Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Chalking poetry April 29, 2013

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FOR WEEKS I’VE WANTED to chalk poetry onto the sidewalk past my house in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

But not until today, April 29, did sunny and dry weather finally allow for chalking.

A week ago six inches of snow fell, for gosh sakes. Rain fell early yesterday evening.

The first two parts of my illustrated poem.

The first three lines of my illustrated poem.

After sweeping winter sand from several sections of sidewalk, I scouted for the box of chalk in the garage then proceeded to print my poem:

Cold earth warmed
by budding sun
sprouts the seeds
of vernal equinox

Two springs ago, this poem published on four billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

I thought my poem particularly fitting for re-publication this morning on my sidewalk.

Poetry 2

The entire poem, plus “In celebration of National Poetry Month” tacked onto the end.

So if you are walking past my house, take note, read and enjoy.

Before the rain, or snow, washes away my poetry. And, yes, snow is apparently in the forecast for later this week, so two friends tell me.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The evolution of poetry January 15, 2013

EXCEPT FOR THE POETRY of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, the poetry I studied in my youth seemed mostly complicated and unapproachable.

I expect you may have felt the same about any poetry you read, studied and critiqued as part of a high school and/or college English class. You could not wait to get through the required course and put poetry behind you.

Today, though, poetry has become much more approachable, even understandable. Would you agree?

I write poetry. Seventeen of my poems have been published in places ranging from the pages of a newspaper, magazine and anthologies to billboards. Yes, billboards. Recently, the Roadside Poetry Project, which began in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, in 2008 and featured seasonally-changing poetry billboards, ended.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

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

Venues like this expose poetry to the masses in an unassuming and everyday way. When a poem is limited to four lines, a maximum of 20 characters per line, every word, every letter, counts and thus the poem is penned with great care. Take my poem, winner in the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition:

Cold earth warmed
by the budding sun
sprouts the seeds
of vernal equinox.

Sidewalk poetry, which graces Minnesota sidewalks in St. Paul, Mankato, Northfield and St. Cloud, also holds similar word limitations and a certain everyday appeal. Those who long ago dismissed poetry for its complexity and arrogance may develop a renewed interest in verse upon reading sidewalk poetry. That would be my hope.

A poem by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau imprinted  in the sidewalk at Riverfront Park, Mankato, as part of the WordWalk project.

A poem by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau imprinted in the sidewalk at Riverfront Park, Mankato, as part of the WordWalk project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve viewed some of the sidewalk poems in Mankato (WordWalk) and Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry). While these poems may be limited in words, they certainly are not limited in depth. Sometimes less is more. Writing a short poem with word limitations can be more of a challenge than penning a lengthy poem. Ask any poet.

A poem by Patrick Ganey is stamped into the sidewalk near the Northfield Public Library. It reads: still winter thaw  tall pines bend, grey sky drops rain  even at midday  a train whistle sounds lonely

A poem by Patrick Ganey is stamped into the sidewalk near the Northfield Public Library. It reads: still winter thaw/ tall pines bend, grey sky drops/ rain even at midday/ a train whistle sounds lonely. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This whole concept of stamping poems into concrete, putting poetry out there to the public, appeals to me as a truly creative way to bring verse to the people, to those who might not pick up a poetry book.

Even more creative is Motionpoems, a nonprofit poetry film initiative developed under the guidance of Twin Cities animator/producer Angella Kassube and St. Paul poet Todd Boss. The pair co-founded Motionpoems in 2009. The process “turns contemporary poems into (animated) short films.”

Among my favorite Motionpoems is an adaptation of Boss’ poem titled “The God of Our Farm Had Blades,” a poem about a windmill. While some would argue that visuals detract from the words and the reader’s interpretation of a poem, I would argue that visuals and listening to verse read aloud enhance the poetry experience.

Northern Community Radio, based in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, recently embraced poetry via “The Beat,” which each weekday features a poem by a poet with a Minnesota connection. How lovely is that to listen to a poem read on the air?

For those who still prefer the old-fashioned book-in-hand method of reading poetry, as I also enjoy, plenty of excellent collections exist out there, including Boss’ two books, Yellowrocket and Pitch.

Minnetonka poet Carol Allis also recently published a particularly understandable poetry collection appropriately titled Poems for Ordinary People. Her no-frills style of writing and the content of her verse allow readers to easily connect with her words.

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by  Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by Charles Beck

I can’t end this post without recommending two outstanding Minnesota-based collections of regional writing (including poetry) in the long-standing The Talking Stick published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc and Lake Region Review, in its second year of publication by the Lake Region Writers Network. Both feature a diversity of fine, fine regional writing. (And just to clarify, my work has been published in both.)

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Tell me how you experience, or don’t experience, poetry. Do you write, edit, listen to, read poetry?

What are your thoughts on creative poetry venues like billboards, sidewalks and film?

What are your thoughts on poetry in general?

Let’s talk poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls June 17, 2011

The vintage-looking sign on the side of a building in downtown Fergus Falls caught my attention. The Market sells a variety of merchandise from kitchen to bath and body, garden and home accent products and lots more.

UNTIL LAST SATURDAY, I’d never entered Fergus Falls, only driven past this west central Minnesota community along I-94 en route to the Dakotas. After miles and miles of interstate travel, the towns don’t seem to matter any more. On the fringes, one seems like the other—just another rest break, a place to tank up on gas or a quick stop for a bite to eat.

Sadly, that marks the reality of today’s fast-paced, get from point A to point B, world.

But then one day you have a reason to pull off the four-lane, to explore one of these interstate-side communities and you discover a town with a personality and identity, and you wonder why you have not come here before this day.

And so that is how I found Fergus Falls, population 14,500, when I traveled there last weekend to view my Roadside Poetry Project poem displayed on four billboards. (My spring poem has since been replaced by a summer poem.)

After photographing my poem and dining at the downtown Viking Café (click here to read my earlier post on this vintage restaurant), I explored this Otter Tail County seat with my husband, Randy.

Certainly, we saw only a small portion of this riverside town. But I toured enough of Fergus Falls to come up with a single word to describe it: artistic.

I wonder if the folks who live in Fergus also see their hometown as an art community. Or would they choose another word to describe their town?

Here are photos to back up my word selection.

Knit graffiti circled a tree downtown. Bottlecaps were strung on another tree by this one. What a simple and memorable art idea.

Fergus Falls Summerfest happened to be on when we were in town. Here's one section of the event.

Clear Lake, S.D., artist Karlys Wells of Back Porch Art created this gourd art, among my favorite art at the fair.

Even signage can be art, like this on a downtown bakery.

Call it art, or something else, but this Rice Krispie cake in a bakery window display made me laugh out loud.

Kaddatz Galleries, a nonprofit art gallery, showcases the work of Charles Beck and other local artists.

Woodcuts and woodblock prints by one of Minnesota's most-recognized artists, Charles Beck of Fergus Falls. His subjects are the landscapes and nature of Otter Tail County. Until I walked into this gallery, I do not recall having ever heard of Beck. His earthy, rural art appeals to me.

I was impressed with the number of visitors in the Kaddatz Galleries.

The doors to the Fergus Theatre were locked, or I would most definitely have gone inside. The vintage exterior adds so much to the charm of downtown Fergus Falls.

I am a big fan of vintage signs for the character they add to a community.

SO HAVE I CONVINCED you to pull off I-94 in west central Minnesota and explore Fergus Falls? Fergus lies 2 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, mighty close to Fargo, N.D.

Here are several websites to check out and learn more about some of the places highlighted in my photos and story:

www.VisitFergusFalls.com

www.kaddatzgalleries.org

www.fergusarts.org

www.fergusfallssummerfest.com

www.roadsidepoetry.org

www.marketfergusfalls.com

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prairie poetry in Fergus Falls June 12, 2011

SATURDAY MORNING MY HUSBAND and I hit the road, heading north on Interstate 35 and then west on Interstate 94 to the west central part of Minnesota.

This was our destination:

It's approaching noon on Saturday, and we've nearly reached our destination, Fergus Falls.

Because of this:

The first of my four Roadside Poetry billboards in a stretch of ditch along North Tower Road in Fergus Falls.

I got word last Monday that my winning Roadside Poetry Project spring poem will come down on June 17, to be replaced with a summer poem. (Click here to read a previous post about my poem.) So if I wanted to see “Cold earth warmed by budding sun sprouts the seeds of vernal equinox” and my name—all sprawled across four Burma Shave style billboards—we had to get our butts up to Fergus Falls.

So we did, making the 200-mile trip this weekend under big skies that stretched all the way to the Dakotas.

After a few stops, including a swing into Melrose to view an historic Catholic church (more on that in another post), we eventually reached Exit 54 into Fergus some 3 1/2 hours later. We followed Highway 210/West Lincoln Avenue, turned onto North Tower Road and drove past the NAPA Auto Parts store before reaching those poetry billboards. I mention NAPA because Randy works at the NAPA store in Northfield as an automotive machinist and we found it interesting that my poems just happened to be right down the road from the Fergus NAPA store.

We passed right by the NAPA store to reach my billboards just down the road.

When Randy pulled to the side of North Tower Road by my billboards, I determined this was not the safest place to park. So we pulled into the Fastenal parking lot and then descended the steep ditch, wading through tall, and wet, prairie grasses—sweet clover, June grass, alfalfa—and more than a few thistles.

Our shoes and jean legs were soon soaked with moisture. But, you know, that really didn’t matter. I was so focused on viewing my four-line, spring-themed poem and on taking photos that the wet feet and denim seemed more a nuisance than anything worth fretting over on a glorious early Saturday afternoon.

And so, billboard by billboard, we worked our way down the road ditch, stopping by each sign for photos. Eventually I handed the camera over to Randy, who managed to figure out how to turn on the camera, focus it, compose and snap some pictures.

Me posing by the last of the four billboards with my spring poem.

This may be the first and last time my poetry, and my name, will be on billboards, so I savored every letter, every word, every line, every billboard...

Then I snapped this image of my husband, who had plucked a spear of prairie grass and slipped it into his mouth. The frame marked one of those quick clicks of the camera that resulted in a photo that you could never recapture given its spontaneity.

A sweet shot of my husband as he walked away from the final billboard.

I’m uncertain how long we worked the road ditch along North Tower. But long enough to appreciate that this spot on the edge of town, under a sky that always feels bigger, wider, on the open prairie, perfectly fit a poem written by me, a southwestern Minnesota prairie native.

I crouched to capture this image which focuses on the road ditch prairie grasses.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond poetry anthologies May 21, 2011

Poetic words imprinted upon a paver at the Lake Harriet bandshell in south Minneapolis.

WHAT AN EXCITING time to read, and write, poetry.

Yes.

Read on.

If you’re among those who consider poetry boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand, then you’ve read only boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand poems.

Yes, those types of poems exist.

But today, oh, today, poetry is pushing beyond simply words printed in anthologies to highly-public and engaging venues.

At least three Minnesota communities—St. Paul (Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk), Mankato (WordWalk) and now Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry Contest)—have embraced sidewalk poetry, poems imprinted upon sidewalks.

In Fergus Falls, the Fergus Area College Foundation sponsors a seasonal poetry contest and posts the winning poem on four Burma Shave style billboards. I won the spring Roadside Poetry Project competition. (Click here to read a story published today in The Marshall Independent about my writing and my Roadside Poetry poem.)

The first line in my spring poem posted on four billboards.

In Hackensack, as part of its annual summer Northwoods Art Festival and Book Fair, the Northwoods Art Council has invited Minnesota poets to submit poems for display. Attendees then read and vote for their favorite poems.

But the latest news in the poetry world comes from St. Paul poet Todd Boss and Minneapolis art director/animator/designer Angella Kassube, who have created “motionpoems.” The pair defines these poems as “a hybrid of poetry and film.”

The windmill is the subject of a motionpoem written by Toss Boss. I took this photo at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines grounds near Dundas last fall.

In short, they bring poems to life via animation. From what I’ve seen and heard online, this approach works, making poetry more accessible, understandable and, dare I say, exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Click here and view several motionpoems, including my favorite, Todd Boss’ THE GOD OF OUR FARM HAD BLADES.

The duo started this project two years ago, creating more than 20 poems. Now they are expanding, collaborating with New York publisher Scribner’s respected annual Best American Poetry anthology, 2011 volume, to produce 12 – 15 motionpoems. They’ll work with writers ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to emerging writers. Eventually, the motionpoems will be accessible, for free, online.

I see great promise in these new approaches to poetry that reach beyond printed poems and poetry readings. I see the promise for reaching a wider, more receptive audience.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on sidewalk or billboard poetry and/or motionpoems? Would you be more likely to read these types of poems than traditionally-published poetry?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Roadside Poetry Project photo courtesy of Paul Carney