Audrey (Kletscher) Helbling thinks she is a real honest writer who is "really connected to the land."
Helbling, a Vesta native and 1974 graduate of Wabasso High School, recently won the spring Roadside Poetry competition. Her four-line poem is posted on four billboards in Fergus Falls.
She started her writing career at the Wabasso High School newspaper, the Rabbit Tracks.
"I like to write, I've always loved language, words and reading," Helbling said.
She originally thought about studying German in college.
"But quickly realized I didn't want to teach," she said. So Helbling decided to study journalism. She was a reporter for the Gaylord Hub, the Sleepy Eye Dispatch, worked for the Mankato Free Press from the St. James news bureau and the Owatonna People's Press. She got married 29 years ago and her family moved to Faribault. She put writing on hold to raise her three children.
Helbling said she remembered writing poetry while in college, but nothing she necessarily showed to anyone.
Her local library system, Southeastern Libraries Cooperating, has an annual writing contest, Poetic Strokes.
"I thought, 'maybe I can try this,'" Helbling said.
So in 2000, she decided to enter one of her poems, including one titled "Prairie Sisters" about Laura and Mary Ingalls. Helbling has had several poems published in the anthologies.
She started seriously writing again in 2004 when she began doing articles for Minnesota Moments, a magazine based out of Cold Spring. Helbling does book reviews for every issue of Minnesota Moments, along with various feature stories. One of her most recent features was about rose gardens in Minnesota.
Helbling also does an online blog, Minnesota Prairie Roots, through WordPress. She said she mainly writes about her family. But her most popular blogs tend to be about old barns and country churches. She said that photography is also an integral part of her blog.
"It can be something simple as an ordinary part of life," Helbling said.
She appreciates the beauty of a desolate farmhouse.
"When I see them, I think about the people who lived there, the farmer who worked the land," she said. "I really do tap into my experiences of growing up on the southwest Minnesota prairie."
Her blog has been noticed by Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio's "News Cut," and MinnPost's "Blog Cabin." It also ended up being one of the featured blogs on WordPress.
"I think I got 1,200 views that day," she said. She said her blog gets an average of about 400 views per day.
She was going to write an article about the Roadside Poetry Project, which "celebrates the personal pulse of poetry in the public landscape," and is made possible by support from the Fergus Area College Foundation in Fergus Falls, according to the organization's website. But after reading the website, Helbling thought about writing a poem for the spring 2011 contest. It had to be four lines and 20 characters per line. She said it was a challenge.
"I think writing something short is more difficult than writing something long because every word counts," Helbling said.
As she tends to visualize what she is going to write about, Helbling said she envisioned black soil, the zinnias her mother planted in the spring and then sat down with a notebook and pencil. After several pages, she thought she had the right words for her four-line poem. But she let it sit for a couple of days, so she could look at it with fresh eyes.
"It was a thrill to succeed getting that poem on a billboard," Helbling said.
Not only does Helbling's writing appear in Minnesota Moments, she has also had works featured in greeting cards through Warner Press, a Christian-based company from Indiana, the Lutheran Witness and Lutheran Digest.