Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Expressing my creative voice in “The Talking Stick” October 11, 2022

I’ve been published in 13 volumes ofThe Talking Stick,most recently InVolume 31, Escapes.” (Photo by Colton Kemp)

AS A WRITER, getting published adds to the joy of the craft. I write because it’s my passion, one which I want to share.

I laid the latest copy of The Talking Stick atop a page in a Minnesota atlas to represent escape in a sense of place. Reading and writing also provide an escape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The newest opportunity to share comes via The Talking Stick 31—Escapes, the latest anthology released in September by Park Rapids area-based The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. The Talking Stick, published now for 31 years, features a collection of creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry by Minnesota writers or those with a connection to our state. This year, editors chose 83 poems, 28 creative nonfiction stories and 18 fiction stories for publication from 82 writers. More than 300 submissions came from 140 writers.

The beginning of my story, “Barbershop Prompt.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’m delighted to announce that three of my submissions are included in Escapes. My story, “Barbershop Prompt,” won second place and a cash prize in creative nonfiction. “Plans” earned honorable mention in fiction. And my second fictional piece, “Between Sisters,” simply published.

My writing has published in all 13 of these “The Talking Stick” volumes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

To have my work selected and honored by peers is, for me, reaffirming. This marks the 13th year my writing—a total of 13 poems, eight creative nonfiction stories and nine fiction stories—have published in The Talking Stick. I’ve earned seven honorable mentions and two second placings through the years. Every year I’ve entered this competition, my writing has published. That proves personally validating.

When I first ventured into penning fiction, I did so with hesitancy. My journalism education, background and experience rooted me in gathering information and reporting the facts with no bend to fictionalize. I didn’t know I could write fiction until I tried. And I found I rather enjoy this type of writing. It stretches my creativity in a way that traditional factual writing doesn’t. Yet, even when I write fiction, there is some truth within. I weave into my writing (often in subtle ways) that which I know or care about or which has touched me. I expect most fiction writers would say the same.

Partial winning credits in fiction and the judge’s bio. (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

My award-winning short story, “Plans,” focuses on abuse within a family. Abuse has not been my personal experience. But it runs rampant in society. “Plans” focuses on abuse from the perspective of Henrietta, or Henri as her father calls her. He wanted a son, not a daughter. I’m not revealing more except to say the story leaves the reader wondering. And that’s exactly as The Talking Stick editors intend. Submission guidelines call for focusing on short forms, on compressed creations which hint of a longer, more complex story. You get that in my 457-word “Plans.”

Here’s, in part, what fiction judge Bonnie West said about my short story:

What a good story. Very clever, but also very poignant and surprising! Thanks for this delightful and entertaining revenge story!

Bridge Square Barbers, the inspiration for my award-winning story. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2022)

I definitely appreciate West’s comment and that of creative nonfiction judge Marge Barrett. She evaluated “Barbershop Prompt,” praising the energy and cleverness of my story. A sign I spotted in the front window of Bridge Square Barbers by Bridge Square in Northfield prompted me to write this. I am an observer, someone who notices details. That often inspires. Like my winning fiction story, this fact-based story leaves the reader wondering, wanting more. The same can be said for “Between Sisters.”

The Talking Stick is an incredible collection of outstanding writing and I’m honored to be included with so much other Minnesota talent. Each year I see familiar names repeated, but then new voices, too. The small editorial team from the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc deserves recognition also for their hard work. This anthology truly is a labor of love. I’m grateful for their appreciation of Minnesota writers and for their dedication to the craft of writing.

FYI: I encourage you to support Minnesota creativity by purchasing a copy of The Talking Stick 31—Escapes by clicking here.

Colton Kemp, a reporter for the Faribault Daily News, wrote a feature on me which published in the Saturday, October 8, edition. I encourage you to read that also by clicking here. I am grateful for Colton sharing my story and for the opportunity to connect with him, another individual passionate about writing.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of seasons as we welcome Autumn to Minnesota September 29, 2022

A wave of cattails signal Autumn’s entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IN THIS SEASON OF EARLY AUTUMN, the landscape of Minnesota transitions to subdued, muted, softer tones flashed with vivid orange, yellow and red in tree lines or a solitary tree. This time of year truly marks a change as we ease toward Winter, a season devoid of color.

Goldenrods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A hillside of drying grass contrasts with the looming grey sky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Grasses tower high above me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month ago, before Summer exited, I already observed Autumn’s entrance at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Stands of cattails. Groups of goldenrod. Seas of drying prairie grass. All signaled the shift to September days.

I’m sure this scene has changed in the month since I photographed it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I love this time of year. Sunny days give way to cool evenings to brisk mornings. I’ve pulled the flannel from the closet. I embrace the feeling, the glory, of each day, recognizing such days are fleeting.

Rustic signs, which I love, mark the trails at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But weeks before this end of September, I delighted in the final days of August with that short walk through the woods at River Bend, then along a grass-lined trail to the hilltop Prairie Loop before I retraced my steps.

A stem of grass bends in the wind. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Prairie grasses, looming well above my head, bent in the wind. I noted the gracefulness of the stems’ movement, the details on a single stalk. If you’ve ever paused to study a stalk, it’s almost like reading a poem. Grain after grain after grain ladders a slim line. In poetry, each word ladders into a line, into a verse, into a poem.

In the light of an August afternoon, a Monarch butterfly feeds upon the flower of a thistle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the flashlight of the afternoon at River Bend, I spotted a lone Monarch flitting among thistles, black-outlined orange wings contrasting with the soft purple of the bloom. A metaphor. Or perhaps a simile when penned poetically. Poem upon poem upon poem.

Lush leaves veined by the August sun. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Autumn edits out Summer, eliminating the excess wordage of a season that is lush and full and busy. Now the lines of the season shorten, every word carefully chosen, a harbinger of what lies ahead. Winter. Sparse. Barren. Cold.

I followed this path from the woods, across the low lands to a hilltop overlooking the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But until then, Autumn settles in with the familiarity of a worn buffalo plaid flannel shirt. With the familiarity of cattails and milkweed bursting. Goldenrods. Tall prairie grasses drying, moving toward dormancy. I’ve seen this shift every September for past sixty years now. Yet I never tire of the shift, the change in seasons here in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Lyon County: Prairie-rooted poetry at the museum September 20, 2022

The sprawling Lyon County Historical Society Museum in the heart of downtown Marshall, across from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

RECENTLY I TRAVELED back to my native southwestern Minnesota, destination Marshall, 18 miles west of my hometown of Vesta. Specifically, I targeted the Lyon County Historical Society Museum to view the award-winning “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are featured therein.

Me, photographed next to the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” My one regret is that my mom (pictured in two smaller photo insets) never saw this exhibit in person. She died in January. (Photo by Randy Helbling, September 2022)
To the far left is the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” In the center is my poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
My poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” That is not my dad in the photo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The exhibit, which won a 2021 Minnesota History Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, opened in January of the same year. Finally, I got to Marshall last week. Up until my visit, I was unaware that two, not just one, of my poems are included. When I read the title “Hope of a Farmer,” I thought to myself, I wrote a poem with that title. And then, as I read, I realized this was my poem.

The second floor exhibit celebrates Lyon County in the award-winning exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Now I’m doubly honored that my rural-themed poetry inspired by my farmer father and farm wife mother were chosen to be part of this outstanding exhibit focusing on the people, places, businesses, communities, activities, events, history and arts of Lyon County.

A clothes pin bag hangs in an exhibit space near my “Ode” poem, quite fitting. Visitors can turn a dial to generate “wind” blowing dish towels on a clothesline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Excerpt from “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” (click here to read the entire poem):

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,

but to the beat of farm life—

laundry tangled on the clothesline,

charred burgers jazzed with ketchup,

finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

This panel honors literary and visual artists of the region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I read the “Imagining the Prairie” informational panel, my gratitude to the LCHS staff, volunteers and Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis (lead contractor for the exhibit) grew. I appreciate that an entire panel focuses on the arts: The Lyon County landscape…has inspired painters and poets and artists of all kinds. I’ve long thought that as I see the prairie influence in my writing and photography. Farms, vast prairies, wide skies and tumbling rivers define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota.

Corn rows emerge in a field near Delhi in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Excerpt from my “Hope of a Farmer” poem (click here to read the entire poem):

I see my father’s work laid out before him—

first seeds dropped into rich black soil,

next, corn rows carefully cultivated,

then fervent prayers for timely rain.

A fitting quote from Bill Holm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A quote from poet, essayist and musician Bill Holm of nearby Minneota, summarizes well the lens through which we prairie natives view the world and the creative process. The prairie eye looks for distance, clarity, and light…

A grain complex and the Oasis Bar & Grill in Milroy, near Marshall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Holm, who died in 2009, was among southwestern Minnesota’s best-known writers, having penned poetry and multiple books such as his popular The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth and Boxelder Bug Variations. His boxelder bug book inspired his hometown to host an annual Boxelder Bug Days, still going strong.

Poetry by Leo Dangel in the ag-focused part of the exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To see my poems featured alongside the work of gifted writers like Holm and equally-talented poet Leo Dangel in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was humbling. Dangel, who died in 2016, wrote six collections of poetry. The prairie and rural influence on his work show in the featured poems, “A Farmer Prays,” “A Clear Day,” and “Tornado.”

My poem honoring my mom… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Both men taught English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, reaffirming their devotion to this rural region and to the craft of writing. The exhibit includes a section on the university, which opened in 1967 within 10 years of my leaving the area to attend college in Mankato. I sometimes wonder how my writing would have evolved had I stayed and studied on the prairie.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, which is right next to Lyon County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When I returned to Marshall for the first time in 40 years, nothing about the town seemed familiar. Time has a way of changing a place. But when I reached the top floor of the county museum, saw my poems and began to peruse the “home” exhibit, I felt like I was back home. Back home on the prairie, among cornfields and farm sites and grain elevators and all those small towns that dot the landscape. Back home under a wide prairie sky with land stretching beyond my vision. Back home where I understand the people. Back home in the place that influenced my writing as only the prairie can for someone rooted here.

#

Please check back for more posts featuring the Lyon County Museum and the area.

The ode honoring my mother initially published in South Dakota State University’s 2017 literary journal, Oakwood.

And the poem about my father was chosen as a “Work of Merit” at the 2014 Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Valley Grove: In loving memory of Bjorn September 19, 2022

On the east side of the Valley Grove Cemetery, massive oaks rise next to a restored prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

HE APPROACHED ME inquiring whether I was the official photographer. I was not. But I was photographing the Valley Grove Country Social on Sunday afternoon in rural Nerstrand.

The beautiful historic churches stand next to the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

That unexpected encounter proved powerful, revealing why this hilltop location of two historic churches and a cemetery holds such deep personal meaning for many. From the Norwegian immigrants who built the stone church in 1862, replaced by a wooden church in 1894, to today, this land keeps stories and memories and provides a place to grieve.

The hilltop cemetery provides a sweeping view of the prairie and distant treeline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

For Brett Norgaard, Valley Grove is the final resting place of his beloved son, Bjorn Erik Norgaard, struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on February 20, 2011, while skiing on frozen Lake Superior. He was only 23. Bjorn’s gravestone, imprinted with a ballad he penned, sits near the site of a massive oak felled in a September 2018 tornado. That tree, in the southwest corner, was a cemetery landmark, the spot where many baptisms occurred.

Memory boxes crafted from a landmark fallen oak at Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Mementoes honoring Bjorn Norgaard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A photo of Bjorn rests between two poems he wrote. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Now, in this chance meeting, I learned of Bjorn’s connection to that tree. His father held it—two boxes crafted from that fallen oak, the larger one holding a passport, an American Birkebeiner pin and other mementos of a dearly loved son.

Brett Norgaard asked me to take this family photo. I was happy to do so after hearing his son’s story. Shortly thereafter, rain began falling so I was unable to photograph Bjorn’s gravestone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But it was Bjorn’s poems that expressed to me the creative spirit of this outdoorsman, environmentalist, cross country skier, Alaska fly fishing guide, 2006 Northfield High School graduate, son, grandson, friend…

This cemetery is rich in history, in stories and in natural beauty and peace. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The second verse of his poem, “Oak Leaves,” seems almost prophetic. He wrote:

New season coming, you must change,

but please remain, not yet time to fade away.

For one day we will cease to be,

will you drop your leaves and cover me?

Today Harold Bonde, 94, will be buried at Valley Grove, not far from Bjorn’s grave, not far from the site of the fallen landmark oak. His burial space was marked off during Sunday’s Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

After Bjorn died, his father found 80 poems in his son’s journals. I understand why he cherishes them. These are the words of a soulful, introspective, nature-centered, sensitive spirit. And although the oak tree no longer stands, unable to drop leaves onto Bjorn’s gravestone, there’s a sense that the tree remains. Strong. Sheltering those who lie beneath the soil and those who walk upon the earth, come here to visit, embrace and remember loved ones. Only days earlier, on September 15, Bjorn would have turned 35.

Many families meandered and conversed in the cemetery on Sunday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On this day of a Country Social, Bjorn’s family remembered him, honored him. I saw love in a father’s hands wrapped around oak boxes, in watery eyes and precious stories. Here at Valley Grove, atop a hill edged by prairie, woods and farmland, and centered by two historic churches, humanity comes in moments like this, when a father shares his grief with a stranger. Compassion rises. A connection is made. Comfort comes. A loss is shared.

#

Please check back for a follow-up post featuring the Valley Grove Country Social in its entirety.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of the Cannon River in Northfield September 13, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
A portion of the Poem Steps descending to the River Walk in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

WELCOME TO THE RIVER starry-eyed…

The historic Ames Mill, on the far side of the bridge, hugs the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Thus begins a poem authored by 17 Northfield area poets and gracing steps leading to the River Walk in the heart of this historic southeastern Minnesota community.

The backs of buildings along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Like the poets drawn to the river to create these inspirational Poem Steps, I, too, feel drawn to the river that runs through Northfield. Every time I’m downtown, I aim first for the path that traces the Cannon River behind the mostly aged buildings lining Division Street.

A section of the river-themed poem up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

There’s something simply magnetic about a river. Listen to the words of these speaking waters. I can almost hear the stories—of the Indigenous Peoples, here first, of the settlers who followed and harnessed the water to mill flour, of the poets and others who today listen to these speaking waters.

Flowers fill planters on a riverside balcony. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

The Cannon in Northfield, as it has for generations, brings people to water’s edge. To angle for fish, to dine, to gather as community, to celebrate the arts, to simply be in the river’s presence.

A flower-edged pedestrian bridge spans the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I appreciate how this community recognizes the historic, poetic and natural beauty of the river and shares that via the River Walk. It’s such a beautiful walk, beauty enhanced by potted flowers and hanging baskets that jolt vibrant hues into the landscape. A pedestrian bridge provides a middle-of-the-river perspective.

Lush flowers spill from a planter on the River Walk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Listen. The river tells us where it needs to go.

Historic buildings define downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And so I follow the river path, then loop up to the fronts of businesses along Division Street. Yet, the essence of the river remains, her poetry inspiring me.

© Copyright 2022 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.

#

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.

#

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.

#

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