Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At the WordWalk: Why I won’t eat tuna June 28, 2011

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato.

THE MANKATO PARK SEEMS, in many ways, an ideal setting for poetry.

The usually playful Minnesota River bumps against the land here, acting on this Saturday afternoon like a willful, unruly child.

On the other side of Riverfront Park, across the tracks, historic buildings stand like forlorn children, neglected, waiting for someone to care.

Overhead, moody skies pout.

I have come here at this late afternoon hour to read the poetry imprinted upon cement. Occasionally the sky spits rain at me as I follow the gray sidewalk which mimics the gray day.

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

I read:

Minnesota

Here, the river rests its elbow

before it turns north to meet

the father of them all.

Here we made 38 mistakes

we now try very hard

not to forget.

A snippet of the poem, "Minnesota." I've edited this image so that you can better read the words. The poems are, unfortunately, a bit difficult to read because of a lack of color contrast between the letters and the cement.

The poem by Ikars Sarma of Mankato refers to the hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. A heavy thought to match the heaviness of the sky, the raging of the river, the anger that still simmers over this shameful moment in this city’s history.

I move on.

Susan Stevens Chambers of Good Thunder writes:

Aging Benignly

Ah the terrible beauty

of the not so perfect

body.

In this edited photo, read Susan Stevens Chambers' poem about aging.

Nearby kids scramble up a rock wall as I struggle to lift my aging bones from the sidewalk where I have bent close to read and photograph Chambers’ poem.

Then I laugh at the words penned by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau:

Tuna

Craving lunchbox love

I slowly open the lid.

Fish smell breaks my heart.

The poem that causes me to remember all the tuna I ate during my last two years of college.

Exactly. I ate too much tuna in this college town between 1976 and 1978. I could write my own poem about cramming tuna sandwiches while cranking out stories at the Mankato State University (I still can’t call it Minnesota State University, Mankato) student newspaper, The Reporter.

Deadlines and words.

Words and deadlines.

Tuna. Words. Deadlines.

Cariveau’s writing reminds me of those years so long ago when I was young and only beginning my journey into the poetry of life.

WordWalk poems are imprinted on the sidewalk circling this restroom/shelter facility at Riverfront Park in Mankato.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Mankato’s public sidewalk poetry, WordWalk, click here and here. At least two other Minnesota cities, of which I am aware, have sidewalk poetry: St. Paul and now Northfield.

WHAT’S YOUR OPINION on sidewalk poetry? Do you like it, or not? Would you like to see more such public poetry in Minnesota communities? 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