Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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


My unforgettable “road” poem publishes in The Talking Stick, Forgotten Roads September 15, 2010

TYPICALLY WHEN I write poetry, I turn to my past, to childhood memories.

That’s evident by my poems published in three volumes of Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota:  “Abandoned Farmhouse,” “Prairie Sisters,” “Walking Beans,” “Saturday night baths,” and “A school without a library.”

Occasionally I deviate from that trip down memory lane. “Lord, My Rock” published in the fall 2004 issue of The Lutheran Digest and “Tribute to a Korean War Veteran” published in the May/June 2009 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

My latest in-print-poem also detours from my typical subject of childhood days, although it stays on the road of memories, albeit this one a heart-wrenching, emotional recent memory.

“Hit-and-Run” has just published in The Talking Stick, Forgotten Roads, Volume Nineteen, debuting this Saturday at a Book Release Party in the Northwoods Bank Community Room in Park Rapids.

The poem looks back to May 12, 2006, the day my then 12-year-old son was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street just a short distance from our home. Thankfully, my boy was not seriously injured. But the driver was never found and the memories of that horrible incident still linger. Now I’m sharing, in poetic verse, how that morning unfolded emotionally for me. Certainly, I have not forgotten this road.

Apparently my words resonated with the editors who reviewed the 200-plus poems submitted in this literary competition. “Hit-and-Run” was among the top seven poems selected by the editorial board for prize consideration by noted Minnesota poet Heid Erdrich. My poem earned an honorable mention.

“A terrifying imagery/memory,” Erdrich partially wrote in her evaluation.


If you would like to read my poem, the other winning poems and the fiction and creative non-fiction published in this latest collection by writers with a connection to Minnesota, check out the online purchasing options at The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. The Park Rapids/Menahga-based group annually publishes The Talking Stick, which is sold by the Writers’ Bloc and several northern Minnesota bookstores.

I’ve read two of the past anthologies and I promise that you will enjoy some top-notch writing by emerging and established Minnesota writers. The Talking Stick has an excellent, long-standing reputation and I’m proud to be published in it.

If you’re a writer, consider entering the 2011 The Talking Stick competition. Submissions call for the 20th volume goes out in December with a March 1, 2011, submission deadline.

Finally, if you’re in the Park Rapids area this weekend, consider attending the book release party, which begins at 1 p.m. Writers published in The Talking Stick, Forgotten Roads, will read their works beginning at 2 p.m. No, I won’t be there as I have another commitment. But you’ll meet plenty of other Minnesota writers anxious to sell their books or compare notes on this journey we call writing.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling