marble, granite, stainless steel and glass, created by sculptor Dale Lewis. He titled his art "This is your chess set on poetry" in response to the poetry of Fiona Kiger, a homeschooled student from Rochester who already has completed several chapters in a fantasy book.

Dale Lewis arrived at Crossings at Carnegie with a crocodile sculpture strapped to the top of his car.

The juried competition and Saturday gala reception and poetry reading/art talk drew a broad spectrum of artists and writers and guests that, I’m certain, included more than a few individuals who feel exactly as Dale does, sometimes somewhat intimidated by poetry. Count me, a poet, among them. I don’t always “get” poetry either.

But events such as the Zumbrota collaboration are helpful in understanding writing that can sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes, cause many to bypass poetry books and avoid poetry readings like the plague.

Listen to Dale: “I’m not as afraid of poets as I was a few weeks ago.”

Neither am I.

It did my writer’s persona good to mingle with other poets and with artists Saturday evening, to hear that no matter where we are in the stages of writing or in creating art, we are in this for the love of our respected crafts. That, I sensed, more than anything.

Peter C. Allen reads his poem while Sarah K. Nygaard of Zumbrota, who created the corresponding art, "Long Live the King," looks on. Artwork was projected onto a screen in the reading/ artist talks at the 90-year-old historic State Theatre just down the block from Crossings at Carnegie.

I met poet Peter C. Allen from Kenyon, who lives on a hobby farm and read his “Chicken Crossing,” slinging out a line (which I can’t repeat here) that caused the audience to erupt into raucous laughter.

Pine Island artist Bill Shain's airbrushed composition was inspired by Patrick L. Coleman's poem. Patrick's poem, Bill says, seems like a page out of a romance novel. He went out of his comfort zone, Bill says, to create "Power and Surrender." In his painting the woman has power over the man, her red dress like the cape of a matador and also resembling bowels.

I met Patrick L. Coleman of Minneapolis, who, during his introduction to “Frederica Reminisces” caused me to feel a bit inadequate when he mentioned that his poem initiated as an assignment in a Loft poetry class. But later, when I met Patrick and his wife, Donna, we instantly connected. He’s a retiree who decades ago turned down a journalism scholarship to the University of Minnesota to pursue a career as a bio chemist. Today he is working on a mystery novel and sometimes writing poetry.

Toni Stevens of Rochester painted "A Loving Pear," a watercolor inspired by the poem, "Traveler," by Elise Gregory of Ellsworth, Wisconsin. This is a close-up of that painting.

I listened to Betty J. Benner of Austin spin her story-poem of rhubarb and cucumbers left on her front steps during a reading of “This is just to say.” Betty acknowledged to me earlier that she had deviated from her usual serious poetry to pen a humorous piece. The audience responded with laughter.

Likewise, a St. Louis Park poet drew chuckles when she introduced herself as Sandy Beach followed by “Yes, that’s my real name.”

While many of the poems were infused with humor, several were immersed deep in emotions, reflecting on life and death. Others recalled memories. And others held a strong sense of place.

Janelle Hawkridge of Winnebago and her paired artist, Katherine E. Smither of Rochester, honored women in their collaboration on, the most unlikeliest of subjects, a 70-year-old’s spider/varicose-veined legs. Janelle’s poem, “A Work of Art,” particularly, resonates with me. She views those imperfect, aging legs as history, a life story, a work of art.

The poets read with passion. The artists spoke with passion. They connected. You could hear it in their words, see it in the locking of their eyes, a touch on the shoulder, a nod of the head.

In the end, poet Ronald J. Palmer of Bloomington, who wrote about the stages of life in “The Significance of Traffic Lights,” perhaps best summarizes the feelings of many attending the poetry reading/art talk in Zumbrota: “I think poetry and art should be together more often.”

That recommendation, Ronald, gets a green light from me.

Crossings at Carnegie, a privately-owned art center, is housed in a former Andrew Carnegie library built for $6,500 in 1908 in the Classical Revival style.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Poet Artist Collaboration XI, which closes April 26 at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

The poetry reading/artist talks were held in the State Theatre, built in 1921 for $38,000. Up until recently, movies were still shown in the theatre. In December 2011, the Zumbrota Area Arts Council purchased the theatre and is currently raising monies to renovate the building.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the historic State Theatre.

CLICK HERE to read an earlier blog post about my poem, “Her Treasure,” and artist Connie Ludwig who created “Pantry Jewels,” inspired by my writing.

FYI: Close-up photos of the two art pieces were taken with permission of the artists. Permission was not sought to reproduce the copyrighted poetry. Therefore it is not featured 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