Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Beat: “In Minnesota, poetry matters” September 27, 2012

WHY DID IT TAKE ME until recently to determine that poetry is meant to be read aloud, preferably by the poet, and not just silently to one’s self?

I came to that realization in April after reading my poem, “Her Treasure,” to an audience gathered in an historic Zumbrota theater for Crossings at Carnegie’s “Poet-Artist Collaboration XI.”

That poetry-inspired art celebration proved pivotal for me, prompting a personal recognition that poetry is as much performance art as it is an intimate experience.

The Beat logo

And now the independent, nonprofit Northern Community Radio, with studios in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, Minnesota, recognizing the importance of poetry read aloud, is bringing poetry to the public via The Beat, broadcasting a poem a day by a poet with a Minnesota connection.

The Beat, according to NCR’s website is “Northern Community Radio’s daily reminder that, in Minnesota, poetry matters, and Minnesota poets are proving that every day.”

I proved that on September 17 with the reading of my poem, “Her Treasure.” Because traveling hundreds of miles up north from southern Minnesota was neither practical nor cost effective for me, The Beat producer Steve Downing, himself a published poet, read my poem. You can listen to Downing’s fine rendition of “Her Treasure” by clicking here.

Minnesota’s 2011 Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen of Chaska.

Since early July, an assortment of about three dozen poets—from the well-known John Berryman, James Wright, Joyce Sutphen, Louis Jenkins, Will Weaver and Sean Hill—to the complete unknowns have been featured on The Beat.

Poet Sean Hill recently moved from Bemidji to Alaska where he is teaching creative writing at a university in Fairbanks. Milkweed Editons will publish his second collection of poetry in 2014.

The show airs weekdays between 7:30 – 8 a.m. and then again between 3:30 – 4 p.m. on 91.7 FM in north-central and northeastern Minnesota, 90.5 FM in north-central and northwestern Minnesota and on 89.9 FM in the Brainerd area. With 150,000 listeners under the NCR signal, coverage extends from Grygla on the north to Pierz on the south to Fertile on the west and Hermantown on the east.

And for those outside the coverage area, like me, The Beat can be heard via audio streaming from kaxe.org or via the KAXE online archives.

“Reaction from poets and listeners, including folks who thought they hated poetry, has been unconditionally affirmative, making us think this was a success story waiting to happen,” says producer/poet Downing, also a former high school English teacher, published essayist, arts administrator and lifelong musician.

Steve Downing, poet and producer of The Beat

He and two others—NCR’s program director, who interviews writers for her long-standing RealGoodWords show, and a design-artist NCR staffer who is also a poet and has taught English at the college level—have been evaluating the hundreds of poetry submissions coming in from across the state.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but no one thought we’d be swamped, which we are,” Downing says. “It’s a nice problem to have but a problem nevertheless.”

The three-person jury meets every Friday to look at/listen to submissions. “The jury looks for creative work that, first, sparks a positive ‘gut’ response; that demonstrates originality; that makes smart word choices; and that’s provocative, in the best sense of the word,” Downing explains.

He advises submitting poets to avoid the topics of partisan politics, religion and lost love and to remember that the Federal Communications Commission is listening.

The range of topics is “all over the place,” Downing says, although some poems are somewhat “Minnesota-centric,” covering subjects like family farms, old barns, and the state’s flora, fauna and weather.

Broadcasting these poems on its community-based public radio stations helps fulfill NCR’s overall mission “to build community in northern Minnesota by way of radio programming, cultural events and interactive media.”

The Beat is currently funded by a one-year $30,000 allocation from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

The history of The Beat, however, stretches back several years to The Beat Cafe, a live-on-air pledge drive program which, among other Beat content, featured Downing reading his poems, with live bass and percussion accompaniment. The success of that first show prompted discussion on how to make this happen again. So come spring 2013, The Beat Cafe fundraiser will be back with live-on-air poetry and music.

Says Downing: “Think berets, dark glasses, shawls, candles in wine bottles…”

Between now and then, though, Downing will continue to air selected poetry by Minnesota poets, known and unknown, and will apply again for state funding to continue the popular poetry program, The Beat.

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FYI: If you’re a Minnesota poet and would like your writing considered for The Beat, email text or, preferably, audio versions (e.g. MP3) of your poetry to Downing at this address: sdowning@kaxe.org

A poem should take three minutes or less to read.

Once accepted for The Beat, poets have recorded their poems at KAXE in Grand Rapids, KBXE in Bemidji and at KFAI in Minneapolis or on their own devices. NCR also offers the option of Downing or others reading a selected poem if the poet cannot record his/her work.

I contacted Downing about writing this post after my poem was selected by the jury for airing on The Beat.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork and photos courtesy of Northern Community Radio

 

A Minnesota arts collage, from theater to poetry September 15, 2012

FOR A FEW SECONDS THERE, I searched the dictionary of my brain for that word which temporarily eluded me. Collage. That would be it.

Remember when that art form was especially popular, when, as a school assignment, you had to scrounge up ten zillion magazines and then snip out images themed to a specific subject and glue it all in a jumbled mess onto a piece of paper?

Today I present a collage—not a jumbled mess, though—of art.

Let’s take the biggest focal piece first. A Hudson.

A Hudson, like this one I photographed several years ago at a Faribault car show, centers “The Car.” Do not expect, though, to see a real Hudson on stage, only the shape of one.

The Hudson centers the stage at the Paradise Center for the Arts during a production of The Car by Carol Wright Krause. My husband and I saw this play by the Faribault-based The Paradise Community Theatre Friday evening. I’d rate it as one of the best I’ve ever seen performed locally.

Here’s a summary of the play written by director Gabe Talamantes:

The Car is about a family’s car, which as Ed (a character in the five-person drama) puts it “is a miracle of modern American engineering.” This miracle car is a character in itself, a highly theatricalized version of a 1954 Hudson. It takes us on a journey into the lives of the Banners and the challenges an all American family faces as they struggle through two decades of change at home and abroad. We will see how they choose to overcome such difficulties.

Now, why am I so enthusiastic about The Car? Because it moved me to tears. When a theatrical performance can evoke such a strong emotional reaction from me, I will embrace it with unbridled enthusiasm.

That break-down moment for me came near the end of the play, when Vietnam War veteran Hal Banner (played by Todd Ginter), broke down in the arms of his father, Ed Banner (Chuck Larsen). He was no hero, Hal said, pointedly telling his father that he (Ed) would never understand the horrors of war. And then Hal got specific, talking about seeing the eyes of those he killed.

That’s when the tears trickled down by cheeks and I struggled mightily to keep from sobbing. In that moment, I heard my Korean War veteran father, not Hal/Todd. My dad, too, spoke of seeing the eyes of those he killed on the front lines in Korea.

Later, when I congratulated Todd on his performance, he told me that he had talked to several veterans in preparation for his role. And it was the eyes which they spoke of and which he knew he needed to emphasize in that heartrending father-son conversation. It is easily the most powerful moment in the play.

I wondered how many audience members might be veterans and at that moment suppressing war memories and feelings, as my father did.

But this play is about so much more than war. It also addresses the issue of prejudice when Hal brings home a Japanese wife, portrayed by Carrie Jendza whose mother came here from Korea some 40 years ago. Carrie presents a stunning performance as do Susan Dunhaupt as Ed’s wife, Geneva, and Faribault High School sophomore Emily Remmey as Beth Banner, Hal and Sumiko’s daughter.

The prejudice starts right away when Ed Banner insists on calling Sumiko the Americanized “Sue.” He slides in references to “slant eyes” (there’s the “eye” thing again) and other derogatory comments.

In real-life, prejudice is an issue in Faribault, home to many Latino, Somali and Sudanese family. It is no secret that prejudice exists in my community. You can read about it in a previous post by clicking here.

I didn’t spot a single minority in the audience Friday evening,  not unusual despite Faribault’s sizable minority population.

There, that’s all I’m telling you about The Car, other than to advise you to see this powerful and memorable production. It’s community theater at its best for the superb acting and the unforgettable messages delivered.

Faribault artist Vivian Jones created this watercolor, “It Was Grandma’s Car,” for the current “car pARTS” show.

Additional performances of The Car at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault, are set for 7:30 p.m. on September 15, 20, 21 and 22 and at 2 p.m. September 16. Call (507) 332-7372 or click here to reach the Paradise website. According to info published in the theater program, production of The Car is made possible through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support Grant.

While you’re at the play, be sure to check out the exhibit, “car pARTS,” in the Carlander Family Gallery.

The Beat logo.

NOW LET’S PLACE another piece in that art collage. On-air poetry.

In July, Northern Community Radio began airing poetry on its weekday morning show during a segment called The Beat.

On Monday my poem, “Her Treasure,” will air on 91.7 KAXE (89.9/Brainerd) and on 90.5 KBXE. Now I won’t be able to listen to whomever reads my poem between 7:30 a.m. – 8 a.m. and again between 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Faribault is well outside the coverage area which extends from Thief River Falls to Hermantown to Pierz. Eventually, though, I’ll be able to listen to the reading of my poem online.

You can listen to The Beat via online streaming. (I’m not smart enough to figure that out and my former in-house techie now lives at NDSU in Fargo.)

I’m in the company of some mighty fine poets, from novices to Minnesota’s 2011 poet laureate, Joyce Sutphen, to well-known Minnesota writer Will Weaver. You can check out the current listing of The Beat poems/poets by clicking here.

The poems chosen for airing were selected through a juried process.

Connie Ludwig, right, and I pose for a photo with her watercolor, “Pantry Jewels” (above my head) inspired by my poem, “Her Treasure.” This photo was taken in April at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

Just, FYI, “Her Treasure” is the same poem featured in “Poetry Artist Collaboration XI” at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota last April. To read my poem, click here.

I love this whole concept of The Beat, of Northern Community Radio’s “daily reminder that, in Minnesota, poetry matters, and Minnesota poets prove that every day.”

You can expect a forthcoming detailed post from me on this project funded by Minnesota’s Arts & Cultural Heritage monies.

The cover of last year’s The Talking Stick 20.

NEXT, LET’S PLACE the third piece in this arts collage. More poetry, plus fiction and creative nonfiction.

Today I’m missing out on a book release party for The Talking Stick 21 in the Park Rapids area. This anthology, published by The Jackpine Writers Bloc, represents some fine writing by Minnesota writers. You can, referencing back to The Beat, listen to the poetry of Sharon Harris, a Jackpine member and one of the key producers of the collection.

I’ve been published in two previous volumes of The Talking Stick (including receiving an honorable mention for my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” in volume 19) and will be published again in this newest volume. My poem, “Broken,” was chosen from among 275 submissions for publication.

To learn more about The Talking Stick, click here. To learn more about The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, click here.

THAT’S IT. Now, go ahead, add your own pieces to this art collage via your comments.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling