Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An aha moment while reading poetry January 15, 2019

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines during an event at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter in August 2016. I also read. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

MANY TIMES I’VE READ my poetry aloud at events. I’m not a fan of public speaking. But it’s getting easier to stand before an audience and share what I’ve written. Practice helps.

When I read six poems at Content Bookstore in Northfield several days ago, I experienced a real connection with the audience. I don’t know if it was the intimate setting in a cozy independent bookstore or the people in attendance or the poems I selected or my frame of mind. Probably all. But something clicked that made me realize my poetry meant something to those hearing it.

 

Five of my works (poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction) published in Volume 26 of The Talking Stick, Fine Lines.

 

This proved a profound moment—to recognize that words I crafted into poetry sparked emotional reactions. I had created art. Literary art.

People laughed when I read a poem about my 40th high school class reunion and selecting “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

 

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

 

But, when I read an especially powerful, personal poem titled “Hit-And-Run,” I observed facial expressions change to deep concern, even fear. I struggled to get through the poem about my son who was struck by a car in 2006. I glanced at his then middle school science teacher sitting in the audience and remembered the support she gave our family. When I finished the final lines of the poem with an angled police car blocking the road to my boy, I sensed a collective sadness. I felt compelled to tell the audience, “He was OK.”

After that, I composed myself to read four additional poems. I read with inflection, with all the emotion a writer feels when writing a poem. I unleashed those feelings into spoken words. Words that, when verbalized, hold power beyond print. Poetry, I understood, is meant to be read aloud to fully appreciate its artistic value.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From Northfield: Reading & talking poetry January 12, 2019

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My husband, Randy, took this photo of me while I read the first of six poems at Content Bookstore.

AS MUCH AS I SAVORED sharing my poetry with a rapt audience at Content Bookstore in Northfield on Thursday evening, it was the conversation afterward that delighted me.

A young woman sitting several chairs away walked over and told me just how much she enjoyed my poems. I’d noticed her even before the readings by five Faribault-connected poets began. She sat with a small notebook on her lap, pen poised.

Turns out she’s a first-year college student in Northfield and an emerging poet. She had some questions for me. As we talked, I encouraged her first to write what she knows. And to make every word count. “Use strong verbs,” I said. “And no adverbs.”

A man standing next to us laughed. “I haven’t heard that in awhile,” he said. Then we all three laughed.

We agreed that writing poetry, because of the sparse words, is among the most challenging of writing disciplines. Yet the reward of getting a line, a word, just right, well, it’s an incredible feeling. I looked at the young woman who was, by then, nodding and smiling. She understood. And in that moment of locking eyes, she confirmed that she’s a poet passionate about the craft. Like me, she loves words and language. She possesses that spark which flames words into poetry.

I advised her to keep writing, to notice details, to engage all the senses—not only visual—when crafting her poems. Write and rewrite and submit and learn from rejection.

I regret that I didn’t catch her name or give her my contact information. But I hope that in some small way my knowledge, my experience, my advice, will encourage her to continue developing her poetic skills. Follow your passion, whatever you do in life, I impressed upon her. Write because you must, not necessarily with the expectation of becoming a famous poet. She’s considering a writing-related degree.

Then I turned my attention to the man who’d edged on the sideline of our conversation. He asked if I had an agent. “Should I?” I asked. His question surprised me, thus the popped-out-of-my-mouth response. Do poets have agents? He wondered how I’d gotten my work so broadly published. I reconsidered and shared that I’ve submitted to mostly state-wide and regional publications.

I regret that I didn’t ask his name either. I appreciated his interest in my writing and in my photography. There’s a certain joy that comes in talking shop with those who share a love of words, of writing and, especially, of poetry.

 

Special thanks to Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy for organizing the poetry reading and to Content Bookstore for hosting the event. Thank you also to poets Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, Kristin Twitchell and John Reinhard for sharing their poetry with us. Finally, to all who attended the reading, thank you for embracing poetry and supporting those of us who write it.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault poets reading at Northfield bookstore January 8, 2019

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield during the holiday season December 21, 2018

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Outside an antique shop in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD RATES AS ONE of my favorite Minnesota cities. It’s a charming/quaint/picturesque river town with a timeless small town feel.

 

Photographed through the front window of Quality Bakery, a snippet of the bakery’s holiday window display.

 

Signage directs families to Santa’s house in Bridge Square.

 

The Christmas tree in Bridge Square brightens the wintry landscape with bold red decorations.

 

For someone like me who prefers rural to urban, a 22-minute drive there with no traffic hassles, visual delights in a historic downtown, an artsy vibe (including sidewalk poetry) and more, make this college city of some 20,000 particularly appealing. Especially at Christmas.

 

Bridge Square in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

An ornament on that community Christmas tree.

 

Santa’s house, where Santa has always been absent whenever I’ve stopped at Bridge Square.

 

Fancied up holiday window displays, a Santa House and Christmas tree in Bridge Square (the downtown community gathering spot), an annual Christmas Walk, the renowned St. Olaf College Christmas Concert and more transform Northfield into a magical place during the holiday season.

 

 

I recently spent some time Christmas shopping in the downtown made famous by The James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the First National Bank on September 7, 1876. Today that bank building houses the Northfield Historical Society. The museum sits right across the street from Bridge Square.

 

A wagon load of Wisemen awaits shoppers outside an antique shop.

 

It’s not that I like shopping—I don’t. But I’d rather shop in one-of-a-kind local shops than in Anywhere Mall, USA. Northfield offers an abundance of home-grown retail stores.

 

 

There’s a lot of creativity in Northfield. And an appreciation of that creativity. I once participated in a beer poetry reading at a local brewery. How cool is that?

 

Beau inside Marketplace @ 416.

 

Christmas or not, the Americana small town-ness of Northfield endears this river town to me.

 

 

TELL ME: Have you been to Northfield and, if so, what about it appeals to you? Or what town do you find especially charming wherever you live?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Marking 35 years as an automotive machinist in Northfield October 3, 2018

Randy at work in the NAPA machine shop in Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE AND MORE, Randy hears the question, “When are you retiring?”

Not because people want him to retire. But because customers worry that he will retire before he completes work for them.

Today marks 35 years since my husband became the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield, aka NAPA. He’s been in the profession even longer, beginning first as a parts man in Montana, Rochester and Faribault before shifting to automotive machining in Faribault, then Owatonna and for the long term in Northfield.

 

Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Thirty-five years. It’s a long time to work in one place turning brake rotors, resurfacing heads, grinding valves and flywheels, and doing a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand. He’s a skilled tradesman, a pro whose work is in high demand. Few do what Randy does. Because of that and his exceptional skills, he’s in high demand. Locally, regionally and beyond.

 

Randy’s toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’m proud of Randy. He is smart, talented and driven to do the best he can for his customers. He works hard. He works long days—up until a few years ago six days a week. And up until last year, he had only 10 days of vacation annually. Now he gets twenty.

 

Just one example of all the work that awaits Randy in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

His farm upbringing instilled in him a strong work ethic. That and the cost of health insurance will keep him from retiring for a few years yet. Hopefully his back and his feet will hold out. I’ve seen the physical toll of a labor intensive, on-your-feet job.

For now Randy’s customers need not worry. He has no plans for immediate retirement. But good luck finding someone to do their machining work after he retires…hopefully in a few years.

PLEASE JOIN ME in congratulating Randy on 35 years as the automotive machinist at NAPA in Northfield.

Click here to read a post I wrote about Randy on this 30-year anniversary.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Doggie out the window May 3, 2018

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I’M ALWAYS INTRIGUED by dogs hanging their heads out vehicle windows.

 

 

Are they smelling something?

Do they delight in the wind blowing through their fur?

Or are they simply enjoying the warmth of the day, the carefree joy akin to riding with the convertible top down?

 

 

Whatever the reason, I smile whenever I spot a dog with its head hanging out the window, nose pointed, eyeing me, me him/her…

 

Photographed through the windshield of our van late Saturday afternoon along Minnesota State Highway 3 in Northfield, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why a community should care about its alleys January 25, 2018

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This alley of art in Clear Lake, Iowa, impresses me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I NOTICE DETAILS, always have. This heightened awareness weaves into my work. I write and photograph with a strong sense of place, a quality instilled in me long ago by growing up on the prairie. In that vast space of sky and land, every nuance of the environment imprints upon the soul.

My reactions to a place evolve from first impressions, most often viewed through my camera lens. I see the world in details of color, balance and perspective, of light and mood and texture and more.

 

An alley in Milaca, photographed in September 2017.

 

With that background, you can perhaps better understand why, when photographing a community, I notice more than the slick fronts of buildings, the parks and other attractions tourism offices promote. I look beyond those to the alleys, the roof lines and even the sidewalks. The details.

 

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office is one of my favorite alley photos for the story it tells. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

 

It is the alleys in particular that draw my visual interest and show me the side of a community often overlooked. And too often neglected. There’s much to learn in those alleyways about people and places and cultures and even socioeconomic status.

 

I love the sweet surprise of these floral paintings brightening an alley in downtown Clear Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

Hanging baskets line the alley behind Larson’s Mercantile in Clear Lake, adding a splash of color to the downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

The Contented Cow opens onto a riverside space between buildings in historic downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.

 

Looking further down that narrow space, I photographed a wedding party gathering near the Cannon River. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A mural on The Key (youth center) building in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

Through the years, I’ve documented many behind and between businesses scenes with my camera. I’ve seen how a community can convert an alley into a lovely and inviting space. Clear Lake, Iowa, and Northfield, Minnesota, especially, have succeeded with this attention to detail beyond storefronts.

 

Michelle’s Garden, right next to the alley behind buildings along Faribault’s Second Street and Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

The back of The Crafty Maven (now closed) sat right across the alley from the garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

This mural of an iconic scene from downtown Faribault was installed along an alleyway visible from busy Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street in the heart of downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My community of Faribault, too, boasts an alley-side mini park and an alleyway mural creating a more inviting downtown. But dumpsters overflowing with garbage in other sections of the downtown counterbalance the positive efforts.

 

The behind buildings parking lot scene in downtown Faribault highlights the area’s ag base. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2014.

 

In my opinion, every community should pay closer attention to the details. They are part of the whole, of the impression visitors gather of a place beyond the side we’re supposed to see.

THOUGHTS? I’m interested, especially, in hearing how your community or other communities have beautified alleys and/or backs of businesses.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling