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