Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Northfield: Reading & talking poetry January 12, 2019

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My husband, Randy, took this photo of me while I read the first of six poems at Content Bookstore.

AS MUCH AS I SAVORED sharing my poetry with a rapt audience at Content Bookstore in Northfield on Thursday evening, it was the conversation afterward that delighted me.

A young woman sitting several chairs away walked over and told me just how much she enjoyed my poems. I’d noticed her even before the readings by five Faribault-connected poets began. She sat with a small notebook on her lap, pen poised.

Turns out she’s a first-year college student in Northfield and an emerging poet. She had some questions for me. As we talked, I encouraged her first to write what she knows. And to make every word count. “Use strong verbs,” I said. “And no adverbs.”

A man standing next to us laughed. “I haven’t heard that in awhile,” he said. Then we all three laughed.

We agreed that writing poetry, because of the sparse words, is among the most challenging of writing disciplines. Yet the reward of getting a line, a word, just right, well, it’s an incredible feeling. I looked at the young woman who was, by then, nodding and smiling. She understood. And in that moment of locking eyes, she confirmed that she’s a poet passionate about the craft. Like me, she loves words and language. She possesses that spark which flames words into poetry.

I advised her to keep writing, to notice details, to engage all the senses—not only visual—when crafting her poems. Write and rewrite and submit and learn from rejection.

I regret that I didn’t catch her name or give her my contact information. But I hope that in some small way my knowledge, my experience, my advice, will encourage her to continue developing her poetic skills. Follow your passion, whatever you do in life, I impressed upon her. Write because you must, not necessarily with the expectation of becoming a famous poet. She’s considering a writing-related degree.

Then I turned my attention to the man who’d edged on the sideline of our conversation. He asked if I had an agent. “Should I?” I asked. His question surprised me, thus the popped-out-of-my-mouth response. Do poets have agents? He wondered how I’d gotten my work so broadly published. I reconsidered and shared that I’ve submitted to mostly state-wide and regional publications.

I regret that I didn’t ask his name either. I appreciated his interest in my writing and in my photography. There’s a certain joy that comes in talking shop with those who share a love of words, of writing and, especially, of poetry.

 

Special thanks to Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy for organizing the poetry reading and to Content Bookstore for hosting the event. Thank you also to poets Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, Kristin Twitchell and John Reinhard for sharing their poetry with us. Finally, to all who attended the reading, thank you for embracing poetry and supporting those of us who write it.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Published in Oakwood: My latest rural-rooted poem honors my farm wife mom April 28, 2017

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta, my hometown. The house is no longer standing. This image represents my rural heritage and looks similar to the house I called home for the first 11 years of my life. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE THAN 40 YEARS removed from the farm, my creative voice remains decidedly rural, especially in the poetry I write.

My latest published poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” honors the woman who raised me, alongside my father, on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm. My parents were of good German stock, a hardworking couple who believed in God, in family and in the land. I carry that heritage with me, ever grateful for my rural upbringing.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern, taken in 1980.

 

Life in rural Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s was hard. I see that now from the perspective of an adult. My dad worked long hard hours in the barn milking cows and equally long hard hours in the fields. Farming was much more labor intensive then.

 

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother, Doug.

 

Likewise, my mom’s job of caring for our family of eight required long hard hours of labor. She tended a large garden, preserved fruits and vegetables to stock the freezer and cellar shelves, baked bread from scratch, washed clothes with a wringer washer, did without a bathroom or telephone or television for many years, and much more.

 

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

 

Sometimes I think how much easier my mother’s life would have been had she not married my dad and stayed at her town job in Marshall.

 

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings. I write about this red-and-white checked floor in my poem.

 

But then I remind myself of how much family means to my mom and I could not imagine her life without any of her six children. She centered us, grounded us, taught us kindness and gratitude, instilled in us a loving and compassionate spirit.

 

Arlene’s 1951 graduation portrait.

 

She has always been mom to me, a mother now nearing age 85. But there was a time when she was Arlene, not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother. There was a time when she and my dad danced away a Saturday night in a southwestern Minnesota dance hall. They met at a dance.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

Those thoughts inspired me to write “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” published last week in South Dakota State University’s literary journal, Oakwood. I am honored to have my poem selected for inclusion with the work of other writers and artists from the Northern Great Plains. It’s a quality publication that represents well those of us who call this middle-of-the country, often overlooked place, home.

 

Ode to My Farm Wife Mother

Before my brother,
you were Saturday nights at the Blue Moon Ballroom—
a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey in a brown paper bag,
Old Spice scenting your dampened curls,
Perry Como crooning love in your ear.

Then motherhood quelled your dancing duet.
Interludes passed between births
until the sixth, and final, baby slipped into your world
in 1967. Thirteen years after you married.
Not at all unlucky.

Life shifted to the thrum of the Maytag,
sing-song nursery rhymes,
sway of Naugahyde rocker on red-and-white checked linoleum.
Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread
and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly.

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 ketch-up,
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

Yet, you showed gratitude in bowed head,
hard work in a sun-baked garden,
sweetness in peanut butter oatmeal bars,
endurance in endless summer days of canning,
goodness in the kindness of silence.

All of this I remember now
as you shove your walker down the halls of Parkview.
in the final set of your life, in a place far removed
from Blue Moon Ballroom memories
and the young woman you once were.

                                         #

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016 in rural southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I took some liberties with my poem. I doubt my mom ever drank whiskey. But back in the day, folks brought booze bottles in brown paper bags to dances for set-ups. She didn’t dance in the Blue Moon Ballroom, although one once stood in Marshall. Arlene went to dances in Ghent, in a dance hall whose name eludes me. Blue Moon sounds more poetic. But the rest of the poem is factual right down to the Naugahyde rocker and my mom shoving her walker down the hallways of Parkview.

FYI: You can view my poem on page 78 of Oakwood, found online by clicking here. My bio is published on page 89, listed among the other 40 contributors’ bios. I am grateful to SDSU in Brookings for the opportunity to be part of this magazine which showcases the creative voices of Plains writers and artists. I shall always feel proud of my rural upbringing, the single greatest influence on me as a poet, a writer, a photographer.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

And the winner is… April 21, 2015

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SUE READY, I don’t know if you’ve ever won at bingo, or even played the game.

Not quite Vegas, but bingo balls at a church festival.

Bingo balls photographed at a Minnesota church festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But today your number tumbled from the cage—or more accurately, your name was pulled from a hat—as the winner of 2015 Poetic Strokes and Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota.

Poetic Strokes 2015 Publication Cover

 

Later this week I’ll drop an autographed copy of the collection, which includes my poems, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion” and “Class Reunion” in the mail to you.

Thank you for entering this give-way and to all of the Minnesota Prairie Roots readers who shared their favorite poets as part of this contest.

Sue named Billy Collins, two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and perhaps America’s most popular current poet, as her favorite. Here’s what she had to say about Collins’ poetry:

His poems appeal to a wide range of literary tastes. He is a master at capturing the nuances of everyday life and inspiring readers to wonder and think about the simple things in their lives. Often Collins’ wry sense of humor comes across in the poems. He does not take himself too seriously. Collins is a master at engaging his reader in the first stanza by starting small not making too many demands and setting up the scene. Then he makes the poem more complicated and a little more demanding as he moves it along to completion. Each line is simply stated but layered in meaning.

Other readers’ favorites were Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, Donald Justice, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Carlos Williams and Pablo Neruden. (Two readers also chose me as their favorite.)  Click here to learn why readers chose these poets.

Winner Sue is not only a reader, but also a writer of poetry. Visit her blog, Ever Ready, to learn more about this Minnesota woman and her love of poetry, cooking, travel and more. She coordinates the annual August Northwoods Arts Council Art & Book Fair poetry competition in Hackensack. I am blessed to call Sue my friend.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Novice & seasoned poets bring their poetry to Mankato trails & parks July 15, 2014

I DON’T KNOW if I was more thrilled with her win, or mine, in the 2014 Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride competition.

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride.

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride.

But when I saw 12-year-old Hannah Leraas’ name in the list of fourth through seventh grade division winners, I whooped out loud. Yes!

The young Faribault poet I’ve mentored had just published her first poem.

Hannah joins me and 20 other writers whose 35 winning poems will be posted soon on poetry sign boards in parks and along trails in Mankato and North Mankato. Additionally, poems by three selected notable area poets will also be published. Submitted poems were anonymously judged by noted League of Minnesota poets Bethany Barry, Charmaine Donovan and Peter Stein.

"Off to Mankato to 'get and education'", posted near Glenwood Gardens, in the background in this photo.

My poem, “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education'”, posted near Glenwood Gardens in 2013.

This marks the second year of this competition and I’m delighted to once again be part of an effort that brings poetry to the public in an unassuming way. Two of my poems were showcased last year.

Now my poem, “Bandwagon,” based on the John Deere Bandwagon television show originating in Mankato, will be displayed in Lions Park North. Hannah’s poem, “Snow,” will be located on signage in Sibley Park West.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems in 2013.

Additionally, QR codes and phone numbers will be posted, allowing the public to hear poets read their works.

But for now, I want you to read, Hannah’s poem:

Snow

I woke up to see,
And it fills me with glee,
As I stepped out of bed
I suddenly said,
“I need to hurry!”
I dressed in a flurry,
Dashed down to the door.
My snow pants I wore.
Like an airplane in flight
I flew with pure delight…
SNOW!

The mentor in me is thrilled that Hannah chose some strong verbs like “stepped” and “dashed.” She could have written “got” or “ran,” verbs that are not nearly as powerful.

But my favorite part of this homeschooler’s poem is this: I dressed in a flurry.

The double meaning of that word, “flurry,” referencing both action and snow, truly impresses me. Hannah understands the power of language.

As soon as the snow began, my neighbor girl was outside building a snowman and a snow fort.

As soon as the snow began, my neighbor girl was outside building a snowman and a snow fort. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2014.

And then there’s the imagery—can’t you just visualize Hannah flying out the door and into a snowy world?

She loves winter. I mean really loves winter. “I love snow and winter is my favorite season,” Hannah tells me.

And why? Snow, this thoughtful poet explains, is like a blank sheet of white paper upon which to draw pictures or write with a stick. There’s another poem in that response.

When’s the last time you thought about writing with a stick in the snow? Been awhile, hasn’t it?

Hannah is, not surprisingly, excited. Here’s her reaction to winning: “Like seriously, are dyslexics supposed to get published?”

Yes, this pre-teen struggles with letters and numbers and sentences. But that hasn’t stopped her from writing poetry, which she says helps with reading and writing and has improved her spelling. You have to admire her determination.

There were a few rules to follow in entering this contest which was open to writers living within a 50-mile radius of Mankato. Each poem could be no more than 18 lines with 40 characters or less per line. That’s a challenge, to write within such strict confines.

Hannah, who’s been penning mostly rhyming poems for about two years now, turns to her thesaurus—the one I gave her—to find the perfect descriptive words for her poems. I praised her for using that reference book, one I tap into often also.

She’s an enthusiastic poet who shares her favorite line from her favorite poem, one about Bob, a cuddly toy monkey she received one Christmas from her parents, Jesse and Tammy.

In writing that poem, she thought of the flying monkeys in the “Wizard of Oz” and then her beloved Bob:

…the big squishy guy,
the one who can’t fly…

FYI: For more information about the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride, click here. Once our poems are posted and Hannah and I get to Mankato, I’ll post photos of us with our poetry signs.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How my poetry inspired a still life painting of lilacs April 10, 2014

POETRY INSPIRING ART. It’s a fabulous concept and even better when you are part of such a pairing.

A poem I penned has inspired art for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII, which opened March 31 and runs through May 15 at Crossings at Carnegie, 320 East Avenue, Zumbrota.

"Lilacs on the Table" by Jeanne Licari

“Lilacs on the Table” by Jeanne Licari. Photo courtesy of Crossings at Carnegie.

I recently connected with “my” artist, Jeanne Licari, to learn how my poem, “Lilacs,” inspired her to paint “Lilacs on the Table,” an 11 x 14-inch still life oil on linen.

Twenty-six poems were chosen from nearly 210 submissions with 26 artists then selected via a juried process. This is Jeanne’s ninth time participating in the collaboration and my second.

Artist Jeanne Licari

Artist Jeanne Licari in her studio. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Licari.

A mostly self-taught artist who drew and painted as a child, this Rochester resident also furthered her talent through painting classes and workshops. She terms herself a representational oil painter who prefers to paint from life, whether a landscape or a still life.

Jeanne is both plein air—painting outdoors on location—and studio painter.

“My art reflects the beauty I see in mankind and nature,” she says. “My paintings are a direct response to what I see.”

Or, in the case of “Lilacs,” to what she read.

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of lilacs.

Jeanne explains how she created “Lilacs on the Table”:

“…I wanted to tell the viewer how I felt about lilacs. The poem triggered memories of many bouquets of lilacs in my lifetime. I love the dense bouquet of purple flowers, the beauty of the different pinks and purples against the green leaves, and the abundant fragrance of lilacs. Since there were no lilacs blooming in March, I painted them using memories of lilacs and how they grew, an oil study of lilacs painted from life, and photos.

I painted the lilacs on a table in response to the line, ‘to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table.’ That line, plus the words about farming, made me remember many bouquets of lilacs on our Formica table in my childhood home on the farm.”

How fabulous to know that Jeanne comes, like me, from a rural background. Her words and oil painting show me that she understands and connects to my words in a deeply personal way.

And that is my hope as a poet—that those who read my poetry will connect to it.

A promotional for the collaboration features "Li Bai at the South Fork," art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist XII collaboration.

A promotional for the collaboration features “Li Bai at the South Fork,” art by Mike Schad inspired by a poem of the same name written by Justin Watkins for the 2013 Poet-Artist Collaboration XII.

FYI: A reception, poetry reading and slide show honoring the featured poets and artists is set for Saturday, May 10. Mingle and meet for an hour beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Crossings gallery. Then, at 7:30 p.m., move next door to the historic State Theatre where poets will read their works and artists will also briefly discuss their art, shown on a screen.

Another poet from my community of Faribault, Larry Gavin, who has published several poetry collections and teaches English at Faribault High School, will read two of his selected poems, “Ashes” and “Two Cranes.”

Collaboration participants come from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The featured artwork is available for sale, including “Lilacs on the Table,” priced at $395. Jeanne Licari’s art is also sold at the SEMVA (South Eastern Minnesota Visual Arts) Gallery in downtown Rochester.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. I love the rural atmosphere with the hardware story and grain elevator just down the street.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

If you can’t attend the May 10 reception, you can view the exhibit during gallery hours from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday; or from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday.

Click here for more details about Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII.

Click here to see how my poem, “Her Treasure,” inspired Connie Ludwig to paint “Pantry Jewels” for the Poet-Artist Collaboration XI in 2012.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling