Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

How I’ve composed poetry that dances (in the barn) April 4, 2013

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. Rural Redwood County is the setting for most of my poetry.

POETRY. That single word encompasses language, music, art, emotion and more. It’s a word to be celebrated in April, designated as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets.

I’ve written poetry for about four decades, but not with particular passion or regularity until recent years. Something has evolved within me as a writer, directing me from the narrow path of journalistic style writing to the creativity of penning poetry.

Perhaps a parcel of my new-found enthusiasm can be traced to my publishing success. Seventeen, soon to be 18, of my poems have been published in places ranging from literary journals to anthologies to billboards to a devotional and more. I figure if editors have accepted my poetry for publication, I must be doing something right. And when they reject my poetry, as has happened often enough, they were correct in those decisions.

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

An abandoned farmhouse, like this one along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, inspired my poem, “Abandoned Farmhouse,” published in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 3.

Most of my poems are rooted in childhood memories from the southwestern Minnesota prairie. I write about topics like barns, walking beans, an abandoned farmhouse, canned garden produce, taking lunch to the men in the field and such.

My poetry rates as visually strong and down-to-earth. There’s no guessing what I am writing about in any of my poems.

Barns, like this one along Minnesota Highway 60 west of Waterville, have woven into my poetry.

Barns, like this one along Minnesota Highway 60 west of Waterville, have woven into my poetry.

Here, for example, is my poem which published in Volume One of Lake Region Review, a high-quality west central Minnesota-based literary magazine of regional writing. To get accepted into this journal in 2011 and then again in 2012 significantly boosted my confidence as a poet given the level of competition and the credentials of other writers selected for publication.

This Barn Remembers

The old barn leans, weather-weary,
shoved by sweeping prairie winds,
her doors sagging with the weight of age,
windows clouded by the dust of time.

Once she throbbed with life
in the heartbeats of 30 Holsteins,
in the footsteps of my farmer father,
in the clench of his strong hands
upon scoop shovel and pitchfork.

This barn spoke to us,
the farmer and the farmer’s children,
in the soothing whir of milking machines
pulsating life-blood, rhythmic, constant, sure.

Inside her bowels we pitched putrid piles of manure
while listening to the silken voices of Charlie Boone
booming his Point of Law on ‘CCO
and Paul Harvey wishing us a “good day,”
distant radio signals transmitting from the Cities and faraway Chicago.

This barn remembers
the grating trudge of our buckle overshoes upon manure-slicked cement,
yellow chore-gloved hands gripping pails of frothy milk,
taut back muscles straining to hoist a wheelbarrow
brimming with ground corn and pungent silage.

This barn remembers, too,
streams of hot cow pee splattering into her gutters,
rough-and-tumble farm cats clumped in a corner
their tongues flicking at warm milk poured into an old hubcap,
and hefty Holsteins settling onto beds of prickly straw.

A rural scene along U.S. Highway 14 near Nicollet.

A rural scene along U.S. Highway 14 near Nicollet.

Let’s examine “This Barn Remembers” to see how I created this poem. Always, always, when penning a poem like this, I shut out the present world and close myself into the past.

I rely on all five senses, not just the obvious sight and sound, to engage the reader:

  • sight—sagging doors, clouded windows, manure-slicked cement
  • sound—soothing whir of milking machines, grating trudge of buckle overshoes, silken voices of Charlie Boone
  • taste—tongues flicking warm milk
  • touch—in the clench of his strong hands, gripping pails of frothy milk, settling onto beds of prickly straw
  • smell—putrid piles of manure, pungent silage

Strong and precise verbs define action: shoved, throbbed, booming, gripping, brimming, splattering, flicking

Literary tools like alliteration—pitched putrid piles of manure—and personification—the barn taking on the qualities of a woman—strengthen my poem.

The words and verses possess a certain musical rhythm. This concept isn’t easy to explain. But, as a poet, I know when my composition dances.

I also realize when I’ve failed, when a poem needs work and/or deserves rejection.

That all said, the best advice I can offer any poet is this:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write from the heart.
  • Write in your voice.
  • Write with fearlessness and honesty. (Note especially this line: “…streams of hot cow pee splattering into her gutters…”)
I grew up on a dairy and crop farm, so I know cows well enough to write about them in my poetry.

I grew up on a dairy and crop farm, so I know cows well enough to write about them in my poetry.

You can bet I smelled that hot cow pee, watched the urine gushing from Holsteins into the gutter, pictured a younger version of myself dodging the deluges, when I penned “This Barn Remembers.” Writing doesn’t get much more honest than cow pee.

IF YOU’RE A POET, a lover of poetry and/or an editor, tell me what works for you in composing/reading/considering poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling