Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota Class Reunion in Poetry April 30, 2015

LAST SEPTEMBER THE WABASSO High School Class of 1974 gathered at the Wabasso Community Center for our 40-year reunion. That’s on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, in Redwood County.

I lived on a farm 15 miles to the north and west, just outside of Vesta, an hour’s bus ride away from Wabasso. It takes time to travel gravel roads, backtracking and weaving to farm sites to pick up all those country kids.

Forty years. I used to think people who’d been out of high school for four decades are really old. I don’t think that anymore.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Still, that’s a lot of years and much has happened since 89 fresh-faced rural Minnesota kids walked across the gym stage in May 1974 and received their diplomas. As you would expect, the reunion mixed nostalgia and reconnecting, sharing of memories and sharing of lives.

And for me, the gathering inspired a poem, “Class Reunion,” recently published in Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9. My other entry, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” was also published, among the 30 winning poems chosen from 157 submissions in the adult division.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

I attended and read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening. The event was a delight with some poets reading their works and Minneapolis poet Todd Boss as the featured speaker.

I am grateful to Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for publishing this annual collection of poetry from writers in the 11-county SELCO region. I’ve entered the competition eight times with 10 poems published in seven volumes.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

And because April is National Poetry Month, here is the poetic version of a rural southwestern Minnesota high school reunion:

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right. That’s me in the pink striped shirt, front right in image on the right.

 

Class Reunion

Bulbous red clown nose clamped onto face,
boa thrust around neck movie star style,
pirate hat tilted upon bald head,
skull patch positioned across left eye,
we cram into the photo booth, all smiles,
pretending to be someone we are not.

“How are you?” We pause, then hug,
hoping the response will be a lie
rather than the truth of the past forty years
chiseling our faces, greying our hair
(if we still have hair),
etching grief into our souls.

A classmate pulls the curtain tight,
shuts out reality for the lens.
Memories overtake us, filling the booth with laughter.
We remember when nothing seemed more important
than our anti-establishment defiance of choosing
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

The camera flashes again and we swap accessories—
Vikings horns for Peter Pan hat,
leather biker hat for Mickey Mouse ears—
the promise of never growing up
and living in a happily-ever-after fairytale world
almost Disney believable if we didn’t know the truth.

In this moment, all seems right with the world.
No husbands dead. No children buried. No cancer battled.
No eyes blackened. No marriages broken.
The future lies before us, full of promise and hope
and all that is good and wonderful and perfect.
Except it isn’t and wasn’t and never will be.

The camera flashes for the third, and final, time.
A classmate draws back the curtain.
We drop props into a basket, revealing receding hairlines
and sagging necks and worry lines edging our eyes.
Then we chat about our children and our grandchildren
and our dreams, as if our entire lives lie before us.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

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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

 

Celebrating the wordful art of poetry in southeastern Minnesota April 19, 2013

SELCO's seventh volume of Poetic Strokes.

SELCO’s seventh volume of Poetic Strokes.

POETIC STROKES. The title resonates with a graceful image of fountain pen dipped in ink sweeping words across a blank page.

In my idealistic poet’s eye, I envision letters flowing onto paper with ease and passion.

In reality, I understand that inspiration more likely comes in halting clicks on a computer keyboard, screen idling, fingers poised, poet pausing to claim the muse. If only poetry were as easy to write as it might seem.

My poem, "Life Cycles."

My poem, “Life Cycles.”

These are my thoughts as I read the recently-released volume 7 of Poetic Strokes 2013—A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO). My poem, “Life Cycles,” is among 18 selected for publication from 110 submissions. This marks the fifth Poetic Strokes volume in which my poetry has printed.

As I thumb through the pages of this anthology, which also includes youth poetry in a Word Flow section, I am impressed by the talent of poets who call this 11-county SELCO region home. Southeastern Minnesota claims some mighty fine poets. I recognize many poets’ names from past anthologies and other contests. I am in fine company.

If I were to ask these poets what inspires them, how would they respond?

How have they come to write about an aged woman going to the beauty shop, sweet memories from the summer of ’68, picking strawberries, perusing library shelves, baking bread and a dozen other topics which, without their creative pens, would seem rather ordinary topics?

The poet’s gift is to dip a pen into the inkwell of a memory, an emotion, a moment in time, a scene—whatever inspires—and create a wordful work of art. As a poet, there is nothing sweeter than words flowing into lines and verses, connecting to the reader in some way.

When I read about gardening or peeling an apple (not really about peeling an apple) or any of the other subjects covered in this seventh volume of Poetic Strokes, I take away my own interpretation based on my experiences. Therein lies a truth. Poetry is as much about writing as it is about experiencing this wordful art.

Eighteen poems were selected for publication from 110 submissions to Poetic Strokes. In the Word Flow section of the anthology, 14 poems were published from 99 submissions.

Eighteen poems were selected for publication from 110 submissions to Poetic Strokes. Faribault High School English teacher and writer Larry Gavin joins me as the other Faribault poet included in the anthology.  In the Word Flow youth section of the anthology, 14 poems were published from 99 submissions. All but two of those students attend Cannon Falls High School.

YOU CAN MEET Poetic Strokes poets at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, during a Meet and Greet hosted by the Owatonna Public Library and the Owatonna Poetry Writer’s Group in the third floor Gainey Room at the library, 105 North Elm Avenue. Poets will discuss and share their poetry. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Bonnie Krueger at the library by emailing bonnie@owatonna.info or calling (507) 444-2460. Because refreshments will be served, she needs a head count.

Following the Meet and Greet, at 7 p.m., Minnesota Book Award Poet Todd Boss, one of my favorite Minnesota poets, will share his works. I cannot wait to hear Todd read during this “Poets at the Library Tour” event celebrating National Poetry Month in April.

THIS EVENING, Friday, April 19, Better Brew Coffeehouse, 301 North Main Street, Pine Island, is hosting an Open Mic Poetry Night beginning at 7 p.m. The event calls for participants of all ages and all forms of poetry to read their works or that of others. Participant registration opens at 6 p.m. Better Brew, the Van Horn Public Library and Pine Area People for the Arts are sponsoring the poetry reading. Given the unfolding weather situation, I’d advise checking whether this reading is still “on” or postponed.

FYI: If you live in the SELCO system, you can check out a copy of Poetic Strokes from your local library. The anthology was funded in part or in whole with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here to see the names of poets published in the 2013 Poetic Strokes. To read the list of youth poets published in Word Flow, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

You’re invited to hear two Faribault poets read & talk about poetry November 29, 2012

WITH ONLY A WEEK until the presentation, I figured I better buckle down and finish my prep work. After all, wasn’t I the annoying mom sometimes harping on my once high school-aged kids to finish their homework?

“Don’t leave it until the last minute,” I would urge, not that they heeded my advice.

Peter C. Allen and I will present in the Great Hall, a lovely room with Greek murals on the second floor of the library.

I decided to listen to myself and have been preparing for a poetry presentation Faribault poet Peter C. Allen and I will give at 6 p.m. next Thursday, December 6, in the second floor Great Hall of Buckham Memorial Library, 11 East Division Street, Faribault.

I expect Peter is not really stressing at all about this event as he enjoys reading his poetry to an audience.

Me? Not so much.

Connie Ludwig, right, and I pose with her watercolor, “Pantry Jewels” (above my head), inspired by my poem, “Her Treasure.” We were participants in Poet-Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota in April.

I’m counting on Peter, whom I first met last spring at a poet-artist collaboration in Zumbrota, to help me ease into our joint poetry reading and poetry educating. He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel comfortable and who reads with the confidence of a seasoned poet.

And that he is. Several weeks ago Peter invited my husband and me to dinner in his home with wife, Maria, and their adult son, Peter Allen (the sixth). After our savory meal, I asked the elder Peter to read some of his poetry. When my friend pulled out a thick binder of his poetry, I spouted, “You’ve written way more poetry than me.”

That matters not to Peter. Nor, I suppose, should it matter to me. After all, we each write poetry when the muse calls—or in my case when a contest deadline approaches.

The 2012 volume of Poetic Strokes in which Peter Allen and I are both published.

Peter and I were both winners in the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating 2012 Poetic Strokes competition, which is why we were invited to speak at the library next week. Of the 202 submissions from regional poets, only 30 poems were selected for publication in Poetic Strokes: A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 6.

I’ve also been published in volumes 2, 3 and 4 of Poetic Strokes.

Lake Region Review 2, right, in which I was recently published, and LRR 1, to the left, in which I was published in 2011. I will read from both volumes during the poetry presentation next Thursday evening. This weekend you can listen to writers read their works from LRR 2 on selected western Minnesota radio stations. Go to lakeregionwriters.net and click on “Upcoming Events” for details. LRR 2 writers will also read and discuss the craft of writing at  Zandbroz Vareity, 420 Broadway Ave., Fargo, North Dakota, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 9, where I shot this photo.

I’ll read six of my poems from those four volumes plus an additional 11 published elsewhere. Even I did not realize, until I began gathering my work, that I’d been published this often. Do I have enough published work to possibly think about compiling a book of my poems?

Additionally, I’ll share tips on poetry writing and a sampling of places Minnesota poets can submit their poetry right here in Minnesota.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

You can also expect me to use visuals in presenting several of my poems. Initially I’d considered using PowerPoint, but worried that I couldn’t pull that off given I have no idea how to prepare or technically present a PowerPoint. Lack of equipment at the library for that type of presentation caused me to drop that thought and rely instead on my ingenuity. (No, I’m not even going to hint at what I have planned.)

Besides listening to Peter and me read our poetry and talk about poetry and our other writing experiences (including blogging), you will leave with a gift—a free copy of the 2012 Poetic Strokes, compliments of SELCO.

Peter and I will also treat you to snacks and beverages.

So…if you’re up for an hour of poetry followed by a question-and-answer period, or simply want to meet me, the real person behind this blog, join Peter and me at 6 p.m. next Thursday, December 6, at the Faribault library. Peter and I promise a casual and relaxed (hopefully for me) atmosphere with down-to-earth poetry you will (hopefully) understand and enjoy.

Full disclosure: I am being paid a small stipend to present on poetry at the library. However, I was not asked to write this post and did so because I often promote such cultural events in my community and elsewhere.

The Poetic Strokes project is funded in part or whole by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the regional poetry of Minnesota March 27, 2012

THREE APPARENTLY is the lucky number connected with this year’s soon-to-be-released sixth Poetic Strokes anthology published by my regional library system, Southeastern Libraries Cooperating.

At least, on the surface, with 30 poems by 30 poets from 13 communities, all those threes seem to point to that conclusion.

But I don’t bank success on luck—even if my poem of three verses—is among those that published.

Now I’m not privy to the criteria judges used to evaluate the 202 poems submitted by 202 poets from 34 communities within the 11 SELCO counties. But I trust their judgment to select the 30 best works.

Penning a poem worthy of publication takes time, effort and talent. I know. I’ve received my share of dismissals, including last year’s rejection of my three poems submitted to the Poetic Strokes competition. In retrospect, I can see now that those poems needed refining.

While none of us like rejection, it is often the best/only way to show us we can do better. On several occasions I’ve rewritten rejected poems and then had them accepted elsewhere.

I realize, too, that judges’ personal preferences in poetry and the publication itself also factor into acceptance or rejection of a poem. For example, when I’ve submitted to Lake Region Review and The Talking Stick, I’ve considered that these are Minnesota anthologies rooted in the region. I’ve successfully published in both.

Any of you who’ve read my poetry understand that I am a regional writer, with most of my poems connected to the land, specifically my native southwestern Minnesota. I am rooted to the geography of the prairie and to my experiences growing up there. That connection defines my distinct, poetic voice.

Take my poem, “Writing poetry as the sun rises,” just published in Poetic Strokes 2012. At first glance, the title seems to suggest I’ve veered from my voice. Not so. If not for my life-long deep appreciation of prairie sunrises and sunsets (even though I no longer live on the prairie), I may not have looked up from my computer one morning to appreciate the rising sun and then write about it.

Apparently my Minnesota prairie roots voice resonates with judges as I’ve entered numerous competitions and had my poems accepted for publication or display, including in the upcoming Poet-Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Click here to learn more about that gallery show.

Five of my poems have also published in three volumes of Poetic Strokes. Make that six in four volumes. (This year’s competition allowed submission of only one poem.)

Copies of Poetic Strokes 2012 will be available for check-out at all SELCO libraries during the first week of April, National Poetry Month. Because the anthology was funded by the Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the volume will not be sold. Published poets will each receive five complimentary copies.

To read a list of the poets published in this year’s Poetic Strokes—including five from my county of Rice—click here.

As long as we’re talking poetry here, SELCO will launch its Poets at the Library tour with an appearance by Morris-based writer Athena Kildegaard at 7 p.m. Monday, April 2, at the Owatonna Public Library. Kildegaard, a current Minnesota Book Award poetry finalist with Bodies of Light, has also written Rare Momentum. Both were published by the respected Red Dragonfly Press in Red Wing. Kildegaard’s third poetry collection, Cloves & Honey–love poems, has just been released by Nodin Press.

Poets Laura Purdie Salas, Barton Sutter, Su Smallen and Todd Boss—one of my personal favorites—are also part of the SELCO tour. Click here to learn more about Poets at the Library.

Now, I am not so naïve as to believe that all of you like and embrace poetry. But if you haven’t read poetry in awhile, then I’d suggest you try reading it again. Today’s poetry is not the rhyming, elitist poetry of your youth.

I will be the first to tell you, emphatically, that I find some poetry so totally out there that I have no hope of understanding it. That’s OK. Find a poet whose voice resonates with you and then listen and appreciate the words that touch your soul.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling