Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In concert from Rochester: “The Farmer’s Song” & six other poems April 1, 2017

 

IT IS MY PLEASURE to present to you a video that includes “The Farmer’s Song,” my poem performed last weekend at two concerts in Rochester.

Click here to listen to a Choral Song Cycle by David Kassler on Texts of Minnesota Poets. I read my poem at about 39 minutes followed by a Chamber Choir singing “The Farmer’s Song” with cellist and pianist accompaniment. This concert was held at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

To Rochester composer David Kassler and to all of the musicians, thank you for this gift of an artsong. Fueled by your musical passions and talents, you took my poem and crafted a moving tribute to the Minnesota farmer I remember. To share my rural roots in this way has been a truly joyful experience. And to be in the company of six other gifted poets was also an honor.

Thank you.

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:  If you are a choral conductor interested in having this music performed by your ensemble. please contact David Kassler. He will work with you. Like Kassler, I would love to see these artsongs reach an even broader audience.

Click here to read my initial blog post about the concert.

A special thank you also to Park Rapids-based The Jackpine Writer’s Bloc for originally publishing “The Farmer’s Song” in the anthology In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Poetry in Minnesota beyond the classroom, beyond anthologies March 21, 2017

I EXPECT MANY OF YOU dislike poetry. You sat in a high school English class bored to death by the required reading of poems you didn’t understand. Or worse, you had to pen a haiku or a rhyming poem or free verse. And then you had to take a test. You couldn’t wait until the poetry unit was done.

You struggled. You didn’t care. I get it. I felt that way about math. But poetry I’ve always embraced. I am grateful for the educators who taught, and continue to teach, poetry to resistant students.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you’re one of those non-poetry people, I hope you’ll give this literary art a second chance. Poetry is certainly less rigid and stuffy than years ago. It’s also much more accessible beyond a collection published in a book. Now you’ll find poetry creatively presented in videos such as Minneapolis-based Motionpoems; online in Gyroscope Review, co-founded and co-edited by a Minnesotan; imprinted in sidewalks in cities like Northfield and St. Paul and Mankato; and more.

 

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Cardboard walls that once held poetry inside an intellectual box have collapsed and been recycled. The result is poetry that maybe, just maybe, you will find approachable, understandable and enjoyable.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” posted in 2014 in Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems are changed annually. Each poem must be 18 lines or less with no more than 40 characters per line. They must also be themed to the area. “Bandwagon” was inspired by a Mankato TV show by that name. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take the 2017 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. I’ll join other poets at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild Gallery in Mankato for a poetry reading and awards reception. I’ll read my poem, “Cornfield Memories,” which won honorable mention. While that’s an honor, the truly exciting aspect of this project is the public accessibility and visibility of poetry.

Michael Torres, a CantoMundo fellow, creative writing teacher and co-host of art workshops for homeless and at-risk youth in the Mankato area, selected 29 poems from about 70 submissions for inclusion in the Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems will be posted on signs along recreational trails in Mankato and North Mankato. This endeavor brings poetry to people in parks, playgrounds and other outdoor spaces in an unassuming way. What a great idea. Poems cover a broad range of topics from experiencing the outdoors to Minnesota to water, says Erin Dorney, writer and project organizer.

 

My poem initially printed in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota, has been crafted into a song by Rochester, Minnesota composer David Kassler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The next day, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, poetry will also be showcased publicly, this time at a concert. My poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” is among seven being sung by a chamber choir at the Hill Theater at Rochester Community and Technical College. Admission is $7.50. The same concert will be presented for a free-will offering at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. I’ll attend that Sunday concert and read my poem. A reception follows the Sunday concert.

I appreciate that Rochester composer David Kassler invested considerable time in creating choral settings for selected poems. It’s just one more way to bring poetry to the people of Minnesota in an inviting public way. Please join me and other Minnesotans in celebrating poetry at either or both events.

TELL ME: What’s your attitude toward poetry?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The process of penning publishable poetry February 19, 2015

“WE HAVE A WINNER!”—last sentence in the poem “Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion.”

Two, to be accurate.

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 poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” was published in the 2014 Poetic Strokes. The “WORDFLOW” part of the anthology features selected poems by youth. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The two poems I submitted to the 2015 Southeastern Libraries Cooperating poetry competition have been selected for publication in Poetic Strokes. It’s always an honor to have my work chosen in a competition that solicits entries from 11 southeastern Minnesota counties. In recent years, about 200 poems were submitted annually with 23 – 32 selected for publication. I don’t have stats yet for 2015.

This year I penned the winning “Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion” and “Class Reunion.”

Three published poets considered mechanics, tone, accessibility, content and creativity in double-blind judging the entries.

So how did I come up with these poems?

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

My winning photo of bingo callers at the 2013 Trinity North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I’ve had bingo on the brain. Last summer I earned first place in a national photo contest with an image of two bingo callers. Within the past year, my mom moved into a long-term care facility where bingo seems to be the most common activity. I hear the latest bingo updates from her during our weekly Sunday evening phone conversations. My middle brother and his wife rave about bingo at The American Legion in Lamberton. And a month ago I purchased a bingo set so we can play the game at family gatherings.

Not quite Vegas, but bingo balls at a church festival.

Bingo balls at a Minnesota church festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Tapping into all of those bingo-related references, I wrote “Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion.” I focused on the setting, the bingo caller, the anticipation, the thrill of winning. It worked. I won.

My husband and I pose for a photo that I told him will be our Christmas card. In the photo to the right is Lindsey, right front, whom I have not seen in 40 years. He promised to return for the next reunion.

Photo booth images from my class reunion.

In writing “Class Reunion,” I remembered my 40th high school class reunion held last September. That reunion proved particularly memorable given a photo booth was rented for the evening. I used that as the focal point in my poem.

My poetry is sometimes personally introspective, as in “Class Reunion.”

Sometimes, though, I write more like a creative historian or journalist. I feature a snippet of time, perhaps a glimpse of a place, a shadow of a tradition. I condense a moment, pack it with a punch of words.

Perhaps you write poetry. Perhaps you read poetry. Perhaps you would rather avoid poetry all together.

As a seasoned poet, I embrace this form of writing with a passion. To craft a poem is to dance with words. Sometimes my writing glides like a waltz. Other times I dip and twist in a tango of ideas. There are moments when I swing into a square dance rhythm, words linking together in perfect step. Occasionally I slump into a funk, unable to move, simply listening to jazzy blues.

But when it all comes together, oh, my, the dance is flawless, or as near flawless as I can perfect.

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IF YOU WRITE POETRY or simply read it, share your thoughts on the genre. What ignites your creativity? How do you view poetry? Add anything you wish to share on the topic.

P.S. I hope to share my winning poems at a later date. The anthology publishes at the end of March.

For now, if you wish to read one of my published poems, click here. This post will also give you more insight into my poetry writing.

© Copyright 2015 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

 

In Mankato: Bringing poetry to the public in parks & along trails August 1, 2014

WHEN WE FINALLY DETOURED our way around all the road construction to Lions Park in Mankato, we wondered how we would find my poem selected for the 2014 Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride.

“It’s probably right there, by the garbage,” my husband suggested when I noted a sign post nearby.

There's my poetry sign, by the garbage can.

There’s my poetry sign, by the garbage can.

And he was right. “Bandwagon,” my 14 line poem based on the long-running, locally-produced television show by the same name, is posted next to a paved trail, by a garbage can, at the park’s north entry in a quiet residential neighborhood not all that far from Minnesota State University Mankato.

My poem, "Bandwagon."

My poem, “Bandwagon.”

On this Saturday morning, not a soul stirred as my husband punched (507) 403-4038 into his cell phone and then, when prompted, 428, to listen to me read my poem as part of the “Mankato on the Move” audio tour.

A recreational trail winds past my poetry sign in Lions Park North.

A recreational trail winds past my poetry sign in Lions Park.

This marks the second time my writing has been selected for the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride, a second year project of the Southern Minnesota Poets Society designed to bring poetry to the public via signs placed in parks and along recreational trails.

I love the concept, the unassuming way in which these poems have been integrated into the community. This exposes poetry in a creative setting—outside the walls of a library, bookstore, educational institution or coffee shop. And for those of us who write poetry, it’s just one more opportunity to showcase our writing and appreciate the creative talents of other poets.

Me by my poetry sign.

Me by my poetry sign.

When I penned “Bandwagon,” I tapped into my memories of watching Bandwagon, a show which debuted in November 1960 on Mankato television station KEYC-TV. The program featured, and still features, audience members dancing to the music of old-time bands. It is one of the longest running, locally-produced entertainment programs in Minnesota television. The show is taped at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of the month at the Kato Entertainment Center and then aired the following four weekends.

I haven’t seen Bandwagon in four decades, not since I left the farm where my father drove his John Deere to the hay bunk and my mom may, or may not, have swayed her hips to “Cherry Pickers Polka.” All poets are allowed some poetic license.

John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. Santa will likely arrived on a newer model John Deere at this week's SEMA Equipment holiday open houses.

John Deere, an original sponsor of Bandwagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Back in the day, I knew the show as The John Deere Bandwagon, given its sponsorship by the farm implement company.

The Ray Sands Band played at the 2011 Germanfest.

The Ray Sands Band plays at a church celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

I can still hear MC Chuck Pasek introducing the bands and musical selections. And I can still see those couples twirling across the dance floor…

FYI: For more information about the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride, including locations of the 2014 poetry boards, click here.

Please check back for another post featuring the writing of 12-year-old Hannah Leraas whose poem was selected in a youth division and is posted in Mankato’s Sibley Park. I’ve mentored Hannah.

The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride is sponsored by Mayo Clinic Health System, Creative Ad Solutions Inc., Voyageur Web and the cities of Mankato and North Mankato.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other communities, like my community of Faribault with an extensive park and trails system, would start a poetry walk and ride?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on writing a winning poem August 19, 2013

EVERY TIME I PEN a poem, I wonder, will it inspire, touch, resonate with the reader? Is my poem worthy to be seen by others? Is the poem truly finished, ready to reveal? Or should I hold on to it longer, refine it, anguish over whether I’ve chosen the right word, the right phrase?

At some point I must tell myself, “You’re done.” I must make that leap of faith, overcome those self doubts and share what I’ve written.

For me that usually comes in entering a poetry competition. Even if I’m confident I’ve written a decent poem, it’s still scary to put yourself out there. But I have and I’ve discovered, in the process, that I can write poetry.

My award.

My most recent award. You can click on the “About” section of my blog to see the other honors I’ve garnered for my poetry. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

That was reaffirmed for me again this past Saturday when my poem, “Lilacs,” was selected as one of six Works of Merit in the sixth annual Poetry Recognition Event during the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

I’m in the company of other Minnesota poets, Louise Bottrell, Marlys Guimaraes, Miriam Kagol, Joanne Moren and Candace Simar, chosen by a poetry committee for the merit honor.

Lilac, close-up

Sweet lilacs.

As I often do, I turned to my past, to my memories of growing up on a southwestern Minnesota farm, to write “Lilacs.” I remembered the annual gathering of lilacs from the bush on my Uncle Mike’s farm, the next field over. And I connected that memory to today:

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

To read poems by two of the other merit winners, click here to reach the website of Poetry Committee Chair Sue Ready, herself a poet. The winning poems will also be published in Hackensack area newspapers.

I am grateful to those like Sue and others and to the Northwoods Arts Council, which sponsors events like that in Hackensack. Without these opportunities, I might still be that poet wondering if my poetry rates as good enough for anyone to read other than me.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling