Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting poetry & antiques in Oronoco April 7, 2015

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SOME ANTIQUE STORES are cluttered, dark, musty smelling. I suppose you can say that’s part of the character, the ambiance, the what-do-you-expect in a collection of old stuff.

This bust caught my eye.

This bust caught my eye at Antiques Oronoco.

But I prefer browsing in bright spaces where antiques and collectibles are showcased in artsy and creative ways.

Antiques Oronoco, north of Rochester, just off Highway 52.

Antiques Oronoco

That’s exactly what I discovered at Antiques Oronoco, located along West Frontage Road off U.S. Highway 52 just north of Rochester.

I expected to find Edgar Alan Poe collections beneath this perched raven. (Is this a raven?) But, instead, the books are titled "Treatment in General Medicine," "Bone/Tumors" and "Elimination Diets and Patients Allergies."

I expected to find Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven” beneath this raven.  But, instead, the books are titled “Treatment in General Medicine,” “Bone/Tumors” and “Elimination Diets and Patients Allergies.” Doesn’t matter. I truly like this artful way of displaying books.

A Native American sculpture.

A Native American sculpture.

A beautifully staged setting that lent an air of comfort and hominess.

A beautifully staged setting that presents comfort and hominess.

An unexpected scene as I rounded a corner.

An unexpected scene atop a vintage chest of drawers as I rounded a corner.

My eye is drawn to vignettes, merchandise staged to focus my interest. It’s in the details. The angle of a book. A cozy corner. Colors purposely grouped. The unexpected.

I was as much drawn to the art on the gravy bowl as to the writing on the edge of the aged shelving.

I was as much drawn to the art on the gravy bowl as to the writing, advertising KOOL cigarettes, on the edge of the aged shelving.

Sure, the standard shelving of merchandise exists at Antiques Oronoco. But there’s a visual orderliness and poetry in between.

A sign propped on an antique bike directs motorists to Antiques Oronoco.

A sign propped on an antique bike directs motorists to Antiques Oronoco.

I asked the owner for permission to photograph and for a business card. She handed me her card and I recognized her name, Yvonne Cariveau, a duplicate name for her daughter Yvonne Cariveau, an accomplished poet and enthuser of all things poetry (ie. Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride and Image & the Word) whom I know from Mankato.

As you often hear, it’s a small world.

The table is set as if for a special family dinner.

The table is set as if for a special family dinner.

On this Saturday, an unplanned stop at Oronoco Antiques reminded me that poetry is about more than words. It’s about connections and a friendly, welcoming smile. It’s about family. It’s about the ability to embrace each day, even after a tragic loss. Yvonne’s husband (the younger Yvonne’s father) died in a foggy December morning crash when another vehicle ran a stop sign at a rural Wisconsin intersection and slammed into Gordy and Yvonne Cariveau’s van.

One of Gordy Cariveau's favorite finds, and old scale which weighs accurate. According to charts on the scale, a 5'11" man should weight 170 pounds, for example. And a 5'5" woman, 132 pounds.

One of Gordy Cariveau’s favorite finds, an old scale which still weighs accurate today, according to Yvonnne. Charts on the scale claim a 5’11” man should weigh 170 pounds, for example. And a 5’5″ woman, 132 pounds.

I hugged the elder Yvonne the afternoon of my visit as she worked with family to stage and photograph items in her antique store. She possesses a remarkable strength and grace. And that, too, is poetry.

FYI: April is National Poetry Month, a celebration of all things poetry. Seek out poetry in your daily life. It is everywhere. In a blooming crocus, in a baby’s smile, in asparagus clipped from your backyard patch, in a cardinal’s call, in the words you type…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mankato’s newest public art project: “Poetry Walk and Ride” August 5, 2013

MANKATO HAS LAUNCHED its newest form of public art—poetry posted on signs in parks and along recreational trails.

My artsy effort to illustrate this post.

A scene I created to illustrate the poetry project.

The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride is designed “to inspire and encourage poets of all ages, to provide public art in our communities and to encourage exercise,” says Yvonne Cariveau who suggested the project to the Southern Minnesota Poets Society of which she is a member.

Serving on the committee for the Mankato and North Mankato CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, an exhibit of annual rotating outdoor sculptures, Cariveau envisioned a similar concept for poetry.

The Poets Society embraced the idea (member Susan Stevens Chambers organized a contest) and, with support from the cities of Mankato and North Mankato and numerous businesses, the project took off.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems, “The Thrill of Vertical.”

Today 34 poetry signs are up, mostly in Mankato, with a few in North Mankato, for reading and listening. Yes, listening. Poets recorded their poems, which can be accessed via phone, dialing (507) 403-4038 or scanning a QR code.

Me, next to my "Off to Mankato to 'get and education'" poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Me, next to my “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education'” poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Two of the 34 poems, 27 selected in a competitive process, are mine.

"Off to Mankato to 'get and education'", posted near Glenwood Gardens, in the background in this photo.

The setting in which one of my poems is posted near Glenwood Gardens.

You’ll find “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” near Glenwood Gardens close to the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Division Street. The poem was inspired by my arrival in the autumn of 1974 as a freshman at Bethany Lutheran College, located not all that far from the posted poem.

"The Thrill of Vertical," located next to Hiniker Pond.

“The Thrill of Vertical,” next to Hiniker Pond.

My second poem, placed at Hiniker Pond Park in what seems like North Mankato but is really Mankato, also was prompted by my college year experiences. In “The Thrill of Vertical,” I write about zipping down the curving and hilly streets of Mankato on my 10-speed bike. Interestingly, the street I remembered in writing this poem is where “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” is posted along a recreational trail. Back in the 70s, there was no such trail.

Reflecting on that hurtling ride, I can’t help but think how stupid I was to fly at such speeds, back hunched, hands gripping racing handlebars, no helmet and two narrow bicycle wheels separating me from unforgiving pavement.

Today that crazy college kid abandon is forever captured in words, now published for all to see and recorded for all to hear. Until next June, when the 2013 poetry signs will come down and new ones will be erected.

Likewise, the other published writers—all of whom had to live within a 50-mile radius of Mankato, who range in age from seven to over 70 and are anywhere from new poets to recognized published poets—wrote about topics such as Mankato history, the river, Fudgsicles, family, mentors and more.

The challenge in writing the poems, for me anyway, came in the restrictions of 40 characters or less per line in a poem limited to 18 lines. It is a good exercise for any poet, to write within such confines, to value every letter, every space, every word.

One hundred twenty poems, submitted in specified age categories for those in third to 12th grades and then in adult divisions of humorous and serious, were anonymously judged. Doris Stengel, past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, considered the adult entries while Peter Stein, League of Minnesota Poets youth chairperson, judged the youth poems. It is always rewarding as a poet to know that your work was selected on the basis of merit and quality rather than by name recognition.

The poems are posted in locations like this, near the shelter house in Hiniker Pond Park. the unobtrusive signs are about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

The poems are posted in locations like this, along a trail near the shelter house in Hiniker Pond Park. The unobtrusive signs are about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

In addition to the 27 winning poems, seven poems from notable Mankato area poets are among those posted.

Reaction to the poems thus far has been enthusiastic, says project initiator Cariveau, herself a poet. Her humorous poem, “Dreams of Coldstone,” was among those selected.

“People,” says Cariveau, “love the poems and are surprised by them.”

As for my reaction, I appreciate a project that makes poetry accessible. Those who may not otherwise read poetry likely will in an outdoor setting. Short poems. Easily read or heard. Non-intimidating. This is public word art at its best.

FYI: To read a list of the winning poets and the titles of their poems, click here.

For a map showing the locations of the posted poems, click here.

To learn about the Southern Minnesota Poets Society, click here.

You can hear me read my poems by calling (507) 403-4038 and then punching in 427 for “The Thrill of Vertical” and 416 for “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’”.

Information on the 2014 Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride contest will be posted early next year on the SMPS website.

A chapbook of this year’s poems will also be published and will be available for purchase via the SMPS website and perhaps at other locations in Mankato.

P.S. I did not showcase other poems here in photos because I was unaware of their locations when I was in Mankato to photograph mine.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An enlightening, poetic moment and more January 21, 2012

SOMETIMES I’M A SLOW LEARNER, mostly in math and science. But this time my delayed learning applies to words, specifically poetry.

Dear readers, don’t stop reading now simply because I mentioned the word “poetry.”

I prefer to read and write poetry that is down-to-earth and not so open to interpretation or overloaded with big words that I cannot possibly comprehend the content.

With that perspective, consider this: Poetry is meant to be read aloud.

“Duh,” you say. “She just figured that out.”

Yes, I did.

Poet Derek Liebertz reads a poem during "The Image and the Word 2012" reception. The poems are displayed next to the photos that inspired them.

Thanks to Derek Liebertz and Yvonne Cariveau, organizers of “The Image and the Word 2012” exhibit at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild in downtown Mankato, I now fully grasp the importance of reading poetry. Out loud. To an audience.

You see, I attended a reception Thursday evening for the poets and photographers whose work is featured in an exhibit that pairs photos and poems. During that event, Derek and Yvonne read poems inspired by those photos and also invited other participating poets, me among them, to read their works.

Only once, many, many years ago, have I read my poetry in public, unless, of course, you count all those times I read silly “married life” poems at cousins’ bridal showers decades ago. Public reading was not the easiest thing for me to do, but I managed.

The atmosphere on Thursday evening was so relaxed and casual, however, that I nearly breezed through reading two of the three poems I’d written. In hindsight, my readings could have been much better had I practiced at home. But I didn’t, and what’s done is done.

Yvonne Cariveau reads a poem. To the left is a photo taken by Kay Helms and voted as the "favorite photo" during the Thursday evening reception. The landscape image was taken along Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna.

The other poets, though, clearly were accustomed to and comfortable sharing their poetry with a listening audience. I listened with a learning ear, picking up on the drama, the cadence, the tone, the volume, the movement of the hands, the facial expressions and every nuance that conveyed the meaning and depth of a poem.

I got it. Finally.

That does not mean I’m eager to read poetry in public again. But I understand how a poem can be more fully appreciated when read aloud by its author.

Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

BESIDES THE POETRY lesson I learned Thursday evening, I also met and learned a bit about several other “The Image and the Word 2012” participants. Derek, for example, works as a programmer at his wife Yvonne’s company, Voyageur Web. Who would expect techies to write poetry? Not me. Derek, the most dramatic of the readers, tagged his day job as his “Clark Kent” persona. You have to appreciate a guy with that type of humor, which weaves into his writing.

Then I met John Othoudt, a retired highway department employee turned photographer. His exhibit photo of farmers gathered at the tailgate of a vintage pick-up truck was taken at the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show. With a single click of his mouse, John edited the image into a pencil drawing style that makes the photo appear vintage 1950s. It inspired me to write “Taking lunch to the men in the field,” recalling the afternoons my older brother and I did exactly that on the Redwood County crop and dairy farm where we grew up.

"Lunch Time" by John Othoudt of Lake Crystal

I’d encourage you to click here and check out John’s photography. This man has talent. I share his passion for noticing details and photographing the often overlooked everyday and ordinary things in life. He shoots in the moment, he says. His “Lunch Time” photo, for example, happened as he was planning another shot. I understand. Some of my best photos have simply happened, unexpectedly.

Then I met Terri DeGezelle, whose credentials are even more impressive than those she shared with me Thursday. Click here to learn more about this woman who has written 64 nonfiction children’s books and is also an avid nature photographer. Her “Artist’s Colors,” a photo of colorful chalk, won the best paired photo-to-poem honor at the reception. Susan Stevens Chambers wrote the accompanying poem. I loved Terry’s enthusiasm and warm personality and the pure passion she exudes for the crafts of writing and photography.

As I was preparing to leave and thanking Yvonne for organizing the exhibit, I talked briefly with John Calvin Rezmerski, who encouraged me in my writing. His “Window” poem was voted as the favorite poem. Only until later, back home, did I learn that he is the League of Minnesota Poets current Poet Laureate and a well-known, established poet with 20 books, chapbooks and anthologies to his credit. He’s retired from teaching creative writing, journalism, literature, storytelling and more at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. Unlike me, he’s quite experienced at reading his work in public.

I met other delightful individuals, too, including Kay Helms, whose “The Witness Tree” was selected as the favorite photo at Thursday’s reception. The stunning sunset image was taken along U.S. Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna.

Helms’ photography will be displayed February 17 – March 18 at the Arts Center of Saint Peter in a collection of words and photos highlighting individuals who worked the land in south central Minnesota. Click here for details.

IN SUMMARY, Thursday’s reception proved invaluable for me. I learned that I could stand (or sit) before an audience and read my poetry without too much trepidation. I learned that poetry shines when read. And, finally, even though I was likely the most novice of the participating poets, I felt comfortable among all that talent. They are a fine bunch of poets, but more important, they are warm, kind and welcoming individuals with whom I enjoyed networking.

CLICK HERE TO READ a previous post I wrote about “The Image and the Word 2012.”

Click here to learn more about me, my writing and photography, including my published poetry credits.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Lunch Time” photo courtesy of and copyrighted by John Othoudt

 

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