Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This Was 2020, more indie book success June 17, 2022

Award-winning This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS A LONG-TIME WRITER, I’ve accumulated a lengthy list of publication credits. That’s rewarding. Publication validates me as a writer. But it is knowing people are reading my work which proves especially rewarding.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am thrilled to share that This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year is the top circulating book across all Indie Author Project library collections in the U.S. and Canada thus far in 2022. My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is included in This Was 2020, an anthology of 54 poems and essays by 51 Minnesota writers. To earn the number one circulation spot is an achievement worth noting and celebrating.

This is exciting news added to the initial success of the book as the 2021 Minnesota Author Project award winner in the Communities Create category.

A summary and author list from the back cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I’m not surprised by the book’s success. The collection of stories and poems selected via a competitive process is remarkable—packed with experiences, insights, emotions and more. I feel humbled and honored to be a part of this awarding-winning book featuring the work of talented Minnesota writers.

Paul Lai, formerly with Ramsey County Library, deserves much credit for his hard work on this MN Writes MN Reads project. It’s a mega undertaking to organize a contest open to writers throughout the state and then work through the process to publication. But it doesn’t end there. Lai also organized book readings and kept writers like me informed. I am grateful for his talent, enthusiasm and dedication.

My bio printed in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

If you haven’t read This Was 2020, I encourage you to do so. The book, Lai says, is available at all 14 library systems in Minnesota. Locally, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault carries two copies. Writers need readers. And readers need writers. Thank you for reading.

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NOTE: This marks the second time my poetry has been included in a book vying for the Minnesota Author Project, Communities Create Award. In 2020, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills was a finalist for the honor. The book featured my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” and the poems of 15 other area poets.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of Rob Hardy, Northfield poet laureate April 20, 2022

A portion of Rob Hardy’s poem displayed at the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

ROB HARDY, poet laureate of Northfield, is the kind of laid back guy who appreciates a good craft beer. I know. Back in September 2017, I met him at Imminent Brewing, where we shared a table while enjoying a beer, listened to other beer lovers read poems about beer and then read our own beer poems. He organized that Beer Poetry Contest. Poetry at a brewery, how creative and fun is that?

In January 2019, I again found myself in the company of Hardy, and other gifted area poets, for a poetry reading at Content Bookstore in Northfield.

Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts for a past event that included a poetry reading.

And then several months later, we gathered at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault for more public poetry reading.

Hardy is a champion of poetry. He tirelessly promotes poetry in Northfield, where poems, including his, imprint sidewalks. He organizes poetry events and publishes a poetry-focused newsletter and even has a poem permanently posted at the public library.

Rob Hardy, right, and his new poetry collection. (Photo source: Finishing Line Press)

And he just released a new collection of poetry, Shelter in Place, published by Finishing Line Press. The slim volume of 20 poems is a quick read with many of the poems therein inspired by his daily walks in the Carleton College Cowling Arboretum during the pandemic year of 2020.

The influence of the pandemic upon this poet’s life and writing is easy to see. In “Lyrical Dresses,” for example, he writes about looking at ordinary life through the wrong end of a telescope and sometimes crying for no reason. In “Today’s Headlines” the fourth line reads: Rice County has the highest rate of new cases in the country. That would be our county.

But these COVID-19 themed poems are not necessarily doom, gloom and darkness. They are an honest, reflective historical record of life during a global pandemic from the creative perspective of a wordsmith. Just as important as a news story in telling the story of this world health crisis. In “Grounded” he writes of pulling a shoe box from the closet to relive travel memories while unable to travel. While grounded.

He did, however, put his feet to the ground, immersing himself in nature through daily walks. He writes of birds and prairie and sky and river and wind…in poems inspired by his deepening connection to the natural world.

Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s previous poetry collection.

I encourage you to read Hardy’s Shelter in Place and/or attend a reading at Content Bookstore featuring Hardy and Greta Hardy-Mittell, a Carleton College student and writer. That event begins at 7 pm on Thursday, April 21. Click here for details. Rob Hardy is also the author of two other poetry collections, Domestication: Collected Poems, 1996-2016 and The Collecting Jar.

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TELL ME: Have you attended any poetry events or read/written poems in April, National Poetry Month.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of National Poetry Month: One April day April 18, 2022

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

ON THE AFTERNOON of the April morning I scanned the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library for poetry books, I raked a banana from the boulevard.

“Hey, I found a rotten banana,” I hollered to Randy, who had just switched off the lawnmower as he mulched leaves.

“You didn’t eat it, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I shouted back, rolling my eyes at his humor.

“I found a dead mouse or squirrel earlier,” he shared in an apparent effort to top my discovery of a dried black banana. (We never know what we’ll find while raking in the spring.) He walked across the lawn to the curb along busy Willow Street and kicked up the dried carcass I really did not want to see.

“Mouse,” I concluded, and looked away.

Mira Frank reads the works of Minnesota poets from “County Lines” at an event in St. Peter in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2016)

That takes me back to those poetry books I checked out, including County Lines: 87 Minnesota Counties, 130 Poets. Published in 2008 by Loonfeather Press of Bemidji, this volume features poems collected from Minnesota poets and representing all 87 Minnesota counties. It was published on the 150th anniversary of our statehood.

It’s a must-read book which accurately, and poetically, reflects Minnesota. Among the poems published therein, “April” by Connie Wanek. The first four lines of her five-verse poem from St. Louis County, are so relatable. She writes:

When the snow bank dissolved

I found a comb and a muddy quarter.

I found the corpse of that missing mitten

still clutching some snow.

As someone who’s lived in Minnesota her entire life, I “get” most of the poetry published in this collection. These poets write about land and weather, experiences and observations, small town cafes and polka dancing and trains roaring down tracks and closing the cabin and picking rock and…

The plentiful large rocks pictured here at Blue Mounds State Park are likely similar to those referenced in Leo Dangel’s poem. The park in rural Luverne is about 20 miles from Jasper, which Dangel names in “Stone Visions.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

I laughed aloud when I read Leo Dangel’s “Stone Visions” from Pipestone County in my native southwestern Minnesota. The topic—picking rock. For those of you who’ve never picked rocks, it’s exactly what it says. Walking through a field gathering and tossing rocks that seem to sprout every spring. Poet Dangel viewed oversized stones in a field near Jasper in a poetic way while his farmer uncle observed, “I’d hate like hell to start picking rock in those fields.”

Image source: Goodreads.

Uncovering rocks. Uncovering a dried mouse carcass. Uncovering a dried black banana. Uncovering poetry that resonates. Within the span of several hours, I found winter’s remains and a treasure of a poetry collection.

County Lines uncovers the stories of Minnesota in poetic voice from lesser-known to well-known Minnesota writers. Poets like David Bengston, Robert Bly, Philip S. Bryant, Susan Stevens Chambers, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Angela Foster, Larry Gavin, Laura L. Hansen, Sharon Harris, Margaret Hasse, Bill Holm, John Calvin Rezmerski, Candace Simar, Joyce Sutphen and so many more.

From Willmar to Hibbing to Lac qui Parle and, oh, so many places in between, the layers of our state, our people, our stories, our history, our heritage are revealed. This April day I celebrate National Poetry Month in a Minnesota poetry book pulled from the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.

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FYI: Former Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen will read from her newest poetry books, Carrying Water to the Field and The Long Winter, at 1 pm Saturday, April 23, at the Little Falls Carnegie Library. “Making Rural Connections Through Poetry with Joyce Sutphen” focuses on the loss of small farms in Minnesota. Sutphen grew up on a Stearns County farm. Three of her poems are featured in the “Stearns County” entries in County Lines.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite book of poetry you’d like to recommend? Or, if you’ve written a book (s) of poetry, please feel free to share information here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of “Where the Crawdads Sing” April 8, 2022

Image source: goodreads

IF I HADN’T CAUGHT the news flash in an entertainment segment on an early morning TV show recently, I doubt I would have read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. But I did. And the book proved so riveting that I didn’t want to put it down. You know the type of book, when you stay up past your bedtime to read.

Published in 2018, this New York Times fiction bestseller, releases in July as a movie. So I suppose my timing in reading this is about right. Not that I will see the film. Big screen versions, after I’ve read a book, usually disappoint. Plus, I am not a movie-goer; the last time I went to a movie (three years ago), I walked out and asked for a refund (which I got).

All that aside, that I read Where the Crawdads Sing in April, National Poetry Month, is also fitting. More on that in a bit.

First a summary: Set along the coastal marshes of North Carolina, this book tells the story of young Kya, beginning in 1952. Her family abandons her and she grows up, isolated, alone, connecting with nature. Known to locals as “Marsh Girl,” she reads poetry to gulls, boats through the marshland, immerses herself in learning and studying and documenting the surrounding natural world.

In following her story, which is much more complicated than someone living alone in a remote location, I learned a lot about an area of the US I’ve never even come close to visiting. That includes the many birds which focus Kya’s attention. It’s good for me to stretch my reading wings to a region unfamiliar to me. To learn of landscape, sea life, culture, food, peoples and more in a focused time period, primarily 1960-1970.

The book broadens to include a mystery—the death of a well-known young man from the coastal town of Barkley Cove. Even the name of that community sounds foreign to my Minnesota ears. His life intertwines with Kya’s and that’s what left me wanting to stay up late reading.

Themes of abuse, abandonment, isolation, misconceptions, meanness, prejudice, privilege and small town narrow-mindedness thread through the pages of Where the Crawdads Sing. Love, too.

Author Delia Owens also weaves poetry into pages in poems quoted. Poems by Emily Dickinson. By Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Wright, who taught in Minnesota at the University of Minnesota and Maclester College. By Amanda Hamilton (there’s a surprise). A fisherman named Scupper proclaims his love of poetry, declaring that poems “make ya feel something.” He’s right.

I encourage you to read this book for the story, the strong sense of place and, yes, for the poetry.

TELL ME: Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? If yes, what are your thoughts and will you see the movie?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating poetry: Reflections from a Minnesota poet April 4, 2022

Roses from my husband, Randy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012)

Roses are red,

violets are blue.

Sugar is sweet

and so are you.

RAISE YOUR HAND if that’s the first poem you ever read or heard. My right hand is wildly waving. See it, right there next to a mass of many many hands?

Me, next to my posted poem, “River Stories,” selected for the 2019 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. (Minnesota Prairie Roots November 2019 file photo by Randy Helbling)

Today, April 4, marks day four of National Poetry Month, which celebrates the importance of poetry in our culture and lives. Whether you like or dislike poetry, it holds value as a form of artistic expression, communication, storytelling, endearment…

Many of my poems (plus short stories and creative nonfiction) have been selected for publication in The Talking Stick, an annual anthology published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am proud to call myself a poet. A published poet. How did I get there? I’ve always loved words, the song of language. Poetry is, I think, a lot like music. It carries a rhythm. A beat. A cadence. That comparison comes from a poet who can’t carry a tune, can’t read a musical note, can’t play an instrument.

A Chamber Choir performs artsongs written from poems, directed by David Kassler. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017)

But in 2017, a chamber choir performed my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” at two concerts in Rochester. David Kassler composed the music for my poem and six others as part of an artsong project. To sit in that audience and hear those vocalists sing my poem was overwhelmingly humbling. And validating.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at a Poetry Bash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am a poet.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011)

My poetry has been published in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, anthologies… And in unexpected places. In 2011, my spring-themed poem bannered four billboards in Fergus Falls as part of the Roadside Poetry Project. Other poems have been posted on signs along trails as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” is currently showcased in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall, Minnesota, in my hometown area.

Jeanne Licari’s absolutely stunning interpretation of my “Lilacs” poem. Her “Lilacs on the Table” is oil on mounted linen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

Some of my poems have inspired art in Poet-Artist Collaborations, been aired on the radio and read by me at poetry readings.

I read poetry at this event at my local arts center in March 2019. I was honored to read with other talented area poets. (Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts)

Even I’m surprising myself at the volume of poetry I’ve crafted through the decades. I never set out to be a poet. It simply happened as an extension of my love of words, of language. And that undeniable need to express myself creatively. Unlike that “Roses are red…” introductory poetry of old, my poems do not rhyme.

My poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” with accompanying photos (center of this photo) in the Lyon County exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the LCHS)

My poetry is like me. Unpretentious. Down-to-earth understandable. Flannel shirt and blue jeans. Honest. Detail-oriented. Rooted in the land with a strong sense of place and a story to be told.

TELL ME: What’s your opinion of poetry? Do you read it, like it, write it? I’d like to hear.

Please click on links in this post to read some of the poems I’ve written.

FYI: Content Bookstore, 314 Division St. S., Northfield, is hosting two Poetry Nights, both beginning at 7 pm. On Thursday, April 7, Northfield poet Diane LeBlanc will read from her latest works. That includes her new poetry book, The Feast Delayed. Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy and poet Greta Hardy-Mittell will read from their latest works also. Hardy’s newest poetry collection, Shelter in Place, just released.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inspiring creativity March 24, 2022

Lost glove along the Straight River Trail, south Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE GLOVED STICK stuck out like a snowman’s broken appendage. There, stuck in the snow, aside the Straight River Trail in south Faribault.

Camera in hand, I paused on a recent afternoon trail walk to photograph the lost grey glove. Scenes like this intrigue me because there’s always a story. Who lost the glove? Why? Who found the glove and then decided to stick it on a stick? Would the woman who lost the glove find it?

Real life often prompts my creative writing. Several weeks ago I wrote with a fury over two days, under pressure to meet a contest deadline. In those two full days of creating, I wrote two pieces of creative nonfiction, two short stories and two poems. The Muse moved within me and I felt it.

More often than not, I tap into my life for ideas. The “write what you know” adage holds true for me.

In writing fiction, I can take a snippet of truth and craft it into a short story that rings with reality, except it’s not. A text shaped one of the pieces I crafted. The other story came from some dark place I have not yet unearthed.

The recent death of my mom resulted in a poem and a work of creative nonfiction. A sign in a barbershop window prompted the second piece of creative nonfiction.

And my second poem emerged from a previous walk along a riverside trail in Faribault. Not the same path of broken snowman appendage. But a place where fingers of snow wrote stories across asphalt.

TELL ME: If you are a creative, what inspires you in your writing/painting/creating? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The creative framing of Northfield February 24, 2022

“Framing the Scene,” a relatively new art installation, right, in the heart of historic downtown Northfield.

AS A MEGA APPRECIATOR of outdoor public art, I delighted in the recent discovery of some new, at least new-to-me, art staged in historic downtown Northfield. This southern Minnesota river town boasts a thriving community of literary, visual and performing artists.

This shows a section of Northfield’s “Poem Steps,” a collaboration of 17 local poets. These poetry steps (covered here with salt residue) are along the Riverwalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Here you’ll find poems imprinted in sidewalks, painted on steps and read at poetry readings in a city with a poet laureate. Here you’ll see outdoor sculptures scattered about town. Here you can listen to a concert at Bridge Square, a local church, St. Olaf or Carleton Colleges or elsewhere. Here you can enjoy live theater. Here you can appreciate the works of creatives at the Northfield Arts Guild and many other venues.

Northfield truly is synonymous with the arts.

The riverside-themed side of Erin Ward’s “Framing the Scene.” In the background water rushes over the Ames Mill Dam next to the historic mill on the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

So when I spied a recently-installed sculpture, “Framing the Scene” by St. Paul glass artist Erin Ward, I felt a jolt of excitement. The free-standing, two-dimensional mosaic frames the nearby Cannon River and Riverwalk on one side and Bridge Square on the other. It’s meant to be an interactive sculpture for framing photos.

The Cannon River flows through downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

Ward was among five artists awarded $2,000 grants from the Minnesota Arts Board for the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation’s 2021 Artists on Main Street projects. That program aspires to get “creative placemaking” into the historic downtown. The intersection of arts and culture, downtown revitalization and historic preservation all factor into the artistic endeavors.

Lovely historic buildings grace downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

“Framing the Scene” meets all of those criteria, in my creative opinion. The artwork itself represents the vision and skills of a talented artist. The art adds to the downtown Northfield experience. That experience is one of dipping in and out of mostly home-grown local shops or of dining in an historic setting. The cliques “quaint and charming” fit Northfield. This is a community rich in history, rich in historic architecture, rich in natural beauty and rich in art.

So much detail in the mosaic… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I appreciate how Ward melded art and nature in creating a mosaic which honors both. As I studied her interpretation of the Cannon River, I recognized the thought she invested in this detailed art of many many pieces. Her river evokes movement in waters teeming with fish and the occasional turtle. Assorted greens and blues evoke a sense of calm and peacefulness. Ward’s art honors this river which runs through. This river of life, now a backdrop to a community which still appreciates her beauty, her recreational qualities, her history, her aesthetic value.

This side of Ward’s mosaic focuses attention toward Bridge Square and buildings downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

And then, on the flip side of “Framing the Scene,” bold pieces of mostly yellow, orange and red triangles create a completely different feeling. It’s as if sunbeams fell from the sun in a chaotic, jumbled mix of happiness. That’s my interpretation.

This side of the art looks toward Bridge Square, community gathering spot in downtown Northfield. Place of concerts and popcorn wagon, Santa house and quiet bench-sitting. Place of artistic activism. And beyond that, to the back of the frame, historic buildings rise.

One final look at Ward’s interpretation of the Cannon River in historic Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Art rises in Northfield, enriching the lives of locals and the lives of visitors like me, come to town to follow the Riverwalk, to walk along Division Street and, then, to pause near Bridge Square and frame the scene.

Please check back for more posts about art in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the fridge: Photos, poetry, winter prose (rules)… February 15, 2022

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Love this art of my granddaughter on my eldest daughter and son-in-law’s fridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, your refrigerator functions as more than a food storage unit. Mine also functions as an art gallery, a photo gallery, a place to post notices and information.

One of several poems I’ve crafted with magnetic words on my refrigerator. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

On my fridge door, you’ll currently see six family photos, an inspirational quote, a clipped poem from my mom’s collection and two short poems I crafted from magnetic words.

Looking for clues in the “Gangster’s Gold” Mailbox Mystery now available (along with other mysteries) on Etsy at Orange Guy Games. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2021)

Shift to the not-so-publicly-visible side and you’ll find an assortment of newspaper clippings (including my pastor’s column about mental health), the “We Remember Them” poem, a recycling calendar, two certificates for completing the Cannon Falls Library Mailbox Mysteries, an email about details for staying at the lake cabin…

And then, clipped under a sheaf of papers is a City of Faribault newsletter, Snow Season—HELPFUL TIPS & INFORMATION. Nine snow/winter-related stories fill both sides of the standard sheet of paper. Yes, there’s a lot to remember when you live in a state of winter for perhaps six months (or more, depending).

The articles are titled:

  • Parking Restrictions & Snow Emergencies
  • Pushing Snow into Streets is Prohibited
  • Help Keep Fire Hydrants Cleared from Snow
  • Clear Sidewalks of Snow and Ice
  • Avoid Frozen Water Pipes
  • Proper Mailbox Installation will Help Keep it Upright this Winter
  • Shoveling Driveway Openings
  • Children Stay Clear of the Street
  • Keep Trash & Recycling Bins Out of the Street
Best to keep vehicles off streets during or after a snowfall or risk a ticket and/or towing. ((Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

So basically keep your vehicles (during snow emergencies), garbage cans, snow and kids off streets.

Clear fire hydrants near your home because, you know, if firefighters need to dig out a hydrant, your house could burn down.

Remove snow and ice from sidewalks so pedestrians (especially letter carriers) don’t slip and fall and break a bone. And as long as we’re talking mailboxes, shovel the snow away from them. If a snowplow hits your curbside mailbox (note, you must have it properly installed), call the city.

Don’t blame the city if your water pipes freeze. They’ve advised you to insulate them and take other precautions to prevent freezing.

As any Minnesotan knows, the worst thing is to have the driveway all cleared and then the snowplow plows the end shut with a ridge of snow. Here Randy waits for the plow to finish clearing the street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2020)

Also, do not blame city snowplow drivers for plowing snow across the end of your driveway within minutes of your having opened your driveway. That one’s really tough to take. Too many times the plow arrives shortly after all snow has been removed from driveway’s end. Then it’s back to shoveling or blowing, mean-spirited words unheard over the scrape of plow blade upon asphalt.

I’m grateful for the City of Faribault drivers who clear our streets in winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

The city is, after all, grateful for your cooperation as noted in this sentence of gratitude:

Thank you very much for your assistance and patience in getting through another Minnesota winter and plowing season.

You’re welcome, City of Faribault. My words, not theirs.

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TELL ME: What’s on your fridge? Anything snow/winter-related?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on poet Robert Bly December 1, 2021

Books by Minnesota poet Robert Bly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

AS A PUBLISHED POET, you might expect me to read a lot of poetry. I confess that I don’t. I should, because through reading and studying others who practice our crafts, we learn.

So I determined, upon hearing of the death of renowned Minnesota poet Robert Bly on November 21, that I would read more of his poetry. I’ve checked out every Bly book available at my local library: What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey and Stealing Sugar from the Castle.

Interesting titles reveal likewise interesting poems crafted by an especially gifted writer.

Robert Bly also translated poetry, here “The Voices” by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

As I began to read Bly’s poems, I noticed the brevity. As any poet understands, each word in a poem must count. Bly seems especially adept at that. Poetry is perhaps the most difficult of writing genres.

I also see the influence of his upbringing on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. His roots are in Madison, near the South Dakota border. This small farming community is the self-proclaimed Lutefisk Capital of the US and home to a 25-foot-long fiberglass cod fish statue. Lutefisk is cod soaked in lye and a food of Norwegian heritage.

My copy of “The Voices,” translated by Robert Bly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

In Bly’s poetic voice, I hear rural reflected. From land to sky. Heritage strong. Faith interwoven. Solid work ethic. Agriculture defining small towns and occupations, threading through daily life. Bly writes with an awareness of his rural-ness, with a deep sense of place. I understand that given my roots on a southwestern Minnesota farm.

Yet, Bly’s writing isn’t defined solely by place. His world expanded when he joined the Navy after high school graduation, then attended St. Olaf College in Northfield for a year before transferring to Harvard. He pursued additional degrees. He was a prolific writer. A poet. An essayist. An activist.

While watching a public television documentary on Bly last week, I learned more about his activism. During the Vietnam War. In writing about men. He authored Iron John: A Book About Men, which remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 62 weeks. Sixty-two weeks. That’s saying something about Bly’s influence.

Robert Bly’s autograph in my first edition copy of “The Voices.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

He also translated the works of others, including Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Voices. It’s a slim volume of nine poems with a title poem. And I have a copy of that beautiful hardcover book, purchased several years back at a used book sale in Faribault. Mine is number 14 of 50 limited first edition copies published in 1977 by The Ally Press and autographed by Robert Bly. Now, upon the poet’s death, this collection holds even more significance. More value.

The final three lines in Bly’s poem, “Ravens Hiding in a Shoe,” summarize his passion for penning poetry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

Though Bly has passed at the age of 94, his legacy as a writer will endure. He scored many awards and accolades throughout his writing career. But I sense, even with that success, it was the craft of writing, the ability to pursue his passion for the written word, which he valued the most. That, too, I understand. For to write is to breathe.

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FYI: To read another take on Bly, I direct you to gifted writer and poet Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, who blogs at One Minnesota Writer. She reflected on Bly in a post titled “Remembering Robert Bly.”

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the library, online & in bookstores: “This Was 2020” October 29, 2021

Duluth artist Carolyn Olson’s art graces the cover of This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

This Was 2020 Now Available” reads the header on a recent news release posted on the Ramsey County Library Reads website.

That’s exciting news for those of us published in this award-winning collection of prose and poetry. This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year recently won the Minnesota Author Project Award in the Communities Create category. That honor recognizes the work of indie publications in the state. Ramsey County Library (led by librarian Paul Lai) coordinated the book project, calling for submissions and then, eventually, publishing the collection.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” was selected for inclusion in the anthology. I write about attending my father-in-law’s funeral at a Catholic church in a small central Minnesota town during the pandemic.

Now my local public library, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, has copies of This Was 2020 available for check-out. While I always encourage purchase of books to support writers and booksellers (especially independent bookstores), I recognize the importance of accessibility to all through libraries. The Red Wing Public Library, in our Southeastern Libraries Cooperating regional library system, also has this anthology on the shelf.

The back cover lists the names of the Minnesotans included in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

I encourage you to borrow or buy a print copy or read the e-version of this important book. It represents the hearts and souls of 51 Minnesotans, most of them published writers. They share their thoughts and experiences on two topics—social justice (connected to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

I encourage you to read my previous review of This Was 2020 (by clicking here) to get a sense of the stories shared in prose and poetry.

My encouragement to read this collection is not motivated by self-promotion. Rather, I want you to read this anthology for the content, the insights, the documentation of history. The writing therein is personal. Deeply personal. These Minnesotans write with honesty, emotion and a rawness that almost hurts. The pain is real, the writing revealing. These poems and prose take readers well beyond the sound bites and headlines and video clips with powerful written words that are sometimes difficult to read.

In an historic time such as this, it’s especially important to gather and share stories in prose and poetry. Through stories we learn, connect, begin to understand, perhaps grow and change…for the better. I hope This Was 2020 prompts respectful discussions and introspection that creates healing. For now, more than ever, we need understanding, compassion and healing.

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NOTE: To all of you who have supported my writing and This Was 2020, thank you. I am grateful.

If you opt to buy This Was 2020, here’s the ISBN#: 978-1-0879-6762-2

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling