Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focusing on gratitude from family to creativity November 23, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
A reason to feel grateful, hung on a Gratitude Tree outside the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

EVEN IN A DECIDEDLY DIFFICULT YEAR, as 2022 has been for me, many reasons exist to feel grateful. I fully realized that upon putting pen to paper to compile a gratitude list during this, Thanksgiving week.

Me with my mom. Oh, how I miss her. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

The year started with the death of my mom on January 13, during the height of Omicron. It was, undeniably, a challenging time to lose her, not that any time is easy. But COVID compounded the situation, affecting my grief process. Memories from her funeral will always be really hard for me. Ten months later, my focus is one of thankfulness for my mom. She instilled in me care, compassion, kindness…and left a legacy of faith. What a gift. I will also forever feel grateful to the staff at Parkview, who so lovingly cared for Mom for many years like she was family. I am thankful, too, to the many friends who sent comforting sympathy cards and memorials and to my friend Kathleen, who created a memory book honoring my mom.

Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding. (Photo credit: Williams Studio in Redwood Falls)

May brought a milestone wedding anniversary for Randy and me. Forty years. I don’t recall how we celebrated, but nothing splashy. I feel thankfulness every day for this man who loves me unconditionally, supports me and still makes me laugh.

Randy and our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, follow the pine-edged driveway at the lake cabin in one of my all-time favorite family images. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2020)

My immediate family means everything to me. That my two young grandchildren live only 35 minutes away is not something I ever take for granted. From celebrating birthdays and holidays to picking strawberries and apples together to overnights at our house to being there in a crisis, this grandma is grateful for the geographic nearness. There’s nothing like the joy I hold in being a grandmother. The hugs. The snuggles. Reading books. Baking together. Getting down on the floor to play. Scooping the almost four-year-old off the floor and into my arms, little lips pressing a moist kiss upon my cheek.

Twice this year I also embraced dear uncles and an aunt whom I haven’t seen in awhile. I hosted Aunt Rachel and Uncle Bob, visiting from Missouri, for lunch. And I met Uncle John and his son Justin and family for lunch in Northfield. Oh, goodness, the happiness I felt in those hugs from extended family I love dearly.

Flying into Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

Soon my son, who lives in Indiana, will be back for a short Christmas stay. I cannot wait. I haven’t seen Caleb in a year and I miss him so much at times that it almost hurts. But before then, my second daughter and her husband arrive from Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate Thanksgiving in Minnesota. You bet I feel grateful for the time we will have together. I miss my girl.

Randy and Isabelle on the dock at the lake cabin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

As I write this thanksgiving list, I realize that most gratitude centers on family. That includes time together at a lake cabin owned by a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who open their guest cabin to extended family. Their sharing of this blessing shows such love and generosity of spirit and I feel forever grateful for this place to escape, to enjoy nature, to rest and relax, to rejuvenate, to make memories.

Following a gravel road in Rice County, near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo autumn 2022)

I am thankful also for (in no particular order), country drives with Randy; gathering around a bonfire with friends; writers and journalists and poets and artists; vaccines; medical professionals who provided emergency and extended care this year for those dearest to me; democracy…

My two poems, far left, and center, in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

Lastly, I am grateful for my creative abilities. To write and photograph bring me incredible joy, and some side income. I appreciate that my creative work is valued, published. My creativity came full circle this autumn when I traveled back to my native southwestern Minnesota to view an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are posted in the exhibit along with a four-generation family photo and my mom’s high school graduation portrait. After touring that exhibit, I visited Mom’s grave site in my hometown. I stood there atop the hillside cemetery surrounded by corn and soybean fields under a spacious prairie sky feeling overwhelmed by sadness, yet grateful for the love we shared.

TELL ME: What are you especially grateful for this Thanksgiving? I welcome specifics, especially.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Expressing my creative voice in “The Talking Stick” October 11, 2022

I’ve been published in 13 volumes ofThe Talking Stick,most recently InVolume 31, Escapes.” (Photo by Colton Kemp)

AS A WRITER, getting published adds to the joy of the craft. I write because it’s my passion, one which I want to share.

I laid the latest copy of The Talking Stick atop a page in a Minnesota atlas to represent escape in a sense of place. Reading and writing also provide an escape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The newest opportunity to share comes via The Talking Stick 31—Escapes, the latest anthology released in September by Park Rapids area-based The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. The Talking Stick, published now for 31 years, features a collection of creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry by Minnesota writers or those with a connection to our state. This year, editors chose 83 poems, 28 creative nonfiction stories and 18 fiction stories for publication from 82 writers. More than 300 submissions came from 140 writers.

The beginning of my story, “Barbershop Prompt.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’m delighted to announce that three of my submissions are included in Escapes. My story, “Barbershop Prompt,” won second place and a cash prize in creative nonfiction. “Plans” earned honorable mention in fiction. And my second fictional piece, “Between Sisters,” simply published.

My writing has published in all 13 of these “The Talking Stick” volumes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

To have my work selected and honored by peers is, for me, reaffirming. This marks the 13th year my writing—a total of 13 poems, eight creative nonfiction stories and nine fiction stories—have published in The Talking Stick. I’ve earned seven honorable mentions and two second placings through the years. Every year I’ve entered this competition, my writing has published. That proves personally validating.

When I first ventured into penning fiction, I did so with hesitancy. My journalism education, background and experience rooted me in gathering information and reporting the facts with no bend to fictionalize. I didn’t know I could write fiction until I tried. And I found I rather enjoy this type of writing. It stretches my creativity in a way that traditional factual writing doesn’t. Yet, even when I write fiction, there is some truth within. I weave into my writing (often in subtle ways) that which I know or care about or which has touched me. I expect most fiction writers would say the same.

Partial winning credits in fiction and the judge’s bio. (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

My award-winning short story, “Plans,” focuses on abuse within a family. Abuse has not been my personal experience. But it runs rampant in society. “Plans” focuses on abuse from the perspective of Henrietta, or Henri as her father calls her. He wanted a son, not a daughter. I’m not revealing more except to say the story leaves the reader wondering. And that’s exactly as The Talking Stick editors intend. Submission guidelines call for focusing on short forms, on compressed creations which hint of a longer, more complex story. You get that in my 457-word “Plans.”

Here’s, in part, what fiction judge Bonnie West said about my short story:

What a good story. Very clever, but also very poignant and surprising! Thanks for this delightful and entertaining revenge story!

Bridge Square Barbers, the inspiration for my award-winning story. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2022)

I definitely appreciate West’s comment and that of creative nonfiction judge Marge Barrett. She evaluated “Barbershop Prompt,” praising the energy and cleverness of my story. A sign I spotted in the front window of Bridge Square Barbers by Bridge Square in Northfield prompted me to write this. I am an observer, someone who notices details. That often inspires. Like my winning fiction story, this fact-based story leaves the reader wondering, wanting more. The same can be said for “Between Sisters.”

The Talking Stick is an incredible collection of outstanding writing and I’m honored to be included with so much other Minnesota talent. Each year I see familiar names repeated, but then new voices, too. The small editorial team from the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc deserves recognition also for their hard work. This anthology truly is a labor of love. I’m grateful for their appreciation of Minnesota writers and for their dedication to the craft of writing.

FYI: I encourage you to support Minnesota creativity by purchasing a copy of The Talking Stick 31—Escapes by clicking here.

Colton Kemp, a reporter for the Faribault Daily News, wrote a feature on me which published in the Saturday, October 8, edition. I encourage you to read that also by clicking here. I am grateful for Colton sharing my story and for the opportunity to connect with him, another individual passionate about writing.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“I Carry Your Heart,” a book review September 28, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Photo source: Goodreads

OF ALL THE BOOKS I could have pulled from the “new fiction” section at Buckham Memorial Library, I chose, among others, one by a Minnesotan. But not until I was several chapters into the book did I flip to the back pages for information about the author, Barbara A. Luker.

I was delighted to learn that Luker hails from St. Peter, a college town in the Minnesota River Valley some 40 miles west of Faribault. To discover another Minnesota writer always pleases me. Luker works full-time for the City of St. Peter and is fairly new to writing books.

It was the title and the simple cover art—a small cut-out heart-shaped cookie next to a larger one—that first drew my eye to I Carry Your Heart. I bake similar plain heart-shaped cookies from my mom’s Cream Cheese Roll-out Cookies recipe each Valentine’s Day. Yes, cover art and titles matter to me given all the books out there. And this art connected to me personally.

Then I turned to the back cover for the story summary. The plot sounded interesting enough to add the book to those already stashed inside my cloth Boomerang bag reserved for library check-outs. I Carry Your Heart, a title taken from e.e. cummings’ poem of the same name, is, as you might guess, a love story. And, yes, there’s romance, a genre I don’t typically read and which made me blush.

This book is truly a tender, multi-layered love story. Not only of romantic love, but also of family love and community love and the sacrifices sometimes made for love.

This is a generational story that takes the reader back in time to reveal secrets kept by Abigail Lillian Peterson Ward. When she dies unexpectedly, her granddaughter, whom Abigail appointed to sort through her belongings, uncovers another side, another truth about her Nan.

The story felt somewhat predictable to me. Yet there were enough twists to surprise me at times and certainly to hold my interest to the end.

I appreciate also the Minnesota influence in the writing. The author shows her roots, for example, in the fictional town described as like a Norman Rockwell painting by one character. In my mind I pictured Luker’s hometown of St. Peter. I could also envision the church ladies serving a luncheon after Abigail’s funeral and the turkey commercials served in her restaurant. Both are, oh, so Minnesotan (although I’m more familiar with a beef commercial). Details like that add authenticity.

All in all, I Carry Your Heart proved a good read, even if in a genre I don’t typically choose.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of Rob Hardy, Northfield poet laureate April 20, 2022

A portion of Rob Hardy’s poem displayed at the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

ROB HARDY, poet laureate of Northfield, is the kind of laid back guy who appreciates a good craft beer. I know. Back in September 2017, I met him at Imminent Brewing, where we shared a table while enjoying a beer, listened to other beer lovers read poems about beer and then read our own beer poems. He organized that Beer Poetry Contest. Poetry at a brewery, how creative and fun is that?

In January 2019, I again found myself in the company of Hardy, and other gifted area poets, for a poetry reading at Content Bookstore in Northfield.

Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts for a past event that included a poetry reading.

And then several months later, we gathered at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault for more public poetry reading.

Hardy is a champion of poetry. He tirelessly promotes poetry in Northfield, where poems, including his, imprint sidewalks. He organizes poetry events and publishes a poetry-focused newsletter and even has a poem permanently posted at the public library.

Rob Hardy, right, and his new poetry collection. (Photo source: Finishing Line Press)

And he just released a new collection of poetry, Shelter in Place, published by Finishing Line Press. The slim volume of 20 poems is a quick read with many of the poems therein inspired by his daily walks in the Carleton College Cowling Arboretum during the pandemic year of 2020.

The influence of the pandemic upon this poet’s life and writing is easy to see. In “Lyrical Dresses,” for example, he writes about looking at ordinary life through the wrong end of a telescope and sometimes crying for no reason. In “Today’s Headlines” the fourth line reads: Rice County has the highest rate of new cases in the country. That would be our county.

But these COVID-19 themed poems are not necessarily doom, gloom and darkness. They are an honest, reflective historical record of life during a global pandemic from the creative perspective of a wordsmith. Just as important as a news story in telling the story of this world health crisis. In “Grounded” he writes of pulling a shoe box from the closet to relive travel memories while unable to travel. While grounded.

He did, however, put his feet to the ground, immersing himself in nature through daily walks. He writes of birds and prairie and sky and river and wind…in poems inspired by his deepening connection to the natural world.

Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s previous poetry collection.

I encourage you to read Hardy’s Shelter in Place and/or attend a reading at Content Bookstore featuring Hardy and Greta Hardy-Mittell, a Carleton College student and writer. That event begins at 7 pm on Thursday, April 21. Click here for details. Rob Hardy is also the author of two other poetry collections, Domestication: Collected Poems, 1996-2016 and The Collecting Jar.

#

TELL ME: Have you attended any poetry events or read/written poems in April, National Poetry Month.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of National Poetry Month: One April day April 18, 2022

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

ON THE AFTERNOON of the April morning I scanned the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library for poetry books, I raked a banana from the boulevard.

“Hey, I found a rotten banana,” I hollered to Randy, who had just switched off the lawnmower as he mulched leaves.

“You didn’t eat it, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I shouted back, rolling my eyes at his humor.

“I found a dead mouse or squirrel earlier,” he shared in an apparent effort to top my discovery of a dried black banana. (We never know what we’ll find while raking in the spring.) He walked across the lawn to the curb along busy Willow Street and kicked up the dried carcass I really did not want to see.

“Mouse,” I concluded, and looked away.

Mira Frank reads the works of Minnesota poets from “County Lines” at an event in St. Peter in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2016)

That takes me back to those poetry books I checked out, including County Lines: 87 Minnesota Counties, 130 Poets. Published in 2008 by Loonfeather Press of Bemidji, this volume features poems collected from Minnesota poets and representing all 87 Minnesota counties. It was published on the 150th anniversary of our statehood.

It’s a must-read book which accurately, and poetically, reflects Minnesota. Among the poems published therein, “April” by Connie Wanek. The first four lines of her five-verse poem from St. Louis County, are so relatable. She writes:

When the snow bank dissolved

I found a comb and a muddy quarter.

I found the corpse of that missing mitten

still clutching some snow.

As someone who’s lived in Minnesota her entire life, I “get” most of the poetry published in this collection. These poets write about land and weather, experiences and observations, small town cafes and polka dancing and trains roaring down tracks and closing the cabin and picking rock and…

The plentiful large rocks pictured here at Blue Mounds State Park are likely similar to those referenced in Leo Dangel’s poem. The park in rural Luverne is about 20 miles from Jasper, which Dangel names in “Stone Visions.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

I laughed aloud when I read Leo Dangel’s “Stone Visions” from Pipestone County in my native southwestern Minnesota. The topic—picking rock. For those of you who’ve never picked rocks, it’s exactly what it says. Walking through a field gathering and tossing rocks that seem to sprout every spring. Poet Dangel viewed oversized stones in a field near Jasper in a poetic way while his farmer uncle observed, “I’d hate like hell to start picking rock in those fields.”

Image source: Goodreads.

Uncovering rocks. Uncovering a dried mouse carcass. Uncovering a dried black banana. Uncovering poetry that resonates. Within the span of several hours, I found winter’s remains and a treasure of a poetry collection.

County Lines uncovers the stories of Minnesota in poetic voice from lesser-known to well-known Minnesota writers. Poets like David Bengston, Robert Bly, Philip S. Bryant, Susan Stevens Chambers, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Angela Foster, Larry Gavin, Laura L. Hansen, Sharon Harris, Margaret Hasse, Bill Holm, John Calvin Rezmerski, Candace Simar, Joyce Sutphen and so many more.

From Willmar to Hibbing to Lac qui Parle and, oh, so many places in between, the layers of our state, our people, our stories, our history, our heritage are revealed. This April day I celebrate National Poetry Month in a Minnesota poetry book pulled from the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.

#

FYI: Former Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen will read from her newest poetry books, Carrying Water to the Field and The Long Winter, at 1 pm Saturday, April 23, at the Little Falls Carnegie Library. “Making Rural Connections Through Poetry with Joyce Sutphen” focuses on the loss of small farms in Minnesota. Sutphen grew up on a Stearns County farm. Three of her poems are featured in the “Stearns County” entries in County Lines.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite book of poetry you’d like to recommend? Or, if you’ve written a book (s) of poetry, please feel free to share information here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Planning coffee with a friend, a sign-inspired short story from Northfield April 11, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

By all means,

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

let’s take five.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

But I gotta stop at Willie’s first for my shoes.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

That’s across from the VFW.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

And then I need to pick up my custom framed print.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

So can we meet at 10 am at Goodbye Blue Monday?

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

I hope we beat the student rush.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

Or maybe I’m fooling myself.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

Oh, I see it’s snowing again. Better wear my boots.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

I’ll be as contented as a cow if this winter ever ends.

#

FYI: All photos were taken in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota, in February.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating poetry: Reflections from a Minnesota poet April 4, 2022

Roses from my husband, Randy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012)

Roses are red,

violets are blue.

Sugar is sweet

and so are you.

RAISE YOUR HAND if that’s the first poem you ever read or heard. My right hand is wildly waving. See it, right there next to a mass of many many hands?

Me, next to my posted poem, “River Stories,” selected for the 2019 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. (Minnesota Prairie Roots November 2019 file photo by Randy Helbling)

Today, April 4, marks day four of National Poetry Month, which celebrates the importance of poetry in our culture and lives. Whether you like or dislike poetry, it holds value as a form of artistic expression, communication, storytelling, endearment…

Many of my poems (plus short stories and creative nonfiction) have been selected for publication in The Talking Stick, an annual anthology published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am proud to call myself a poet. A published poet. How did I get there? I’ve always loved words, the song of language. Poetry is, I think, a lot like music. It carries a rhythm. A beat. A cadence. That comparison comes from a poet who can’t carry a tune, can’t read a musical note, can’t play an instrument.

A Chamber Choir performs artsongs written from poems, directed by David Kassler. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017)

But in 2017, a chamber choir performed my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” at two concerts in Rochester. David Kassler composed the music for my poem and six others as part of an artsong project. To sit in that audience and hear those vocalists sing my poem was overwhelmingly humbling. And validating.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at a Poetry Bash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am a poet.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011)

My poetry has been published in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, anthologies… And in unexpected places. In 2011, my spring-themed poem bannered four billboards in Fergus Falls as part of the Roadside Poetry Project. Other poems have been posted on signs along trails as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” is currently showcased in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall, Minnesota, in my hometown area.

Jeanne Licari’s absolutely stunning interpretation of my “Lilacs” poem. Her “Lilacs on the Table” is oil on mounted linen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

Some of my poems have inspired art in Poet-Artist Collaborations, been aired on the radio and read by me at poetry readings.

I read poetry at this event at my local arts center in March 2019. I was honored to read with other talented area poets. (Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts)

Even I’m surprising myself at the volume of poetry I’ve crafted through the decades. I never set out to be a poet. It simply happened as an extension of my love of words, of language. And that undeniable need to express myself creatively. Unlike that “Roses are red…” introductory poetry of old, my poems do not rhyme.

My poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” with accompanying photos (center of this photo) in the Lyon County exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the LCHS)

My poetry is like me. Unpretentious. Down-to-earth understandable. Flannel shirt and blue jeans. Honest. Detail-oriented. Rooted in the land with a strong sense of place and a story to be told.

TELL ME: What’s your opinion of poetry? Do you read it, like it, write it? I’d like to hear.

Please click on links in this post to read some of the poems I’ve written.

FYI: Content Bookstore, 314 Division St. S., Northfield, is hosting two Poetry Nights, both beginning at 7 pm. On Thursday, April 7, Northfield poet Diane LeBlanc will read from her latest works. That includes her new poetry book, The Feast Delayed. Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy and poet Greta Hardy-Mittell will read from their latest works also. Hardy’s newest poetry collection, Shelter in Place, just released.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inspiring creativity March 24, 2022

Lost glove along the Straight River Trail, south Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE GLOVED STICK stuck out like a snowman’s broken appendage. There, stuck in the snow, aside the Straight River Trail in south Faribault.

Camera in hand, I paused on a recent afternoon trail walk to photograph the lost grey glove. Scenes like this intrigue me because there’s always a story. Who lost the glove? Why? Who found the glove and then decided to stick it on a stick? Would the woman who lost the glove find it?

Real life often prompts my creative writing. Several weeks ago I wrote with a fury over two days, under pressure to meet a contest deadline. In those two full days of creating, I wrote two pieces of creative nonfiction, two short stories and two poems. The Muse moved within me and I felt it.

More often than not, I tap into my life for ideas. The “write what you know” adage holds true for me.

In writing fiction, I can take a snippet of truth and craft it into a short story that rings with reality, except it’s not. A text shaped one of the pieces I crafted. The other story came from some dark place I have not yet unearthed.

The recent death of my mom resulted in a poem and a work of creative nonfiction. A sign in a barbershop window prompted the second piece of creative nonfiction.

And my second poem emerged from a previous walk along a riverside trail in Faribault. Not the same path of broken snowman appendage. But a place where fingers of snow wrote stories across asphalt.

TELL ME: If you are a creative, what inspires you in your writing/painting/creating? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling especially valued as a Minnesota creative February 18, 2022

A serene rural scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, my home county, shows the roots of my creativity in the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2013)

I’VE ALWAYS SENSED within the artistic community an unwavering support of one another. A kinship in creativity. A connection sparked by the sheer act of creating, whether by words, by music, by paintbrush or pencil or camera or hands or…

Craig Kotasek crafted these letterpress print promo posters for his current show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

And today I’m feeling especially valued by an artist I posted about just days ago—Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing in Le Sueur. I wrote about his Letterpress Print Show at The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery (Minnesota). If you haven’t viewed that story yet, click here to read my insights into his work and to see his incredible letterpress artistry showcased in my photos.

Well, Craig heard about my post, followed up with an email to me and then posted the kindest/loveliest/nicest review of my work on his website (click here). I am not only humbled by his generous words, but by his detailed gratitude for Minnesota Prairie Roots. He clearly understands me, my artistic and journalistic passions, my love for small towns and rural Minnesota, and my desire to share my discoveries.

Craig is just one example of how generous this community of creatives.

When we create, we share part of ourselves with the world. I cannot imagine not creating. That comes from a southwestern Minnesota farm girl who grew up with minimal exposure to the arts. No music lessons. No art classes. No gallery shows. No community concerts. Nothing outside the basic core of required class courses in middle and high school.

A snippet of the land my father farmed, my middle brother after him, on the rural Vesta farm where I grew up. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2013)

But what I lacked in the arts I found in the prairie landscape. In the unrelenting wind. In sunsets bold and beautiful. In snowstorms that washed all color from the earth. In wild pink roses pushing through road ditch grass. In the earthy scent of black dirt turned by a plow. I took it all in, every detail in a sparse land.

And I read. Laura Ingalls Wilder, pioneer girl from Walnut Grove only 20 miles distant. Nancy Drew with her inquisitive mind. Whatever books I could find in a town without a library.

Today I feel grateful to live blocks from a library. I feel grateful to have access to the arts. You will find me often posting about creatives on this blog. Creatives like Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing. He’s a gifted craftsman and artist specializing in letterpress printing. What a talented community of artists we have in rural Minnesota. I feel grateful to be part of that creative community.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on poet Robert Bly December 1, 2021

Books by Minnesota poet Robert Bly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

AS A PUBLISHED POET, you might expect me to read a lot of poetry. I confess that I don’t. I should, because through reading and studying others who practice our crafts, we learn.

So I determined, upon hearing of the death of renowned Minnesota poet Robert Bly on November 21, that I would read more of his poetry. I’ve checked out every Bly book available at my local library: What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey and Stealing Sugar from the Castle.

Interesting titles reveal likewise interesting poems crafted by an especially gifted writer.

Robert Bly also translated poetry, here “The Voices” by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

As I began to read Bly’s poems, I noticed the brevity. As any poet understands, each word in a poem must count. Bly seems especially adept at that. Poetry is perhaps the most difficult of writing genres.

I also see the influence of his upbringing on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. His roots are in Madison, near the South Dakota border. This small farming community is the self-proclaimed Lutefisk Capital of the US and home to a 25-foot-long fiberglass cod fish statue. Lutefisk is cod soaked in lye and a food of Norwegian heritage.

My copy of “The Voices,” translated by Robert Bly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

In Bly’s poetic voice, I hear rural reflected. From land to sky. Heritage strong. Faith interwoven. Solid work ethic. Agriculture defining small towns and occupations, threading through daily life. Bly writes with an awareness of his rural-ness, with a deep sense of place. I understand that given my roots on a southwestern Minnesota farm.

Yet, Bly’s writing isn’t defined solely by place. His world expanded when he joined the Navy after high school graduation, then attended St. Olaf College in Northfield for a year before transferring to Harvard. He pursued additional degrees. He was a prolific writer. A poet. An essayist. An activist.

While watching a public television documentary on Bly last week, I learned more about his activism. During the Vietnam War. In writing about men. He authored Iron John: A Book About Men, which remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 62 weeks. Sixty-two weeks. That’s saying something about Bly’s influence.

Robert Bly’s autograph in my first edition copy of “The Voices.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

He also translated the works of others, including Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Voices. It’s a slim volume of nine poems with a title poem. And I have a copy of that beautiful hardcover book, purchased several years back at a used book sale in Faribault. Mine is number 14 of 50 limited first edition copies published in 1977 by The Ally Press and autographed by Robert Bly. Now, upon the poet’s death, this collection holds even more significance. More value.

The final three lines in Bly’s poem, “Ravens Hiding in a Shoe,” summarize his passion for penning poetry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

Though Bly has passed at the age of 94, his legacy as a writer will endure. He scored many awards and accolades throughout his writing career. But I sense, even with that success, it was the craft of writing, the ability to pursue his passion for the written word, which he valued the most. That, too, I understand. For to write is to breathe.

#

FYI: To read another take on Bly, I direct you to gifted writer and poet Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, who blogs at One Minnesota Writer. She reflected on Bly in a post titled “Remembering Robert Bly.”

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling