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.

 

Celebrating National Poetry Month with a give-away April 15, 2015

WHAT IS POETRY if not a connection to a person, place, thing, emotion, event or time?

Poetry is rhythm and music, a poet’s voice versing words.

It’s love of language. It’s thoughts flowing from brain through fingers to keyboard onto screen. It’s words rolling off the tongue, pleasing the ear.

Strong verbs. Cohesiveness. Tight writing.

Poetry pushes the writer to write with conciseness. Sparse. Choose each word with care. Delete those words that don’t belong. Banish the cliché. Write. Set aside. Edit. Edit some more until you finally call it done.

Then dare to put your poetry out there.

Large-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

In celebration of National Poetry Month in April, I am giving away an autographed copy of 2015 Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota. This collection includes 55 poems by poets from 10 southeastern Minnesota counties. Two are mine: “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion” and “Class Reunion.”

Southeastern Libraries Cooperating sponsors this annual competition and publication of this two-part anthology. The first section, Poetic Strokes, features winning poems from adult writers in the SELCO region, this year 30 poems by 27 poets. Word Flow is a competition for writers ages 14-18, with 25 poems from 25 young poets published in the 2015 anthology.

Poetic Strokes 2015 Publication Cover

TO ENTER:

Submit a comment on this post naming your favorite poet and why you chose this poet. I will then randomly select one winner from all qualifying entries. The winner’s name will be posted here next week with instructions on how to claim the prize.

Entry deadline is Sunday, April 19. Only individuals living in the U.S. are eligible to enter.

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EVEN IF YOU DON’T WIN, you can still get your hands on this anthology. Copies of Poetic Strokes & Word Flow are available for check-out from all 37 public libraries in the SELCO system. Minnesotans who live outside this library region can borrow a copy through the statewide interlibrary loan system, MnLINK. 

Click here to read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion.”

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I won at bingo without playing the game April 13, 2015

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

John and Lavonne call bingo at the North Morristown, MN., Fourth of July celebration. This photo won first place in the People Category of the National Mutual Benefit annual photo contest. This image also helped inspire my winning bingo poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

BINGO! We have a winner!

Here’s my winning poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” recently published in 2015 Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9:

Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion

Wooden balls rattle in the cage,
orbs of numbers and letters tumbling
in the comforting rhythm of a rural rite
that transcends time and generations.

All eyes focus on the officiant, The Bingo Caller,
a slight elderly man with wisps of fly-away hair.
He grasps the selected ball between forefinger and thumb,
pulls mic to mouth and purses his chapped lips.

Silence presides in that sacred moment
when daubers poise above cards,
when hearts beat fast with anticipation,
when nothing seems as blessed as the hope of a win.

“O-62,” he pronounces with faithful clarity of conviction
to the congregants seated on worn folding chairs,
ice clinking against glass in the dim light of The Legion
where service to country rates reverent respect.

From the back corner her voice erupts. “Bingo!”
A collective sigh heaves disappointment
as The Bingo Caller pauses, confirms, then declares
The Blessed Benediction: “We have a winner!”

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YOU, TOO, CAN BE A WINNER. Check back on Wednesday for a give-away.

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

 

The process of penning publishable poetry February 19, 2015

“WE HAVE A WINNER!”—last sentence in the poem “Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion.”

Two, to be accurate.

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 poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” was published in the 2014 Poetic Strokes. The “WORDFLOW” part of the anthology features selected poems by youth. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The two poems I submitted to the 2015 Southeastern Libraries Cooperating poetry competition have been selected for publication in Poetic Strokes. It’s always an honor to have my work chosen in a competition that solicits entries from 11 southeastern Minnesota counties. In recent years, about 200 poems were submitted annually with 23 – 32 selected for publication. I don’t have stats yet for 2015.

This year I penned the winning “Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion” and “Class Reunion.”

Three published poets considered mechanics, tone, accessibility, content and creativity in double-blind judging the entries.

So how did I come up with these poems?

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

My winning photo of bingo callers at the 2013 Trinity North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I’ve had bingo on the brain. Last summer I earned first place in a national photo contest with an image of two bingo callers. Within the past year, my mom moved into a long-term care facility where bingo seems to be the most common activity. I hear the latest bingo updates from her during our weekly Sunday evening phone conversations. My middle brother and his wife rave about bingo at The American Legion in Lamberton. And a month ago I purchased a bingo set so we can play the game at family gatherings.

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

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

Tapping into all of those bingo-related references, I wrote “Wednesday Night Bingo at The Legion.” I focused on the setting, the bingo caller, the anticipation, the thrill of winning. It worked. I won.

My husband and I pose for a photo that I told him will be our Christmas card. In the photo to the right is Lindsey, right front, whom I have not seen in 40 years. He promised to return for the next reunion.

Photo booth images from my class reunion.

In writing “Class Reunion,” I remembered my 40th high school class reunion held last September. That reunion proved particularly memorable given a photo booth was rented for the evening. I used that as the focal point in my poem.

My poetry is sometimes personally introspective, as in “Class Reunion.”

Sometimes, though, I write more like a creative historian or journalist. I feature a snippet of time, perhaps a glimpse of a place, a shadow of a tradition. I condense a moment, pack it with a punch of words.

Perhaps you write poetry. Perhaps you read poetry. Perhaps you would rather avoid poetry all together.

As a seasoned poet, I embrace this form of writing with a passion. To craft a poem is to dance with words. Sometimes my writing glides like a waltz. Other times I dip and twist in a tango of ideas. There are moments when I swing into a square dance rhythm, words linking together in perfect step. Occasionally I slump into a funk, unable to move, simply listening to jazzy blues.

But when it all comes together, oh, my, the dance is flawless, or as near flawless as I can perfect.

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IF YOU WRITE POETRY or simply read it, share your thoughts on the genre. What ignites your creativity? How do you view poetry? Add anything you wish to share on the topic.

P.S. I hope to share my winning poems at a later date. The anthology publishes at the end of March.

For now, if you wish to read one of my published poems, click here. This post will also give you more insight into my poetry writing.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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