Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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

 

Faribault poets reading at Northfield bookstore January 8, 2019

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. For some, the word likely holds memories of high school English assignments that sparked deep angst. Write poetry. Read poetry. Nope, don’t wanna. But you had to in order to pass a class.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” selected several years ago for inclusion in the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As a poet, I understand that the poetry of yesteryear wasn’t always that appealing. Too many rules existed with way too much rhyming verse. Poetry today, that I like. I better. I write poetry.

Thursday evening I will be among five Faribault-connected poets featured in an informal Poetry Reading at Content Bookstore in downtown Northfield. Rob Hardy, Northfield’s 2018 Poet Laureate (isn’t that great?) is organizing the event which begins at 7 p.m., ends at 8:30 p.m.

Featured poets are Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, John Reinhard and Kristin Twitchell. We will each read for 10 minutes. I’ve previously been connected with every one of these poets.

 

It was shoulder to shoulder people at a poet and artist reception at Crossings in April 2014. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Let’s start with Peter Allen, a prolific poet who has self-published two poetry books and has been published in several anthologies. Peter and I first met at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota where we’ve both had our poetry featured in the Poet-Artist Collaboration, an annual pairing of poetry and visual art. Peter and I also presented together several years ago in a poetry reading at the local library.

 

A collection of Larry’s poetry published by Red Dragonfly Press. File photo.

 

Larry Gavin and I initially met at Faribault High School, where he teaches English. All three of my kids were in his classes. Larry writes down-to earth descriptive poetry with a strong sense of place. Place connects us. Larry, for awhile, lived in my native southwestern Minnesota. He understands the prairie and I see its influence, and that of the natural world in general, in his writing. Red Dragonfly Press has published three collections of his poetry. One other thing about Larry—he has the most incredible voice for reading poetry.

 

A Chamber Choir performs artsongs written from poems. Song writer David Kassler directs.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The connection I share with John Reinhard, who teaches at South Central College in Faribault and who has authored two poetry collections, comes in a concert. Several years ago, a Rochester musician chose our poems and those of several others to write into artsongs performed by a Chamber Choir. What an incredible experience.

 

The historic Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Finally, my link to Kristin Twitchell comes not through poetry but via her role as executive director of the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. We’ve spoken many times and I’ve seen her numerous times at Paradise events. I look forward to hearing the poet side of Kristin.

 

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then there’s event organizer, poet laureate Rob Hardy. We met awhile back at Imminent Brewing in Northfield during an open mic beer poetry reading. Yup, write a poem about beer and then stand up and read it. There won’t be any beer at Thursday’s bookstore reading. But be assured you’ll hear some good poetry read by some talented writers. With treats served afterward. And poetry books for sale.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Northfield: Have a beer, hear a poem September 28, 2017

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2017.

 

I’VE READ MY POETRY ALOUD in an historic theatre, a church, an art gallery, a lake cabin, a library, a civic center meeting room, a golf club and outdoors next to a history center and in a town square. But I’ve never read at a brewery. That will change on Saturday when I participate in the Beer Poetry Contest at Imminent Brewing as part of Northfield Poetry Festival 2017.

 

A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’m excited to read at this new venue on a subject—beer—I’ve not covered in past poems. I wondered if I was up to the writing challenge given my limited beer knowledge. Sure, I like craft beer and enjoy checking out craft breweries. But could I craft a poem about beer?

 

Taps at F-Town Brewing in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Once I sat down at the computer, words flowed like beer from a tap into a poem that is my signature down-to-earth style. And, no, I can’t pour my beer poem onto these pages. My poem releases Saturday at Imminent Brewing in downtown Northfield. And, yes, there are prizes on the line, including a growler of beer, for the winning poets selected by brewery patrons.

 

 

I love how Northfield embraces poetry from poems imprinted in sidewalks to the naming of Rob Hardy as the city’s Poet Laureate to this Poetry Festival. Prior to the brewery poetry readings (which include an open mic), area poets will read and sign books at 10:30 a.m. at Content Bookstore. And then at 1 p.m., the Northfield Public Library hosts a Youth Poetry Reading and Performance.

Youth between the ages of 18 – 20 can also participate in the 2017 Sidewalk Poetry Scavenger Hunt with a 1 p.m. Saturday, September 30, contest deadline. Click here for details.

 

Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s collection this year.

 

Even if you think you hate poetry—and I realize plenty of people still consider poetry stuffy stuff written by intellectuals who can’t relate to the common man/woman—I’d encourage you to approach poetry with an open mind. Poetry has, in many ways, changed. Not the basics of good tight writing that emerge from a poet’s soul. But the accessibility of it. You can find a poet you like, words with which you can connect. Words that move you, make you laugh, make you think, make you cry. Even in your beer.

 

FYI: Join me, other poets, craft beer lovers and my husband for an open mic poetry reading from 4 – 6 p.m. Saturday, September 30, at Imminent Brewing, 519 Division Street, South Unit 2, Northfield. Cheers. Please drink responsibly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography August 23, 2016

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the History Site Treaty Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the Treaty Site History Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the log cabin, traffic thrummed in a steady rhythm, the noise sometimes detracting from the five young women dancing barefoot in the grass and from the poets reading in to the wind.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the St. Peter history center.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the history center.

Still, despite the traffic noise from busy U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter, the focus remained primarily on “When Water Dreams: A Celebration,” hosted Sunday afternoon at the Treaty Site History Center.

This photo of Swan Lake near Nicollet is one of 19 black-and-white images included in an exhibit by Kay Herbst Helms.

This photo shows a side view of Kay Herbst Helms’ photo of Swan Lake, one of the largest prairie potholes in the contiguous United States. Located in Nicollet County,  the lake covers 14 square miles. I’ll tell you more about Kay’s exhibit of 19 black-and-white photos in a follow-up post.

I was part of that event thanks to Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms. Kay’s latest photo project, “Water Rights,” sidebars “Water/Ways,” a Museum on Main Street exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution showing through September 25 at the Nicollet County Historical Society host site in St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon, along with other invited southern Minnesota poets, I read “In which Autumn searches for Water,” a poem published four years ago as part of an “It’s All One Water” collaboration in Zumbrota. I clarified before reading my poem that I wrote this when our region was suffering a drought, unlike now when Minnesota has been deluged with rain. Here’s the third verse in my five-verse poem:

But she finds at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. John Hurd and Susan Stevens Chambers also read their poetry.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. Christina’s mother, Susan Stevens Chambers, also read, both her poetry and that of Henry Panowitsch. Two others, Craig Nelson and Mira Frank, read the works of published poets, including that of local poet Jim Muyres who was unable to attend.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

I’ve come to enjoy poetry readings—listening to the rhythm of words penned by those who, like me, are moved to string words together in a lyrical way that touches emotions.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday's event.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday’s event venue site.

With water as the theme for Sunday’s celebration, poets read of lakes and rivers, of rain and of drought, of ships steaming immigrants across the ocean, and more.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Those clustered in lawn chairs, on blankets and standing—some folding paper cranes for the Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1000 Peace Crane Project—focused on the scene unfolding before them.

Water celebration, #47 dancer close-up arms up

 

Water celebration, #49 dancer close-up arms behind

 

Water celebration, #57 dancer with hands together

 

Water celebration, #67 dancers with hands up

 

Dressed in blue, members of Rural Route Dance Ensemble moved with such grace, like water lapping at the shore, waves rolling in the ocean, rain falling from the heavens. I won’t pretend to be an expert in dance; I have viewed few dance performances. But dance, like poetry, is open to interpretation.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

Life experiences, emotions and more shape poetry—how it is written, read and interpreted.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book, Good Thunder, Blue Earth.

The poetry readings of Good Thunder writer Susan Stevens Chambers mesmerized me. Susan has a melodic voice that soothes and comforts like the sound of rushing water. Except her words don’t rush. They flow. I especially savored Susan’s selected readings from her recently published compilation of rural-themed poems, Good Thunder, Blue Earth, published by River Place Press.

 

Water celebration, #94 Susan's dress blowing in breeze

 

As this poet read, her long blue dress swayed in the wind and I thought of gentle waves. Of water.

FYI: Check back for a post on the Smithsonian “Water/Way” exhibit, including more information on Kay Herbst Helms’ photography exhibit, “Water Rights.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An evening with Minnesota poet Todd Boss in Owatonna May 1, 2013

Todd Boss reads his poetry Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.

Todd Boss talks about poetry Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.

HE READS WITH THE CADENCE of a seasoned poet, with the ease of familiarity, written words fitting his voice like a comfortable pair of boots.

Which is exactly what award-winning St. Paul poet Todd Boss sported, along with faded jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt, to a “Poets at the Library Tour” event Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.

Todd Boss' boots.

Todd Boss’ boots.

Casual, laid back and unpretentious, Boss settled in to read from his poetry books, Yellowrocket and Pitch, Minnesota Book Award finalists in 2009 and 2013 respectively.

Before reading a poem set in Luckenbach, Texas, Boss shared that a woman from New York wants to include him in a dissertation she’s writing on cowboy poetry. He showed off his cowboy boots, then laughed. The audience laughed, too. While Boss often writes about his rural Wisconsin upbringing, he isn’t exactly a cowboy poet. Audience members agreed with Boss that Wisconsinites and Minnesotans live on farms, not ranches, defined by this poet as big open landscapes of earthy hues.

Later he referenced the New York perspective again: “My mother used to read a lot of poetry on the ranch.” Ranch. A carefully chosen word. Just like the words in his detailed and rhythm rich poems.

Reading from Pitch.

Reading from Pitch.

Boss read poetry about card playing, wood piles, his mother, an exchange with a check-out clerk at a Minneapolis food co-op, the 35W bridge collapse…

He revealed, too, that when he writes about his parents, he gives them the option of nixing those personal poems. They never have, a point audience members noted as respectful—of Boss in asking and of his parents in respecting his work.

Audience members read their poetry prior to Boss' reading. Some audience members, like me, were honored at a "Meet and Greet the Poets" reception earlier for those published in Poetic Strokes 2013, a regional anthology of poetry published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating.

Numerous audience members read their poetry prior to Boss’ reading. Some, like me, were honored at a “Meet and Greet the Poets” reception earlier for those published in Poetic Strokes 2013, A Regional Anthology of Poetry From Southeastern Minnesota. Southeastern Libraries Cooperating publishes the annual collection.

Boss is that kind of caring guy. After listening to audience members read poetry before his presentation, he thanked them, defining their readings as “a little bit like overhearing people’s prayers…things they’re worried about.”

He’s genuine and honest enough to admit that he doesn’t write every day, but that he should and that he’s sometimes lazy about writing.

And, yes, he actually earns a living writing poetry; touring the state and country reading poetry; collaborating on his grant-funded motionpoems; and, most recently, undertaking a public art project, an art/poetry installation on the five-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse.

He’s a farm boy from Wisconsin now living in the big city, but still strongly connected to his rural roots via his poetry.

If Tuesday’s event had been held at a ranch, instead of the third floor of a public library, audience members would have gathered around the campfire to hear Boss, cowboy boots resting on a chunk of wood, strumming his not-exactly-cowboy-poetry rhythmic poetry.

FYI: In addition to publishing two books of poetry, Boss works with animator/producer Angella Kassube on producing motionpoems, which “turn contemporary American poems into short films. To learn more about this grant-supported non-profit project, click here.

And click here to link to Todd Boss’ website.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Presenting poetry: Practice makes perfect December 7, 2012

THAT WELL-KNOWN ADAGE of “practice makes perfect” proved prophetic for me Thursday evening during a poetry reading in Faribault.

An event which I had fretted/worried/stressed about for the past week nearly went off without the proverbial hitch. (I struggled only once, as I read a poem about my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver six years ago.)

Peter Allen presented with me Thursday evening at the Faribault library. I handed my camera to my husband and he tried to get some decent shots shooting available light. This one is the best.. And, no, I am not not sleeping. I'm either contemplating Peter's poem or glancing at my script. Photo by Randy Helbling

Peter Allen presented with me Thursday evening at the Faribault library. I handed my camera to my husband and he tried to get some decent shots shooting in available light. This one is the best. And, no, I am not not sleeping.

Yes, I did it. I stood before an audience and read/discussed poetry along with a co-presenter for 1 ½ hours.

The secret to that success most certainly was practice and, as I emailed my virtual, now real-life, blogger friend Beth Ann, prayer. Beth Ann traveled all the way from Mason City, Iowa, 20 miles south of the Minnesota border, with her husband, Chris, to hear me and Peter Allen present.

Me reading "Prairie Sisters," my first poem of the evening. The poem was published in volume two of Poetic Strokes.

Me reading “Prairie Sisters,” my first poem of the evening. The poem was published in volume two of Poetic Strokes.

About that practice… I’ve been reading my poetry and scripts to my kitchen walls for the past week, rehearsing twice on Thursday and even more on Wednesday. When I phoned my husband, Randy, late Thursday afternoon to remind him of the presentation (he’d asked me to do so), he inquired, “Have you been smoking? Your voice sounds hoarse.”

He was joking, of course, as I don’t smoke and can’t even tolerate cigarette smoke.

I’d been practicing, I told him. Perhaps I’d rehearsed enough if my voice was growing raspy.

The scene in the Great Hall before the audience arrived. It's a gorgeous venue.

The scene in the Great Hall before the audience arrived. It’s a gorgeous venue. I used a few props and visuals in presenting.

Here’s one of the biggest surprises of all from the evening: Because I felt so confident going into the presentation, I actually, truly, enjoyed myself. Who would have thought? Not me.

Second, the turn-out of 32 audience members floored me and Peter. I expected perhaps a dozen. Buckham Memorial Public Services Librarian Allyn M. McColley, who coordinated the event, shared my enthusiasm for the high audience attendance. And, honestly, I did not personally invite a single person, although I did post about the event here last week.

I am grateful that so many ventured out of their warm homes on a cold December evening to embrace poetry. Such interest warms this poet’s heart. I could hear that interest in the laughter, in the questions, in the comments.

It also warms my heart that my two dear friends, Billie Jo and Tammy, both the mothers of young children, would choose to hear me read poetry on their girls’ night out.

And then to think that blogger Beth Ann, whom I’d never met prior to Thursday evening, drove more than an hour with her husband from northern Iowa to listen to me and Peter present simply touches me. (Beth Ann blogged this morning about our meeting and the poetry presentation, so be sure to click here and read her engaging piece.)

Finally, my dear husband, Randy, who helped me tote a van full of props and books and food to the library and then assisted with props and hand-outs, took me out to dinner afterward. We dined at a lovely Italian restaurant, Augusto’s Ristorante, several blocks from the library. It was the perfect way to end a fabulous evening.

FYI: Click here to link to photos posted on the Buckham Memorial Library website.

I believe this is a bust of Judge Thomas Scott Buckham, after whom the library is named. His wife, Anna, gifted the city of Faribault with this Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style building constructed in 1929-1930. The bust is located above the fireplace in the Great Hall, right behind where Peter and I presented.

I believe this is a bust of Judge Thomas Scott Buckham, after whom the library is named. His wife, Anna, gifted the city of Faribault with this Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style building. The bust of this pioneer settler is located above the fireplace in the Great Hall, right behind where Peter and I presented.

One of several Greek murals gracing the Great Hall.

One of several Greek murals gracing the Great Hall.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929-1930 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling