Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota Class Reunion in Poetry April 30, 2015

LAST SEPTEMBER THE WABASSO High School Class of 1974 gathered at the Wabasso Community Center for our 40-year reunion. That’s on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, in Redwood County.

I lived on a farm 15 miles to the north and west, just outside of Vesta, an hour’s bus ride away from Wabasso. It takes time to travel gravel roads, backtracking and weaving to farm sites to pick up all those country kids.

Forty years. I used to think people who’d been out of high school for four decades are really old. I don’t think that anymore.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Still, that’s a lot of years and much has happened since 89 fresh-faced rural Minnesota kids walked across the gym stage in May 1974 and received their diplomas. As you would expect, the reunion mixed nostalgia and reconnecting, sharing of memories and sharing of lives.

And for me, the gathering inspired a poem, “Class Reunion,” recently published in Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9. My other entry, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” was also published, among the 30 winning poems chosen from 157 submissions in the adult division.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

I attended and read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening. The event was a delight with some poets reading their works and Minneapolis poet Todd Boss as the featured speaker.

I am grateful to Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for publishing this annual collection of poetry from writers in the 11-county SELCO region. I’ve entered the competition eight times with 10 poems published in seven volumes.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

And because April is National Poetry Month, here is the poetic version of a rural southwestern Minnesota high school reunion:

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right. That’s me in the pink striped shirt, front right in image on the right.

 

Class Reunion

Bulbous red clown nose clamped onto face,
boa thrust around neck movie star style,
pirate hat tilted upon bald head,
skull patch positioned across left eye,
we cram into the photo booth, all smiles,
pretending to be someone we are not.

“How are you?” We pause, then hug,
hoping the response will be a lie
rather than the truth of the past forty years
chiseling our faces, greying our hair
(if we still have hair),
etching grief into our souls.

A classmate pulls the curtain tight,
shuts out reality for the lens.
Memories overtake us, filling the booth with laughter.
We remember when nothing seemed more important
than our anti-establishment defiance of choosing
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

The camera flashes again and we swap accessories—
Vikings horns for Peter Pan hat,
leather biker hat for Mickey Mouse ears—
the promise of never growing up
and living in a happily-ever-after fairytale world
almost Disney believable if we didn’t know the truth.

In this moment, all seems right with the world.
No husbands dead. No children buried. No cancer battled.
No eyes blackened. No marriages broken.
The future lies before us, full of promise and hope
and all that is good and wonderful and perfect.
Except it isn’t and wasn’t and never will be.

The camera flashes for the third, and final, time.
A classmate draws back the curtain.
We drop props into a basket, revealing receding hairlines
and sagging necks and worry lines edging our eyes.
Then we chat about our children and our grandchildren
and our dreams, as if our entire lives lie before us.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

Advertisements
 

How the Minnesota prairie ignites my poetry April 2, 2014

WHAT IS IT ABOUT POETRY?

Do you embrace or shun it? Write it or read it? Do you even care?

April marks National Poetry Month, a full thirty days initially established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to focus on poetry.

My most recent poem, "The Farmer's Wife, Circa 1960, has been published in Poetic Strokes, an anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating. My poem was one of 23 selected from 196 submissions. The anthology should soon be available for check-out by library patrons in the SELCO system.

My most recent poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” has been printed in Poetic Strokes, an anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating. My poem was one of 23 selected from 196 submissions. The anthology should soon be available for check-out by library patrons in the SELCO system.

If you haven’t read poetry in years, I’d suggest you revisit poetry. Long gone, mostly, are rhymed verses.

Instead, you will find poets penning free verse that correlates to an abbreviated form of storytelling or a spilling of emotions or a harmony of detailed observations and more.

Despite differences in subject matter and style, poets share a common love of language. Alliterations. Personification. Similes and metaphors. Strong verbs.

Poetry, though it may appear easy to write, is not.

Details matter. Each word matters. The sound of a poem read aloud matters.

A poem I wrote about my mother, published in Poetic Strokes 2014.

A poem I wrote about my mother, just published in Poetic Strokes 2014, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota.

Every poet possesses a style. I’d define mine as rooted in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie. That stark land shaped me as a writer. My poems convey a strong sense of place, words wheeling like a prairie fire across the landscape of a page.

With so few distractions, the prairie presents an ideal environment to notice details—the grate of the wind, the lean of an outbuilding, the weathered grey of an abandoned farmhouse, the isolation, the calloused hands of a farmer, green corn leaves unfurling against rich black soil, the horizontal grid of township gravel roads, power lines stretching into infinity…

Those who’ve never lived on the prairie often fail to understand its beauty, dismissing it as the middle of nowhere.

But this land holds my heart and memories and continues to inspire me. Not all of my verse. But much of it.

Some of my prairie-inspired poetry includes:

    • “This Barn Remembers,” Lake Region Review #1
    • “Taking Lunch to the Men in the Field,” Lake Region Review #2
    • “Abandoned Barn,” The Talking Stick, Volume 20
    • “Broken,” The Talking Stick, Volume 21
    • “The Farmer’s Song,” The Talking Stick, Volume 22
    • “Prairie Sisters,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 2
    • “Abandoned Farmhouse,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 3
    • “Walking Beans,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 3
    • “A school without a library,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 4
    • “Saturday night baths,” Poetic Strokes, Volume 4
    • “Her Treasure,” 11th annual Poet-Artist Collaboration, Crossings at Carnegie
    • “Lilacs”, 13th annual Poet-Artist Collaboration, Crossings at Carnegie and honorable mention at 18th annual Northwoods Art & Book Festival

And that poetry, my prairie poetry, has graced billboards, walls, recreational signage, galleries, and the pages of magazines, newspapers and anthologies. 

Perhaps it’s time to consider compiling those poems and others into a collection. Thoughts?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My “farm wife” mother inspires my winning poetry February 28, 2014

MY 81-YEAR-OLD MOM inspires me.

She inspires me to live my life with the same positive outlook, grateful heart and kindness she’s exuded her entire life.

And she inspires my poetry. In recent poetry writing endeavors (click here and here), she has been the subject of my poems. This surprises her.

When I informed Mom that my poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” had been selected for inclusion in Poetic Strokes 2014, a regional poetry anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating, she responded with a humbleness that truly reflects her character.

“I didn’t know I led such an interesting life,” Mom said.

To most, she likely hasn’t. She grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, attended Mankato Business College after high school, then worked at a government office in Marshall until marrying my father shortly thereafter and settling onto a farm near Vesta.

My parents holding my older brother, Doug, and me in this January 1957 photo.

My parents, Elvern and Arlene Kletscher, holding my older brother, Doug, and me in this January 1957 photo. Rare are the photos of my farm wife mother.

There she assumed the role of farm wife, the title given rural women long before stay-at-home mom became a buzzword. She no longer lives on the farm, having moved into my paternal grandmother’s home in Vesta decades ago.

As an adult, I now understand that her life as a farm wife was not particularly easy—raising six children on a limited income; doing laundry with a Maytag wringer washer; tending a garden and then canning and freezing the produce; doing without an indoor bathroom…

I sometimes wonder how her life would have unfolded
had she not locked eyes with my father on the dance floor…

–Lines one and two from “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960”

Although I’ve never asked, I expect she dreamed of time just for herself. On rare occasions she and my dad would go out on a Saturday evening.

With those thoughts, I penned “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960.” As much as I’d like to share that poem with you here, today, I cannot. That debut honor goes to Poetic Strokes, a copy of which will be gifted from me to my mom, the woman who has led an extraordinary life. Not extraordinary in the sense of great worldly accomplishments, but rather in the way she has treated others with kindness, compassion and love. Her depth of love for family, her faith and her empathy and compassion have served as guiding principles in my life.

I am proud to be the daughter of a farmer’s wife.

The cover of Poetic Strokes/Word Flow. Image courtesy of SELCO.

The cover of Poetic Strokes/Word Flow. Image courtesy of SELCO.

I AM HONORED, for the sixth time, to have my poetry published in Poetic Strokes, a Library Legacy funded project (through Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund) that promotes poetry in southeastern Minnesota and specifically in SELCO libraries. Each library will have a copy available for check out near the end of March or in early April, National Poetry Month.

This year my county of Rice joins Winona County with the highest number of poets, six from each county, included in the Poetic Strokes section of the anthology. I am the sole Faribault poet with five from nearby Northfield.

Twenty-three poems from 21 poets in five of SELCO’s 11 counties will be published in Poetic Strokes 2014.

There were 196 poems submitted by 112 poets. Two published poets with PhDs in English literature and a third poet who is a former English teacher, fiction writer and contributor to the League of Minnesota Poets judged the entries.

Says SELCO Regional Librarian Reagen A. Thalacker of the judging process:

The general sense I received when the poems came back is that our judges felt that there was a great variety in subject matter and skill and that they were impressed with many of those that were submitted. There was also the overwhelming sense of having enjoyed thoroughly the opportunity to read the works submitted.

Additionally, the anthology includes 28 poems penned by youth ages 14 – 18 (or in high school) residing within SELCO counties. Twenty-eight poems chosen from 111 submissions will be featured. What an encouragement to young poets to be published in the Word Flow portion of this project.

For me, a seasoned poet, selection of “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960” encourages me to keep writing in a rural voice distinctly mine, inspired by the land and the people I love.

FYI: Click here to read a full report on Poetic Strokes/Word Flow 2014, including a list of poets selected for inclusion in the anthology.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the wordful art of poetry in southeastern Minnesota April 19, 2013

SELCO's seventh volume of Poetic Strokes.

SELCO’s seventh volume of Poetic Strokes.

POETIC STROKES. The title resonates with a graceful image of fountain pen dipped in ink sweeping words across a blank page.

In my idealistic poet’s eye, I envision letters flowing onto paper with ease and passion.

In reality, I understand that inspiration more likely comes in halting clicks on a computer keyboard, screen idling, fingers poised, poet pausing to claim the muse. If only poetry were as easy to write as it might seem.

My poem, "Life Cycles."

My poem, “Life Cycles.”

These are my thoughts as I read the recently-released volume 7 of Poetic Strokes 2013—A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO). My poem, “Life Cycles,” is among 18 selected for publication from 110 submissions. This marks the fifth Poetic Strokes volume in which my poetry has printed.

As I thumb through the pages of this anthology, which also includes youth poetry in a Word Flow section, I am impressed by the talent of poets who call this 11-county SELCO region home. Southeastern Minnesota claims some mighty fine poets. I recognize many poets’ names from past anthologies and other contests. I am in fine company.

If I were to ask these poets what inspires them, how would they respond?

How have they come to write about an aged woman going to the beauty shop, sweet memories from the summer of ’68, picking strawberries, perusing library shelves, baking bread and a dozen other topics which, without their creative pens, would seem rather ordinary topics?

The poet’s gift is to dip a pen into the inkwell of a memory, an emotion, a moment in time, a scene—whatever inspires—and create a wordful work of art. As a poet, there is nothing sweeter than words flowing into lines and verses, connecting to the reader in some way.

When I read about gardening or peeling an apple (not really about peeling an apple) or any of the other subjects covered in this seventh volume of Poetic Strokes, I take away my own interpretation based on my experiences. Therein lies a truth. Poetry is as much about writing as it is about experiencing this wordful art.

Eighteen poems were selected for publication from 110 submissions to Poetic Strokes. In the Word Flow section of the anthology, 14 poems were published from 99 submissions.

Eighteen poems were selected for publication from 110 submissions to Poetic Strokes. Faribault High School English teacher and writer Larry Gavin joins me as the other Faribault poet included in the anthology.  In the Word Flow youth section of the anthology, 14 poems were published from 99 submissions. All but two of those students attend Cannon Falls High School.

YOU CAN MEET Poetic Strokes poets at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, during a Meet and Greet hosted by the Owatonna Public Library and the Owatonna Poetry Writer’s Group in the third floor Gainey Room at the library, 105 North Elm Avenue. Poets will discuss and share their poetry. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Bonnie Krueger at the library by emailing bonnie@owatonna.info or calling (507) 444-2460. Because refreshments will be served, she needs a head count.

Following the Meet and Greet, at 7 p.m., Minnesota Book Award Poet Todd Boss, one of my favorite Minnesota poets, will share his works. I cannot wait to hear Todd read during this “Poets at the Library Tour” event celebrating National Poetry Month in April.

THIS EVENING, Friday, April 19, Better Brew Coffeehouse, 301 North Main Street, Pine Island, is hosting an Open Mic Poetry Night beginning at 7 p.m. The event calls for participants of all ages and all forms of poetry to read their works or that of others. Participant registration opens at 6 p.m. Better Brew, the Van Horn Public Library and Pine Area People for the Arts are sponsoring the poetry reading. Given the unfolding weather situation, I’d advise checking whether this reading is still “on” or postponed.

FYI: If you live in the SELCO system, you can check out a copy of Poetic Strokes from your local library. The anthology was funded in part or in whole with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here to see the names of poets published in the 2013 Poetic Strokes. To read the list of youth poets published in Word Flow, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the regional poetry of Minnesota March 27, 2012

THREE APPARENTLY is the lucky number connected with this year’s soon-to-be-released sixth Poetic Strokes anthology published by my regional library system, Southeastern Libraries Cooperating.

At least, on the surface, with 30 poems by 30 poets from 13 communities, all those threes seem to point to that conclusion.

But I don’t bank success on luck—even if my poem of three verses—is among those that published.

Now I’m not privy to the criteria judges used to evaluate the 202 poems submitted by 202 poets from 34 communities within the 11 SELCO counties. But I trust their judgment to select the 30 best works.

Penning a poem worthy of publication takes time, effort and talent. I know. I’ve received my share of dismissals, including last year’s rejection of my three poems submitted to the Poetic Strokes competition. In retrospect, I can see now that those poems needed refining.

While none of us like rejection, it is often the best/only way to show us we can do better. On several occasions I’ve rewritten rejected poems and then had them accepted elsewhere.

I realize, too, that judges’ personal preferences in poetry and the publication itself also factor into acceptance or rejection of a poem. For example, when I’ve submitted to Lake Region Review and The Talking Stick, I’ve considered that these are Minnesota anthologies rooted in the region. I’ve successfully published in both.

Any of you who’ve read my poetry understand that I am a regional writer, with most of my poems connected to the land, specifically my native southwestern Minnesota. I am rooted to the geography of the prairie and to my experiences growing up there. That connection defines my distinct, poetic voice.

Take my poem, “Writing poetry as the sun rises,” just published in Poetic Strokes 2012. At first glance, the title seems to suggest I’ve veered from my voice. Not so. If not for my life-long deep appreciation of prairie sunrises and sunsets (even though I no longer live on the prairie), I may not have looked up from my computer one morning to appreciate the rising sun and then write about it.

Apparently my Minnesota prairie roots voice resonates with judges as I’ve entered numerous competitions and had my poems accepted for publication or display, including in the upcoming Poet-Artist Collaboration XI at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Click here to learn more about that gallery show.

Five of my poems have also published in three volumes of Poetic Strokes. Make that six in four volumes. (This year’s competition allowed submission of only one poem.)

Copies of Poetic Strokes 2012 will be available for check-out at all SELCO libraries during the first week of April, National Poetry Month. Because the anthology was funded by the Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the volume will not be sold. Published poets will each receive five complimentary copies.

To read a list of the poets published in this year’s Poetic Strokes—including five from my county of Rice—click here.

As long as we’re talking poetry here, SELCO will launch its Poets at the Library tour with an appearance by Morris-based writer Athena Kildegaard at 7 p.m. Monday, April 2, at the Owatonna Public Library. Kildegaard, a current Minnesota Book Award poetry finalist with Bodies of Light, has also written Rare Momentum. Both were published by the respected Red Dragonfly Press in Red Wing. Kildegaard’s third poetry collection, Cloves & Honey–love poems, has just been released by Nodin Press.

Poets Laura Purdie Salas, Barton Sutter, Su Smallen and Todd Boss—one of my personal favorites—are also part of the SELCO tour. Click here to learn more about Poets at the Library.

Now, I am not so naïve as to believe that all of you like and embrace poetry. But if you haven’t read poetry in awhile, then I’d suggest you try reading it again. Today’s poetry is not the rhyming, elitist poetry of your youth.

I will be the first to tell you, emphatically, that I find some poetry so totally out there that I have no hope of understanding it. That’s OK. Find a poet whose voice resonates with you and then listen and appreciate the words that touch your soul.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling