Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Featuring Faribault poet Larry Gavin March 11, 2020

Cover art courtesy of Red Dragonfly Press.

 

FARIBAULT RESIDENT AND FELLOW poet Larry Gavin reads at 7 pm Thursday, March 12, from his latest poetry collection, A Fragile Shelter—New and Selected Poems, at the Northfield Public Library. This marks his fifth volume of poetry published by Northfield-based Red Dragonfly Press.

I’ve known Larry since he taught English to my eldest daughter at Faribault High School. And then to my second daughter and son. It was during parent-teacher conferences that I learned more about this gifted poet and writer and the connections we share.

 

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. The house is no longer standing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Like me, Larry writes with a strong sense of place. His poems are down-to-earth, descriptive. I see his love of the outdoors, the natural world, imprinted upon his writing. He grew up in Austin, in a decidedly rural region of southeastern Minnesota. And he lived for 15 years, decades ago, in rural southwestern Minnesota to study writing with some remarkable writers like Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Leo Dangel and others. The prairie influence of place and details is there, in Larry’s poetry. Just as it is in mine as a native of the Minnesota prairie.

I’d encourage you to read a post I published in 2011 featuring a Q & A with this poet. Click here.

 

Larry and I both had poems published in the 2013 volume of Poetic Strokes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Over the years, Larry and I have sometimes found ourselves crossing as poets—work published in the same places, reading together with other area poets at events, our poems selected for poet-artist collaborations, our poems published on billboards…

It’s always been an honor and a joy to read with Larry, especially to hear him read. His voice is a radio voice—flawless, dipping and rising with the rhythm of his poem, each word flowing into the next in a way that mesmerizes. He taught me that poetry is meant to be read aloud. I find myself now, whenever I write a poem, reading it aloud to hear if a word/line works or it doesn’t.

 

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 today is not your grandmother’s poetry of rhyming verses and flowery, fancied up writing. At least not the poems I write nor those written by Larry. At a poetry reading last year, he talked about “found poems,” poetry inspired, for example, by a note posted in a public place. His humorous poem about a would-be babysitter, who cited experience picking rock, prompted an outburst of laughter. I like that, too, about Larry’s writing. His poems aren’t all stuffy and serious.

To my friend, fellow poet and recently-retired English teacher, Larry Gavin, I extend my congratulations on publishing another collection of poetry. To read or hear his poetry is to recognize his talent as a wordsmith, for he crafts with a love of language, of the land, of life.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I love this poetry collection April 22, 2019

 

HOW DO I LOVE THEE? Let me count the ways.

Those introductory words to sonnet number 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning imprinted upon many a heart, mine included. Not that I can recite the poem. But I remember that first love line and the two lines that follow.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My Soul can reach, when feeling out of sight.

 

 

Ah, how I appreciate lyrical love poems. Words with depth penned from the soul.

 

 

And how I appreciate those who embrace poetry. Like my friend Barb. She recently gifted me with a 1967 Hallmark Editions volume of Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Treasured Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It’s a beautiful vintage collection of Browning’s love poems written between 1845-1846 and published in 1850. The British poet wrote the sonnets before her marriage to Robert Browning, a union disapproved of by her father. The couple secretly married in 1846.

I won’t pretend to understand everything Browning writes. If I chose to study her works, I would gain that depth of understanding. But I’m OK with simply reading and interpreting on my own.

 

 

My delight in unexpectedly receiving this 52-year-old slim collection reaches beyond words. The book is a work of art with poems printed in Garamond typeface on Hallmark Eggshell Book paper and with several illustrations interspersed therein. The covers, too, are lovely in a muted sage. To hold and page through this book is to hold creativity.

I feel intentionally and richly blessed when friends like Barb understand how I value the literary and visual arts. Barb knew this collection of Browning’s writing would hold meaning for me as a poet, as a creative. Especially during April, National Poetry Month.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite poet or poem?

© Copyright 2019 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

 

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