Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota Class Reunion in Poetry April 30, 2015

LAST SEPTEMBER THE WABASSO High School Class of 1974 gathered at the Wabasso Community Center for our 40-year reunion. That’s on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, in Redwood County.

I lived on a farm 15 miles to the north and west, just outside of Vesta, an hour’s bus ride away from Wabasso. It takes time to travel gravel roads, backtracking and weaving to farm sites to pick up all those country kids.

Forty years. I used to think people who’d been out of high school for four decades are really old. I don’t think that anymore.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Still, that’s a lot of years and much has happened since 89 fresh-faced rural Minnesota kids walked across the gym stage in May 1974 and received their diplomas. As you would expect, the reunion mixed nostalgia and reconnecting, sharing of memories and sharing of lives.

And for me, the gathering inspired a poem, “Class Reunion,” recently published in Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9. My other entry, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” was also published, among the 30 winning poems chosen from 157 submissions in the adult division.

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.

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. The event was a delight with some poets reading their works and Minneapolis poet Todd Boss as the featured speaker.

I am grateful to Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for publishing this annual collection of poetry from writers in the 11-county SELCO region. I’ve entered the competition eight times with 10 poems published in seven volumes.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

And because April is National Poetry Month, here is the poetic version of a rural southwestern Minnesota high school reunion:

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right. That’s me in the pink striped shirt, front right in image on the right.

 

Class Reunion

Bulbous red clown nose clamped onto face,
boa thrust around neck movie star style,
pirate hat tilted upon bald head,
skull patch positioned across left eye,
we cram into the photo booth, all smiles,
pretending to be someone we are not.

“How are you?” We pause, then hug,
hoping the response will be a lie
rather than the truth of the past forty years
chiseling our faces, greying our hair
(if we still have hair),
etching grief into our souls.

A classmate pulls the curtain tight,
shuts out reality for the lens.
Memories overtake us, filling the booth with laughter.
We remember when nothing seemed more important
than our anti-establishment defiance of choosing
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

The camera flashes again and we swap accessories—
Vikings horns for Peter Pan hat,
leather biker hat for Mickey Mouse ears—
the promise of never growing up
and living in a happily-ever-after fairytale world
almost Disney believable if we didn’t know the truth.

In this moment, all seems right with the world.
No husbands dead. No children buried. No cancer battled.
No eyes blackened. No marriages broken.
The future lies before us, full of promise and hope
and all that is good and wonderful and perfect.
Except it isn’t and wasn’t and never will be.

The camera flashes for the third, and final, time.
A classmate draws back the curtain.
We drop props into a basket, revealing receding hairlines
and sagging necks and worry lines edging our eyes.
Then we chat about our children and our grandchildren
and our dreams, as if our entire lives lie before us.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

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Celebrating National Poetry Month with a give-away April 15, 2015

WHAT IS POETRY if not a connection to a person, place, thing, emotion, event or time?

Poetry is rhythm and music, a poet’s voice versing words.

It’s love of language. It’s thoughts flowing from brain through fingers to keyboard onto screen. It’s words rolling off the tongue, pleasing the ear.

Strong verbs. Cohesiveness. Tight writing.

Poetry pushes the writer to write with conciseness. Sparse. Choose each word with care. Delete those words that don’t belong. Banish the cliché. Write. Set aside. Edit. Edit some more until you finally call it done.

Then dare to put your poetry out there.

Large-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

In celebration of National Poetry Month in April, I am giving away an autographed copy of 2015 Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota. This collection includes 55 poems by poets from 10 southeastern Minnesota counties. Two are mine: “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion” and “Class Reunion.”

Southeastern Libraries Cooperating sponsors this annual competition and publication of this two-part anthology. The first section, Poetic Strokes, features winning poems from adult writers in the SELCO region, this year 30 poems by 27 poets. Word Flow is a competition for writers ages 14-18, with 25 poems from 25 young poets published in the 2015 anthology.

Poetic Strokes 2015 Publication Cover

TO ENTER:

Submit a comment on this post naming your favorite poet and why you chose this poet. I will then randomly select one winner from all qualifying entries. The winner’s name will be posted here next week with instructions on how to claim the prize.

Entry deadline is Sunday, April 19. Only individuals living in the U.S. are eligible to enter.

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EVEN IF YOU DON’T WIN, you can still get your hands on this anthology. Copies of Poetic Strokes & Word Flow are available for check-out from all 37 public libraries in the SELCO system. Minnesotans who live outside this library region can borrow a copy through the statewide interlibrary loan system, MnLINK. 

Click here to read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion.”

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I won at bingo without playing the game April 13, 2015

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

John and Lavonne call bingo at the North Morristown, MN., Fourth of July celebration. This photo won first place in the People Category of the National Mutual Benefit annual photo contest. This image also helped inspire my winning bingo poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

BINGO! We have a winner!

Here’s my winning poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” recently published in 2015 Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9:

Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion

Wooden balls rattle in the cage,
orbs of numbers and letters tumbling
in the comforting rhythm of a rural rite
that transcends time and generations.

All eyes focus on the officiant, The Bingo Caller,
a slight elderly man with wisps of fly-away hair.
He grasps the selected ball between forefinger and thumb,
pulls mic to mouth and purses his chapped lips.

Silence presides in that sacred moment
when daubers poise above cards,
when hearts beat fast with anticipation,
when nothing seems as blessed as the hope of a win.

“O-62,” he pronounces with faithful clarity of conviction
to the congregants seated on worn folding chairs,
ice clinking against glass in the dim light of The Legion
where service to country rates reverent respect.

From the back corner her voice erupts. “Bingo!”
A collective sigh heaves disappointment
as The Bingo Caller pauses, confirms, then declares
The Blessed Benediction: “We have a winner!”

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YOU, TOO, CAN BE A WINNER. Check back on Wednesday for a give-away.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

 

Connecting poetry & antiques in Oronoco April 7, 2015

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SOME ANTIQUE STORES are cluttered, dark, musty smelling. I suppose you can say that’s part of the character, the ambiance, the what-do-you-expect in a collection of old stuff.

This bust caught my eye.

This bust caught my eye at Antiques Oronoco.

But I prefer browsing in bright spaces where antiques and collectibles are showcased in artsy and creative ways.

Antiques Oronoco, north of Rochester, just off Highway 52.

Antiques Oronoco

That’s exactly what I discovered at Antiques Oronoco, located along West Frontage Road off U.S. Highway 52 just north of Rochester.

I expected to find Edgar Alan Poe collections beneath this perched raven. (Is this a raven?) But, instead, the books are titled "Treatment in General Medicine," "Bone/Tumors" and "Elimination Diets and Patients Allergies."

I expected to find Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven” beneath this raven.  But, instead, the books are titled “Treatment in General Medicine,” “Bone/Tumors” and “Elimination Diets and Patients Allergies.” Doesn’t matter. I truly like this artful way of displaying books.

A Native American sculpture.

A Native American sculpture.

A beautifully staged setting that lent an air of comfort and hominess.

A beautifully staged setting that presents comfort and hominess.

An unexpected scene as I rounded a corner.

An unexpected scene atop a vintage chest of drawers as I rounded a corner.

My eye is drawn to vignettes, merchandise staged to focus my interest. It’s in the details. The angle of a book. A cozy corner. Colors purposely grouped. The unexpected.

I was as much drawn to the art on the gravy bowl as to the writing on the edge of the aged shelving.

I was as much drawn to the art on the gravy bowl as to the writing, advertising KOOL cigarettes, on the edge of the aged shelving.

Sure, the standard shelving of merchandise exists at Antiques Oronoco. But there’s a visual orderliness and poetry in between.

A sign propped on an antique bike directs motorists to Antiques Oronoco.

A sign propped on an antique bike directs motorists to Antiques Oronoco.

I asked the owner for permission to photograph and for a business card. She handed me her card and I recognized her name, Yvonne Cariveau, a duplicate name for her daughter Yvonne Cariveau, an accomplished poet and enthuser of all things poetry (ie. Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride and Image & the Word) whom I know from Mankato.

As you often hear, it’s a small world.

The table is set as if for a special family dinner.

The table is set as if for a special family dinner.

On this Saturday, an unplanned stop at Oronoco Antiques reminded me that poetry is about more than words. It’s about connections and a friendly, welcoming smile. It’s about family. It’s about the ability to embrace each day, even after a tragic loss. Yvonne’s husband (the younger Yvonne’s father) died in a foggy December morning crash when another vehicle ran a stop sign at a rural Wisconsin intersection and slammed into Gordy and Yvonne Cariveau’s van.

One of Gordy Cariveau's favorite finds, and old scale which weighs accurate. According to charts on the scale, a 5'11" man should weight 170 pounds, for example. And a 5'5" woman, 132 pounds.

One of Gordy Cariveau’s favorite finds, an old scale which still weighs accurate today, according to Yvonnne. Charts on the scale claim a 5’11” man should weigh 170 pounds, for example. And a 5’5″ woman, 132 pounds.

I hugged the elder Yvonne the afternoon of my visit as she worked with family to stage and photograph items in her antique store. She possesses a remarkable strength and grace. And that, too, is poetry.

FYI: April is National Poetry Month, a celebration of all things poetry. Seek out poetry in your daily life. It is everywhere. In a blooming crocus, in a baby’s smile, in asparagus clipped from your backyard patch, in a cardinal’s call, in the words you type…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How the Minnesota prairie ignites my poetry April 2, 2014

WHAT IS IT ABOUT POETRY?

Do you embrace or shun it? Write it or read it? Do you even care?

April marks National Poetry Month, a full thirty days initially established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to focus on poetry.

My most recent poem, "The Farmer's Wife, Circa 1960, has been published in Poetic Strokes, an anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating. My poem was one of 23 selected from 196 submissions. The anthology should soon be available for check-out by library patrons in the SELCO system.

My most recent poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” has been printed in Poetic Strokes, an anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating. My poem was one of 23 selected from 196 submissions. The anthology should soon be available for check-out by library patrons in the SELCO system.

If you haven’t read poetry in years, I’d suggest you revisit poetry. Long gone, mostly, are rhymed verses.

Instead, you will find poets penning free verse that correlates to an abbreviated form of storytelling or a spilling of emotions or a harmony of detailed observations and more.

Despite differences in subject matter and style, poets share a common love of language. Alliterations. Personification. Similes and metaphors. Strong verbs.

Poetry, though it may appear easy to write, is not.

Details matter. Each word matters. The sound of a poem read aloud matters.

A poem I wrote about my mother, published in Poetic Strokes 2014.

A poem I wrote about my mother, just published in Poetic Strokes 2014, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota.

Every poet possesses a style. I’d define mine as rooted in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie. That stark land shaped me as a writer. My poems convey a strong sense of place, words wheeling like a prairie fire across the landscape of a page.

With so few distractions, the prairie presents an ideal environment to notice details—the grate of the wind, the lean of an outbuilding, the weathered grey of an abandoned farmhouse, the isolation, the calloused hands of a farmer, green corn leaves unfurling against rich black soil, the horizontal grid of township gravel roads, power lines stretching into infinity…

Those who’ve never lived on the prairie often fail to understand its beauty, dismissing it as the middle of nowhere.

But this land holds my heart and memories and continues to inspire me. Not all of my verse. But much of it.

Some of my prairie-inspired poetry includes:

    • “This Barn Remembers,” Lake Region Review #1
    • “Taking Lunch to the Men in the Field,” Lake Region Review #2
    • “Abandoned Barn,” The Talking Stick, Volume 20
    • “Broken,” The Talking Stick, Volume 21
    • “The Farmer’s Song,” The Talking Stick, Volume 22
    • “Prairie Sisters,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 2
    • “Abandoned Farmhouse,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 3
    • “Walking Beans,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 3
    • “A school without a library,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 4
    • “Saturday night baths,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 4
    • “Her Treasure,” 11th annual Poet-Artist Collaboration, Crossings at Carnegie
    • “Lilacs”, 13th annual Poet-Artist Collaboration, Crossings at Carnegie and honorable mention at 18th annual Northwoods Art & Book Festival

And that poetry, my prairie poetry, has graced billboards, walls, recreational signage, galleries, and the pages of magazines, newspapers and anthologies. 

Perhaps it’s time to consider compiling those poems and others into a collection. Thoughts?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Chalking poetry April 29, 2013

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FOR WEEKS I’VE WANTED to chalk poetry onto the sidewalk past my house in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

But not until today, April 29, did sunny and dry weather finally allow for chalking.

A week ago six inches of snow fell, for gosh sakes. Rain fell early yesterday evening.

The first two parts of my illustrated poem.

The first three lines of my illustrated poem.

After sweeping winter sand from several sections of sidewalk, I scouted for the box of chalk in the garage then proceeded to print my poem:

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

Two springs ago, this poem published on four billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

I thought my poem particularly fitting for re-publication this morning on my sidewalk.

Poetry 2

The entire poem, plus “In celebration of National Poetry Month” tacked onto the end.

So if you are walking past my house, take note, read and enjoy.

Before the rain, or snow, washes away my poetry. And, yes, snow is apparently in the forecast for later this week, so two friends tell me.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Barn Remembers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling