Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Eleven magnetic words equal a poem January 24, 2019

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SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I purchased a duo Tootsie Toy magnetic board/chalkboard at an Owatonna thrift shop. I didn’t need it. But I liked the vintage look and the possibilities. Those reasons sufficed to hand over a few bucks.

 

 

Along with the board came a bonus baggie of magnetic words. They aren’t original to the board but probably were thrown in because what else do you do with a bunch of donated stray magnetic words?

I finally got around to making poetry with them. Here’s my first poem, which I posted on my refrigerator:

 

 

This proved a good challenge—to use the limited words to create poetry. (Pretend a question mark ends the first line.)

 

 

As poets understand, poetry requires tight writing. A word must hold value or out it goes. Poetry writing may seem easy to those not engaged in the craft. But it’s not. Penning poems requires focused skill and much practice as one of the most disciplined forms of literary art.

Thoughts?

© 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

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

 

Meet me at the Faribault library Thursday evening November 8, 2017

 

A snippet of the display I’ve created for the Local Authors Fair at Buckham Memorial Library.

 

TOMORROW EVENING (November 9) I join 13 Faribault area writers as we showcase the craft of writing at Buckham Memorial Library’s Local Author Fair.

I’m ready with a display of sample published works, educational hand-outs, free candy and a Minnesota anthology for you to buy. I have limited copies of Fine Lines, The Talking Stick, Volume 26 in which five of my works published this year.

 

Grab a mini candy bar from my table and get a bonus quote about the craft of writing.

 

The drop-in event on the second floor Great Hall features each writer at his/her own table. So simply circulate, meet the authors and engage in conversation. You have only one hour, from 6 – 7 p.m., to meet everyone.

Here’s a sample of my writing, an award-winning poem printed in 2014 in Symmetry, The Talking Stick, Volume 23, and published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc:

 

This auction barn in Montgomery inspired my poem, “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn

 

Shoulder brushes shoulder as bidders settle onto plank benches

in the tightness of the arched roof auction barn,

oil stains shadowing the cement floor below their soles,

where a farmer once greased wheel bearings on his Case tractor.

 

The auctioneer chants in a steady cadence

that mesmerizes, sways the faithful fellowship

to raise hands, nod heads, tip bidding cards

in reverent respect of an ancient rural liturgy.

 

Red Wing crock, cane back rocker, a Jacob’s ladder quilt,

Aunt Mary’s treasured steamer trunk, weathered oars—

goods of yesteryear coveted by those who commune here,

sipping steaming black coffee from Styrofoam cups.

 

Find me, introduce yourself and ask me about my passions—writing and/or photography—and hear my story.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Getting published, in a Mankato park August 11, 2014

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HOW, EXACTLY, WERE WE going to locate a poetry sign in sprawling Sibley Park?

A sign explains the history of Sibley Park.

A sign explains the history of Sibley Park.

Upon entering this Mankato city park on a recent Saturday morning, I considered that my husband and I would be searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. We had no idea the park was so large. And we were supposed to, somehow, find 12-year-old Hannah Leraas’ Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride sign board here.

Absolutely stunning gardens.

Absolutely stunning gardens.

Yeah, right, I thought as we parked near a stunning flower garden to begin our search because it seemed as good a place as any to start looking.

The garden includes a fountain tucked among the flowers.

The garden includes water features tucked among the flowers.

But I quickly deduced if we were to find the poem, we best ask someone familiar with the park. That was not the young woman on a skateboard. A wedding photographer on his way to a shoot proved more helpful, directing us toward a particular street we had yet to locate in the twisting maze of park roads that are not particularly well-marked.

There's Hannah's poem, up the hill from the Ott cabin, to the right in the background.

There’s Hannah’s poem, up the hill from the Ott cabin, to the right in the background.

Hannah Leraas with her winning poem, "Snow."

Hannah Leraas with her winning poem, “Snow.” Photo courtesy of Leraas family.

With his directions and after touring the gardens, we climbed back in the van and moments later spotted Hannah’s poem, “Snow,” just up the hill from the 1857 Ott log cabin along a recreational trail and near CHS Pergola Way.

Hannah's poem, "Snow."

Hannah’s poem, “Snow.”

While my husband dialed (507) 403-4038 on his cell phone and punched in 407 to hear Hannah read her poem, I snapped photos of this young Faribault writer’s poetry sign board. I’ve mentored Hannah and am beyond thrilled that “Snow” was selected from among submissions in the fourth – seventh grade division of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride competition. (Click here to read a story I posted earlier about her poetry.)

My poem, “Bandwagon,” was also chosen and is posted in Lions Park. (Click here to read about that.)

Sibley Park rests at the confluence of the Blue Earth and Minnesota Rivers.

Sibley Park rests at the confluence of the Blue Earth and Minnesota Rivers. The park has many features, including softball fields, a sliding hill, picnic shelters, a zoo (which we did not have time to visit) and more.

For any writer, no matter your age or experience, there’s a certain satisfaction in winning a contest and getting your work published. I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had the past two years to be part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. This year 35 poems by 22 writers are posted in parks and along recreational trails in Mankato and North Mankato. Additionally, poems by three notable area poets are featured.

This sign near the CHS Pergola and atop the park's hill, encourages physical activity.

This sign near the CHS Pergola and atop the park’s hill, encourages physical activity.

I hope you’ll take the time, if you’re in southern Minnesota, to check out the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. Just allow plenty of time for exploring, like we did in Sibley Park, once we found Hannah’s poem.

My husband and I noticed lots of oak leaves fallen from trees and oaks that appeared diseased.

My husband and I noticed lots of oak leaves fallen from trees and oaks that appeared diseased.

FYI: For more info about the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride, a project of the Southern Minnesota Poets Society, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry & more in Paul Bunyan land August 18, 2011

The lake side of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette Diana Kensack..

Lucette Diana Kensack

SEVERAL SUMMERS AGO while vacationing in northern Minnesota, my family stopped in Hackensack, 50 miles north of Brainerd. The initial draw to this town of 285 was the 17-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. I appreciate kitschy roadside art. What can I say?

Two other discoveries, however, trumped seeing Lucette. A stone’s throw from Lucette, along the shores of Birch Lake, sits the cutest log cabin—a Works Progress Administration project and today home of the Hackensack Lending Library.

And just down the street from Lucette and the library, I found the sweetest pink fairy tale cottage.

Those small-town treasures marked my introduction to Hackensack.

Now, fast forward to last summer. I wasn’t back in Hack, not physically anyway. Rather my poetry was among poems displayed at the town’s annual Northwoods Art and Book Festival. During that event, the featured poets are invited to read their poetry. Fest-goers can also vote for their favorites with six poems selected for “Popular Choice” awards. Six poems are also recognized as “Poems of Merit.” All of the original and unpublished poems are posted without author names attached.

I didn’t attend last year, didn’t win and didn’t deserve to win. My poetry wasn’t worthy of an award.

This year my poetry is back at the Northwoods Festival set for this Saturday, August 20, and I’m more confident that I’ve actually written poems that could win an award. Oh, I’d love to tell you which poem is mine (or it could be both poems that I submitted; I haven’t been told). But I won’t unfairly sway the voting. Suffice to say my rural background shines in my writing.

If Hackensack wasn’t such a long drive from Faribault, I’d be there taking in the poetry, the art, the music, the book-signings, the food. However, if you’re in the Brainerd lakes area or parts north on Saturday, check out the Northwoods Art and Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and then tell me all about it by submitting a comment.

Voting for the “Popular Choice” awards begins at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m.

If you’re already thinking, “Audrey, I don’t like poetry,” rethink your thinking. I promise you that my poetry rates as down-to-earth, understandable and not at all stuffy.

This whole concept of getting poetry out to the public via a display like the one in Hackensack pleases me. Just like the Roadside Poetry billboards in Fergus Falls. I was fortunate enough to win the spring competition and have my four-line poem plastered across four billboards there.

These new poetry venues, and the increasingly popular sidewalk poetry in cities like St. Paul, Mankato and now Northfield, are bringing poetry to the people. That’s a good thing because, in reality, how many of us actually pick up a book of poetry for leisure reading?

Minnesota poet Todd Boss and designer/animator Angella Kassube are also making poetry even more appealing by utilizing visuals in their acclaimed motion poems. Click here to read some of those.

Poetry has certainly evolved through the years, a necessity to keep writers interested in writing it and readers interested in reading it.

Professionally, I’ve only begun to unfold my wings as a poet. Even publicly calling myself a “poet” still sounds foreign to my ears. But with publication in two magazines and four anthologies, soon to be five (The Talking Stick, Volume 20, published by Park Rapids-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc); winning the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition; inclusion at the Hackensack festival; and recent notification that one of my poems will publish in the Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine, I finally feel worthy of the title “poet.”

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

The sweet fairy tale house in Hackensack, located near Lucette and the park and photographed in 2009.

"Curve around the corner/You are free/To change directions/Or your mind," reads this poem by Marlys Neufeld of Hanska and imprinted in a Mankato sidewalk.

HOW DO YOU FEEL about poetry? Do you read it? Why or why not?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prairie poetry in Fergus Falls June 12, 2011

SATURDAY MORNING MY HUSBAND and I hit the road, heading north on Interstate 35 and then west on Interstate 94 to the west central part of Minnesota.

This was our destination:

It's approaching noon on Saturday, and we've nearly reached our destination, Fergus Falls.

Because of this:

The first of my four Roadside Poetry billboards in a stretch of ditch along North Tower Road in Fergus Falls.

I got word last Monday that my winning Roadside Poetry Project spring poem will come down on June 17, to be replaced with a summer poem. (Click here to read a previous post about my poem.) So if I wanted to see “Cold earth warmed by budding sun sprouts the seeds of vernal equinox” and my name—all sprawled across four Burma Shave style billboards—we had to get our butts up to Fergus Falls.

So we did, making the 200-mile trip this weekend under big skies that stretched all the way to the Dakotas.

After a few stops, including a swing into Melrose to view an historic Catholic church (more on that in another post), we eventually reached Exit 54 into Fergus some 3 1/2 hours later. We followed Highway 210/West Lincoln Avenue, turned onto North Tower Road and drove past the NAPA Auto Parts store before reaching those poetry billboards. I mention NAPA because Randy works at the NAPA store in Northfield as an automotive machinist and we found it interesting that my poems just happened to be right down the road from the Fergus NAPA store.

We passed right by the NAPA store to reach my billboards just down the road.

When Randy pulled to the side of North Tower Road by my billboards, I determined this was not the safest place to park. So we pulled into the Fastenal parking lot and then descended the steep ditch, wading through tall, and wet, prairie grasses—sweet clover, June grass, alfalfa—and more than a few thistles.

Our shoes and jean legs were soon soaked with moisture. But, you know, that really didn’t matter. I was so focused on viewing my four-line, spring-themed poem and on taking photos that the wet feet and denim seemed more a nuisance than anything worth fretting over on a glorious early Saturday afternoon.

And so, billboard by billboard, we worked our way down the road ditch, stopping by each sign for photos. Eventually I handed the camera over to Randy, who managed to figure out how to turn on the camera, focus it, compose and snap some pictures.

Me posing by the last of the four billboards with my spring poem.

This may be the first and last time my poetry, and my name, will be on billboards, so I savored every letter, every word, every line, every billboard...

Then I snapped this image of my husband, who had plucked a spear of prairie grass and slipped it into his mouth. The frame marked one of those quick clicks of the camera that resulted in a photo that you could never recapture given its spontaneity.

A sweet shot of my husband as he walked away from the final billboard.

I’m uncertain how long we worked the road ditch along North Tower. But long enough to appreciate that this spot on the edge of town, under a sky that always feels bigger, wider, on the open prairie, perfectly fit a poem written by me, a southwestern Minnesota prairie native.

I crouched to capture this image which focuses on the road ditch prairie grasses.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling