Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota poet pushes his latest project, the weeCinema January 28, 2015

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

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

MINNESOTA POET TODD BOSS is one of those creative types, so it seems to me, who is always tumbling ideas around in his head like bingo balls in a cage.

For him, poetry has exceeded the B-1 of poetry anthologies, of which he’s published two—Yellowrocket and Pitch. I personally love his work. He grew up on a Wisconsin farm; I can relate to much of his poetry.

Todd Boss reads from his poetry collection, Pitch, at the Owatonna Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Todd Boss reads from his poetry collection, Pitch, at the Owatonna Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Boss has rolled out public art projects and Motionpoems. He also writes commissioned poetry.

Now his latest idea, weeCinema, has tumbled into the public realm. He describes his current project as “an innovative new pop-up cinema concept designed to make art films more accessible to the general public.”

Motionpoems, Boss’ creative endeavor that turns contemporary poems into short films, has launched a KICKSTARTER campaign to raise $20,000 for the weeCinema. Monies will fund conversion of a used 20’x8’x8′ shipping container into a portable mini theater.

How sweet is that?

When I learned last week in an email about Boss’ weeCinema plan, developed in collaboration with weeHouse architect Geoff Warner and The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul executive director Susan Smoluchowski, I instantly thought of Little Free Libraries. Another Todd, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, co-founded the LFL which has brought mini libraries to communities around the world, including my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota.

I can see Boss’ new theatre concept gaining similar momentum and interest in the art film world.

Once this first weeCinema is constructed—and I expect that will happen given Boss’ success at getting projects funded and done—I’d really like to see the mini theatre travel to outstate Minnesota. For those of us who live outside the Twin Cities metro, opportunities to view short art films in our communities are rare.

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Playing bingo at a Minnesota church festival.

We love our bingo. But we’d welcome a weeCinema, too.

FYI: To learn more about the weeCinema KICKSTARTER campaign, click here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An evening with Minnesota poet Todd Boss in Owatonna May 1, 2013

Todd Boss reads his poetry Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.

Todd Boss talks about poetry Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.

HE READS WITH THE CADENCE of a seasoned poet, with the ease of familiarity, written words fitting his voice like a comfortable pair of boots.

Which is exactly what award-winning St. Paul poet Todd Boss sported, along with faded jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt, to a “Poets at the Library Tour” event Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.

Todd Boss' boots.

Todd Boss’ boots.

Casual, laid back and unpretentious, Boss settled in to read from his poetry books, Yellowrocket and Pitch, Minnesota Book Award finalists in 2009 and 2013 respectively.

Before reading a poem set in Luckenbach, Texas, Boss shared that a woman from New York wants to include him in a dissertation she’s writing on cowboy poetry. He showed off his cowboy boots, then laughed. The audience laughed, too. While Boss often writes about his rural Wisconsin upbringing, he isn’t exactly a cowboy poet. Audience members agreed with Boss that Wisconsinites and Minnesotans live on farms, not ranches, defined by this poet as big open landscapes of earthy hues.

Later he referenced the New York perspective again: “My mother used to read a lot of poetry on the ranch.” Ranch. A carefully chosen word. Just like the words in his detailed and rhythm rich poems.

Reading from Pitch.

Reading from Pitch.

Boss read poetry about card playing, wood piles, his mother, an exchange with a check-out clerk at a Minneapolis food co-op, the 35W bridge collapse…

He revealed, too, that when he writes about his parents, he gives them the option of nixing those personal poems. They never have, a point audience members noted as respectful—of Boss in asking and of his parents in respecting his work.

Audience members read their poetry prior to Boss' reading. Some audience members, like me, were honored at a "Meet and Greet the Poets" reception earlier for those published in Poetic Strokes 2013, a regional anthology of poetry published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating.

Numerous audience members read their poetry prior to Boss’ reading. Some, like me, were honored at a “Meet and Greet the Poets” reception earlier for those published in Poetic Strokes 2013, A Regional Anthology of Poetry From Southeastern Minnesota. Southeastern Libraries Cooperating publishes the annual collection.

Boss is that kind of caring guy. After listening to audience members read poetry before his presentation, he thanked them, defining their readings as “a little bit like overhearing people’s prayers…things they’re worried about.”

He’s genuine and honest enough to admit that he doesn’t write every day, but that he should and that he’s sometimes lazy about writing.

And, yes, he actually earns a living writing poetry; touring the state and country reading poetry; collaborating on his grant-funded motionpoems; and, most recently, undertaking a public art project, an art/poetry installation on the five-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse.

He’s a farm boy from Wisconsin now living in the big city, but still strongly connected to his rural roots via his poetry.

If Tuesday’s event had been held at a ranch, instead of the third floor of a public library, audience members would have gathered around the campfire to hear Boss, cowboy boots resting on a chunk of wood, strumming his not-exactly-cowboy-poetry rhythmic poetry.

FYI: In addition to publishing two books of poetry, Boss works with animator/producer Angella Kassube on producing motionpoems, which “turn contemporary American poems into short films. To learn more about this grant-supported non-profit project, click here.

And click here to link to Todd Boss’ website.

© Copyright 2013 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

 

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

 

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

 

Poetry & more in Paul Bunyan land August 18, 2011

The lake side of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette Diana Kensack..

Lucette Diana Kensack

SEVERAL SUMMERS AGO while vacationing in northern Minnesota, my family stopped in Hackensack, 50 miles north of Brainerd. The initial draw to this town of 285 was the 17-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. I appreciate kitschy roadside art. What can I say?

Two other discoveries, however, trumped seeing Lucette. A stone’s throw from Lucette, along the shores of Birch Lake, sits the cutest log cabin—a Works Progress Administration project and today home of the Hackensack Lending Library.

And just down the street from Lucette and the library, I found the sweetest pink fairy tale cottage.

Those small-town treasures marked my introduction to Hackensack.

Now, fast forward to last summer. I wasn’t back in Hack, not physically anyway. Rather my poetry was among poems displayed at the town’s annual Northwoods Art and Book Festival. During that event, the featured poets are invited to read their poetry. Fest-goers can also vote for their favorites with six poems selected for “Popular Choice” awards. Six poems are also recognized as “Poems of Merit.” All of the original and unpublished poems are posted without author names attached.

I didn’t attend last year, didn’t win and didn’t deserve to win. My poetry wasn’t worthy of an award.

This year my poetry is back at the Northwoods Festival set for this Saturday, August 20, and I’m more confident that I’ve actually written poems that could win an award. Oh, I’d love to tell you which poem is mine (or it could be both poems that I submitted; I haven’t been told). But I won’t unfairly sway the voting. Suffice to say my rural background shines in my writing.

If Hackensack wasn’t such a long drive from Faribault, I’d be there taking in the poetry, the art, the music, the book-signings, the food. However, if you’re in the Brainerd lakes area or parts north on Saturday, check out the Northwoods Art and Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and then tell me all about it by submitting a comment.

Voting for the “Popular Choice” awards begins at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m.

If you’re already thinking, “Audrey, I don’t like poetry,” rethink your thinking. I promise you that my poetry rates as down-to-earth, understandable and not at all stuffy.

This whole concept of getting poetry out to the public via a display like the one in Hackensack pleases me. Just like the Roadside Poetry billboards in Fergus Falls. I was fortunate enough to win the spring competition and have my four-line poem plastered across four billboards there.

These new poetry venues, and the increasingly popular sidewalk poetry in cities like St. Paul, Mankato and now Northfield, are bringing poetry to the people. That’s a good thing because, in reality, how many of us actually pick up a book of poetry for leisure reading?

Minnesota poet Todd Boss and designer/animator Angella Kassube are also making poetry even more appealing by utilizing visuals in their acclaimed motion poems. Click here to read some of those.

Poetry has certainly evolved through the years, a necessity to keep writers interested in writing it and readers interested in reading it.

Professionally, I’ve only begun to unfold my wings as a poet. Even publicly calling myself a “poet” still sounds foreign to my ears. But with publication in two magazines and four anthologies, soon to be five (The Talking Stick, Volume 20, published by Park Rapids-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc); winning the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition; inclusion at the Hackensack festival; and recent notification that one of my poems will publish in the Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine, I finally feel worthy of the title “poet.”

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

The sweet fairy tale house in Hackensack, located near Lucette and the park and photographed in 2009.

"Curve around the corner/You are free/To change directions/Or your mind," reads this poem by Marlys Neufeld of Hanska and imprinted in a Mankato sidewalk.

HOW DO YOU FEEL about poetry? Do you read it? Why or why not?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond poetry anthologies May 21, 2011

Poetic words imprinted upon a paver at the Lake Harriet bandshell in south Minneapolis.

WHAT AN EXCITING time to read, and write, poetry.

Yes.

Read on.

If you’re among those who consider poetry boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand, then you’ve read only boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand poems.

Yes, those types of poems exist.

But today, oh, today, poetry is pushing beyond simply words printed in anthologies to highly-public and engaging venues.

At least three Minnesota communities—St. Paul (Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk), Mankato (WordWalk) and now Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry Contest)—have embraced sidewalk poetry, poems imprinted upon sidewalks.

In Fergus Falls, the Fergus Area College Foundation sponsors a seasonal poetry contest and posts the winning poem on four Burma Shave style billboards. I won the spring Roadside Poetry Project competition. (Click here to read a story published today in The Marshall Independent about my writing and my Roadside Poetry poem.)

The first line in my spring poem posted on four billboards.

In Hackensack, as part of its annual summer Northwoods Art Festival and Book Fair, the Northwoods Art Council has invited Minnesota poets to submit poems for display. Attendees then read and vote for their favorite poems.

But the latest news in the poetry world comes from St. Paul poet Todd Boss and Minneapolis art director/animator/designer Angella Kassube, who have created “motionpoems.” The pair defines these poems as “a hybrid of poetry and film.”

The windmill is the subject of a motionpoem written by Toss Boss. I took this photo at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines grounds near Dundas last fall.

In short, they bring poems to life via animation. From what I’ve seen and heard online, this approach works, making poetry more accessible, understandable and, dare I say, exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Click here and view several motionpoems, including my favorite, Todd Boss’ THE GOD OF OUR FARM HAD BLADES.

The duo started this project two years ago, creating more than 20 poems. Now they are expanding, collaborating with New York publisher Scribner’s respected annual Best American Poetry anthology, 2011 volume, to produce 12 – 15 motionpoems. They’ll work with writers ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to emerging writers. Eventually, the motionpoems will be accessible, for free, online.

I see great promise in these new approaches to poetry that reach beyond printed poems and poetry readings. I see the promise for reaching a wider, more receptive audience.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on sidewalk or billboard poetry and/or motionpoems? Would you be more likely to read these types of poems than traditionally-published poetry?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Roadside Poetry Project photo courtesy of Paul Carney