Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How photos & life inspire poetry at a Mankato exhibit April 25, 2016

THE VARIETY OF POETRY a single photo can inspire always amazes me. As do other poets.

At the recent opening of Image and the Word 9 at the Emy Frentz Gallery in Mankato, I mingled with poets. One writes a poem a day. Amazing.

Each year for the past several, I’ve participated in this exhibit which features inspirational photos and reactionary poems by southern Minnesota photographers and writers. I wrote four poems, including one about my automotive machinist husband, Randy. A photo of laced work boots prompted that personal poem.


Chippewa boots have replaced athletic shoes.

A photo similar to this inspired the poem about my husband. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


My Husband at the End of His Work Day

Leather boots lace your aching feet.
Grease outlines your fingernails.
Oil smudges stain your standard blue uniform.
You come home bone-weary, eat, shower, change,
then settle into the recliner with your Sudoku.
Your head nods. You are napping
long before the ten o’clock news,
just like every other hard-working blue collar man.


Standing in a small circle with poets Henry, Ed and Susan, I agreed that our experiences often shape our poetry. Consider that the next time you read a poem. We concurred also that we love words. As a poet, there’s a deep sense of joy and fulfillment in words falling together. Sometimes, oftentimes, we don’t understand how that happens. But when it does, it’s magical. It’s poetry.

FYI: The Image and the Word 9 exhibit will run through May 18 at the Emy Frentz Gallery, 523 South Second Street, Mankato. Gallery hours are from noon to 4 p.m. each weekday except Thursday, when hours are 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Southern Minnesota Poets Society members Yvonne Cariveau and Derek Liebertz produce the exhibit annually.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Mankato: Bringing poetry to the public in parks & along trails August 1, 2014

WHEN WE FINALLY DETOURED our way around all the road construction to Lions Park in Mankato, we wondered how we would find my poem selected for the 2014 Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride.

“It’s probably right there, by the garbage,” my husband suggested when I noted a sign post nearby.

There's my poetry sign, by the garbage can.

There’s my poetry sign, by the garbage can.

And he was right. “Bandwagon,” my 14 line poem based on the long-running, locally-produced television show by the same name, is posted next to a paved trail, by a garbage can, at the park’s north entry in a quiet residential neighborhood not all that far from Minnesota State University Mankato.

My poem, "Bandwagon."

My poem, “Bandwagon.”

On this Saturday morning, not a soul stirred as my husband punched (507) 403-4038 into his cell phone and then, when prompted, 428, to listen to me read my poem as part of the “Mankato on the Move” audio tour.

A recreational trail winds past my poetry sign in Lions Park North.

A recreational trail winds past my poetry sign in Lions Park.

This marks the second time my writing has been selected for the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride, a second year project of the Southern Minnesota Poets Society designed to bring poetry to the public via signs placed in parks and along recreational trails.

I love the concept, the unassuming way in which these poems have been integrated into the community. This exposes poetry in a creative setting—outside the walls of a library, bookstore, educational institution or coffee shop. And for those of us who write poetry, it’s just one more opportunity to showcase our writing and appreciate the creative talents of other poets.

Me by my poetry sign.

Me by my poetry sign.

When I penned “Bandwagon,” I tapped into my memories of watching Bandwagon, a show which debuted in November 1960 on Mankato television station KEYC-TV. The program featured, and still features, audience members dancing to the music of old-time bands. It is one of the longest running, locally-produced entertainment programs in Minnesota television. The show is taped at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of the month at the Kato Entertainment Center and then aired the following four weekends.

I haven’t seen Bandwagon in four decades, not since I left the farm where my father drove his John Deere to the hay bunk and my mom may, or may not, have swayed her hips to “Cherry Pickers Polka.” All poets are allowed some poetic license.

John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. Santa will likely arrived on a newer model John Deere at this week's SEMA Equipment holiday open houses.

John Deere, an original sponsor of Bandwagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Back in the day, I knew the show as The John Deere Bandwagon, given its sponsorship by the farm implement company.

The Ray Sands Band played at the 2011 Germanfest.

The Ray Sands Band plays at a church celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

I can still hear MC Chuck Pasek introducing the bands and musical selections. And I can still see those couples twirling across the dance floor…

FYI: For more information about the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride, including locations of the 2014 poetry boards, click here.

Please check back for another post featuring the writing of 12-year-old Hannah Leraas whose poem was selected in a youth division and is posted in Mankato’s Sibley Park. I’ve mentored Hannah.

The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride is sponsored by Mayo Clinic Health System, Creative Ad Solutions Inc., Voyageur Web and the cities of Mankato and North Mankato.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other communities, like my community of Faribault with an extensive park and trails system, would start a poetry walk and ride?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Bringing poetry to recreational trail users in Mankato & I’m in June 9, 2013


But I appreciate how, in recent years, poetry has become more accessible to Minnesotans. Perhaps, in the process, a few non-poetry lovers have learned to like poetry, to appreciate its value as a form of expression, as an art, as a link to the past, and as a connection to each other and the land and emotions.

These new public poetry forms have surfaced on sidewalks, billboards, and in motionpoems, for example.

My artsy effort to illustrate this post.

My artsy effort to illustrate this post.

And now, in Mankato and North Mankato, poetry will be posted on signs along biking and walking trails as part of the newly-launched Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride.

I am delighted to have two of my poems—“Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” and “The Thrill of Vertical” selected from among more than 120 submissions for this project supported by business and corporate sponsors and the cities of Mankato and North Mankato.

The contest was open to anyone living within a 45-mile radius of Mankato with suggested themes of CityArt sculptures, Mankato history or culture, nature and/or family and relationships. Lines were limited to sixteen with a maximum of forty characters per line. There were serious and humorous divisions for adults and general poems for several youth brackets.

I tapped into my past, my four years attending college in Mankato—Bethany Lutheran and Minnesota State University, Mankato—to write my winning poems:

Off to Mankato to “get an education”

With typewriter and suitcase
stashed in the trunk of the rusty Impala
alongside my blaze orange backpack,
I plow into Mankato from the farm.

Seventeen years old with barn scent
clinging to clothes, I settle in
with my cheerleader roommate
and her sprawling stereo system.

We share nothing in common,
except a love of art, hers visual,
mine an artful appreciation of words
clacking, line by line, upon paper.

Remember, this was the late 70s, dear readers.

You’ll need to visit Mankato to read my second poem, among the 27 selected during anonymous judging by Doris Stengel, past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and by Peter Stein, League of Minnesota Poets youth chairperson. The poems are expected to be in place by the end of June.

As a bonus, poets are recording their poems so bikers, walkers and others can pause along the trails and hear the poems read via their phones.

Bonus two, the Southern Minnesota Poets Society, which coordinated the contest, is publishing a chapbook of the winning poems.

I don’t have details yet on where my poetry will be located. But, be assured that when the poems are posted, I’ll head to Mankato to check mine out and some of the twenty-five others like “Everything is Sky Tonight,” “The Sounds of the Red Jacket Trail” and “Night Fishing.”

JUNE 11 UPDATE: My poems will be posted at the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Division Street and at Hiniker Pond Park in Mankato.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling