Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Lyon County: Prairie-rooted poetry at the museum September 20, 2022

The sprawling Lyon County Historical Society Museum in the heart of downtown Marshall, across from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

RECENTLY I TRAVELED back to my native southwestern Minnesota, destination Marshall, 18 miles west of my hometown of Vesta. Specifically, I targeted the Lyon County Historical Society Museum to view the award-winning “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are featured therein.

Me, photographed next to the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” My one regret is that my mom (pictured in two smaller photo insets) never saw this exhibit in person. She died in January. (Photo by Randy Helbling, September 2022)
To the far left is the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” In the center is my poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
My poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” That is not my dad in the photo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The exhibit, which won a 2021 Minnesota History Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, opened in January of the same year. Finally, I got to Marshall last week. Up until my visit, I was unaware that two, not just one, of my poems are included. When I read the title “Hope of a Farmer,” I thought to myself, I wrote a poem with that title. And then, as I read, I realized this was my poem.

The second floor exhibit celebrates Lyon County in the award-winning exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Now I’m doubly honored that my rural-themed poetry inspired by my farmer father and farm wife mother were chosen to be part of this outstanding exhibit focusing on the people, places, businesses, communities, activities, events, history and arts of Lyon County.

A clothes pin bag hangs in an exhibit space near my “Ode” poem, quite fitting. Visitors can turn a dial to generate “wind” blowing dish towels on a clothesline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Excerpt from “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” (click here to read the entire poem):

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,

but to the beat of farm life—

laundry tangled on the clothesline,

charred burgers jazzed with ketchup,

finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

This panel honors literary and visual artists of the region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I read the “Imagining the Prairie” informational panel, my gratitude to the LCHS staff, volunteers and Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis (lead contractor for the exhibit) grew. I appreciate that an entire panel focuses on the arts: The Lyon County landscape…has inspired painters and poets and artists of all kinds. I’ve long thought that as I see the prairie influence in my writing and photography. Farms, vast prairies, wide skies and tumbling rivers define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota.

Corn rows emerge in a field near Delhi in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Excerpt from my “Hope of a Farmer” poem (click here to read the entire poem):

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.

A fitting quote from Bill Holm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A quote from poet, essayist and musician Bill Holm of nearby Minneota, summarizes well the lens through which we prairie natives view the world and the creative process. The prairie eye looks for distance, clarity, and light…

A grain complex and the Oasis Bar & Grill in Milroy, near Marshall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Holm, who died in 2009, was among southwestern Minnesota’s best-known writers, having penned poetry and multiple books such as his popular The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth and Boxelder Bug Variations. His boxelder bug book inspired his hometown to host an annual Boxelder Bug Days, still going strong.

Poetry by Leo Dangel in the ag-focused part of the exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To see my poems featured alongside the work of gifted writers like Holm and equally-talented poet Leo Dangel in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was humbling. Dangel, who died in 2016, wrote six collections of poetry. The prairie and rural influence on his work show in the featured poems, “A Farmer Prays,” “A Clear Day,” and “Tornado.”

My poem honoring my mom… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Both men taught English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, reaffirming their devotion to this rural region and to the craft of writing. The exhibit includes a section on the university, which opened in 1967 within 10 years of my leaving the area to attend college in Mankato. I sometimes wonder how my writing would have evolved had I stayed and studied on the prairie.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, which is right next to Lyon County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When I returned to Marshall for the first time in 40 years, nothing about the town seemed familiar. Time has a way of changing a place. But when I reached the top floor of the county museum, saw my poems and began to peruse the “home” exhibit, I felt like I was back home. Back home on the prairie, among cornfields and farm sites and grain elevators and all those small towns that dot the landscape. Back home under a wide prairie sky with land stretching beyond my vision. Back home where I understand the people. Back home in the place that influenced my writing as only the prairie can for someone rooted here.

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Please check back for more posts featuring the Lyon County Museum and the area.

The ode honoring my mother initially published in South Dakota State University’s 2017 literary journal, Oakwood.

And the poem about my father was chosen as a “Work of Merit” at the 2014 Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of National Poetry Month: One April day April 18, 2022

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

ON THE AFTERNOON of the April morning I scanned the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library for poetry books, I raked a banana from the boulevard.

“Hey, I found a rotten banana,” I hollered to Randy, who had just switched off the lawnmower as he mulched leaves.

“You didn’t eat it, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I shouted back, rolling my eyes at his humor.

“I found a dead mouse or squirrel earlier,” he shared in an apparent effort to top my discovery of a dried black banana. (We never know what we’ll find while raking in the spring.) He walked across the lawn to the curb along busy Willow Street and kicked up the dried carcass I really did not want to see.

“Mouse,” I concluded, and looked away.

Mira Frank reads the works of Minnesota poets from “County Lines” at an event in St. Peter in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2016)

That takes me back to those poetry books I checked out, including County Lines: 87 Minnesota Counties, 130 Poets. Published in 2008 by Loonfeather Press of Bemidji, this volume features poems collected from Minnesota poets and representing all 87 Minnesota counties. It was published on the 150th anniversary of our statehood.

It’s a must-read book which accurately, and poetically, reflects Minnesota. Among the poems published therein, “April” by Connie Wanek. The first four lines of her five-verse poem from St. Louis County, are so relatable. She writes:

When the snow bank dissolved

I found a comb and a muddy quarter.

I found the corpse of that missing mitten

still clutching some snow.

As someone who’s lived in Minnesota her entire life, I “get” most of the poetry published in this collection. These poets write about land and weather, experiences and observations, small town cafes and polka dancing and trains roaring down tracks and closing the cabin and picking rock and…

The plentiful large rocks pictured here at Blue Mounds State Park are likely similar to those referenced in Leo Dangel’s poem. The park in rural Luverne is about 20 miles from Jasper, which Dangel names in “Stone Visions.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

I laughed aloud when I read Leo Dangel’s “Stone Visions” from Pipestone County in my native southwestern Minnesota. The topic—picking rock. For those of you who’ve never picked rocks, it’s exactly what it says. Walking through a field gathering and tossing rocks that seem to sprout every spring. Poet Dangel viewed oversized stones in a field near Jasper in a poetic way while his farmer uncle observed, “I’d hate like hell to start picking rock in those fields.”

Image source: Goodreads.

Uncovering rocks. Uncovering a dried mouse carcass. Uncovering a dried black banana. Uncovering poetry that resonates. Within the span of several hours, I found winter’s remains and a treasure of a poetry collection.

County Lines uncovers the stories of Minnesota in poetic voice from lesser-known to well-known Minnesota writers. Poets like David Bengston, Robert Bly, Philip S. Bryant, Susan Stevens Chambers, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Angela Foster, Larry Gavin, Laura L. Hansen, Sharon Harris, Margaret Hasse, Bill Holm, John Calvin Rezmerski, Candace Simar, Joyce Sutphen and so many more.

From Willmar to Hibbing to Lac qui Parle and, oh, so many places in between, the layers of our state, our people, our stories, our history, our heritage are revealed. This April day I celebrate National Poetry Month in a Minnesota poetry book pulled from the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.

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FYI: Former Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen will read from her newest poetry books, Carrying Water to the Field and The Long Winter, at 1 pm Saturday, April 23, at the Little Falls Carnegie Library. “Making Rural Connections Through Poetry with Joyce Sutphen” focuses on the loss of small farms in Minnesota. Sutphen grew up on a Stearns County farm. Three of her poems are featured in the “Stearns County” entries in County Lines.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite book of poetry you’d like to recommend? Or, if you’ve written a book (s) of poetry, please feel free to share information here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Just a reminder: Poetry reading this evening in Northfield & I’ll be there January 10, 2019

How many classmates can cram into a photo booth? These photos inspired a poem I wrote and will read this evening in Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS I PREPPED for this evening’s poetry reading at Content Bookstore in downtown Northfield, my husband asked how many poems I’ve had published. Good question. I don’t know. But my guess would be forty.

With 10 minutes to read my work, choosing poems proved difficult. I narrowed it down to six that I particularly like and that are fun to read aloud. And that fit within my time limit. From an especially painful memory of my son being struck by a car in 2006 to a recap of my 40th high school class reunion to a conversation in a grocery store parking lot, my poems reflect a range of topics. I aimed for that.

 

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota. The same poem was then selected for inclusion in an artsong project by Rochester musician David Kassler. He wrote music for my poem which was then sung by a Chamber Choir. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Early on in my poetry writing I tended to write a lot of “place” poems set in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie. I’ve expanded beyond that narrow subject now, although the prairie can still claim credit for my writing style. I write with detail. Not just visual, but detail that engages every sense. The starkness of the prairie causes one to notice everything. The howl and bite of the wind. The warmth of soil black as a night sky. The smell of rain and of barn. The taste of sunshine in a garden-fresh tomato.

 

In 2012, artist Connie Ludwig, right, created a painting (left, above my head) based on my poem, Her Treasure. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

In my poem Her Treasure, which I will read this evening, I honor all the farm women who labored upon the land by planting and harvesting from vast gardens. I honor, too, my hardworking mom in Ode to My Farm Wife Mother. That poem published in the 2017 issue of Oakwood Magazine, a literary journal printed by South Dakota State University.

 

The setting for The Talking Stick book release party in 2017, Blueberry Pines Golf Club. I’ve been published in this Minnesota anthology numerous times winning honors for my poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

I am honored and humbled to have my award-winning poetry published in a variety of places: The Talking Stick, Poetic Strokes, Lake Region Review, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride, Oakwood Magazine, Roadside Poetry Project, Poet-Artist Collaboration at Crossings at Carnegie, Image & the Word, The Lutheran Digest, Minnesota Moments magazine and probably some other places I’m forgetting right now.

My poetry is down-to-earth understandable. I’ve always written that way. If you live near Northfield, please join me and four other Faribault area poets at 7 this evening as we share our poetry. And, please, introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Featuring poetry in original songs at a Minnesota concert & I’m in March 28, 2017

 

INSIDE THE SANCTUARY of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, voices rose in poetic song while the composer/director focused with eyes intent, arms rising and falling in a mesmerizing rhythm.

From my aisle seat chair, I watched and listened, swept into details of the concert—the shape of a singer’s mouth, the hands of the cellist gliding bow across strings, the strength of the piano in a place with wonderful acoustics.

 

 

I listened, too, to the strong voices of poets who read or recited poetry with the practice of seasoned writers. I was one of them, reading my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” selected for inclusion in the weekend world premiere of “A Choral Song Cycle on Texts of Regional Poets” at two concerts in this southeastern Minnesota city.

Rochester composer David Kassler crafted music for seven selected poems written by myself, Jana Bouma, Meredith Cook, Janelle Hawkridge, Robert Hedin, John Reinhard and Michael Waters. Mine was part of a Minnesotan Rondos trio: “The Famous Anoka Potato,” “The Farmer’s Song” and “The Old Scandinavians.”

 

 

To hear my rural-themed poem performed by an impressive and talented Chamber Chorale with accompaniment of an equally gifted cellist and pianist, was humbling and honoring. I am grateful for this unique opportunity as a poet.

 

 

When I consider music, I view it as poetry in the sound of instruments, in the lyrics, in the voices that sing, in the direction of the conductor, in the reaction of the audience. I received numerous positive comments on “The Farmer’s Song,” including that my poem reflects a way of life that is disappearing from rural America. It is. The small family farm and the intense backbreaking labor that once defined agriculture is mostly gone, replaced by automation, equipment and large farms.

 

Audrey Kletscher Helbling reading “The Farmer’s Song.” Photo by Randy Helbling

 

My inclusion in this particular project, funded through a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant, is especially notable for me personally. I cannot read a single note of music. I never had the opportunity as a child growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm to pursue anything musical. Yet, despite the absence of studied music in my life then, music was a part of the daily rhythm of farm life, expressed today in the poetry I write.

 

A scene from the 2012 Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

The Farmer’s Song

Out of rote he follows the path from house to barn,
from barn to shed, steel-toed boots beating a rhythm
upon the earth, into this land which claims his soul.

He reaches for the paint-chipped handle,
his grease-stained fingers connecting with worn metal
like hammer to nail in the movements of his day.

Farming defines the lyrics of his life written upon hands
that have measured yields, directed tractors, pitched manure,
stroked calves, performed seasons of backbreaking labor.

Inside the shed, as he latches wrench to bolt,
he ponders the final verses of his years, the songs he’ll sing
when age frays his memory, grips his hands in a hallelujah chorus.

 

FYI: The Friday evening “A Choral Song Cycle on Texts of Regional Poets” concert at Hill Theatre, Rochester Community and Technical College, was recorded and will be available soon for viewing online. I will share that link with you when it becomes available.

“The Farmer’s Song” originally published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology produced by Park Rapids based The Jackpine Writer’s Bloc.

© Copyright 2017 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