Monday, June 10, 2013

Life of a Poet ~ Helen Dehner

Kids, sometimes we cross each other's paths frequently, moving among similar sites, so I am sure many of you have enjoyed the writing of Helen Dehner at Poetry Matters. I am so looking  forward to our visit today! Just wait till you see the spectacular scenery Helen enjoys. Makes me wish this visit was in real time! Look out the airplane window at those peaks! It's like flying over the Himalayas (which I do often, the same way we're doing now!)

Poets United: Helen, you live in one of my favourite states – Oregon, though I am a coast girl and you live in Bend, in the mountains. Tell us a bit about your town and what you love about your life there. 

Helen: Bend is the most amazing place I have ever lived!  (I’ve lived in seven states – IL, MO, MD, MN, GA, FL, and OR.)  After spending most of my life in large cities .. Bend is like a drink of cool spring water, a deep breath of clean air – it’s refreshing.  No traffic to speak of, tremendously friendly people, good health care, great restaurants, countless outdoor activities, a thriving music scene, theatre, four seasons (none of them extreme), sunshine and blue skies most days, really unique round-about art, twelve breweries (we’ve been called “Beer Crazy Bend”.)   
I have four children, three sons (52, 51, 50) and one daughter (46), two grand children (16 and 20.)  My daughter and grand children live in Bend .. which is why I moved myself, my mother and my middle son cross country almost eight years ago.  A Westward Ho the Wagons sort of thing.

The collage includes photos of me, my three sons Louis (52) Carl (51) Chris (50) 
my daughter Elizabeth (45) granddaughter Jennifer (20) my grandson Charlie (almost 17) 
a photo of my daughter, and partner Steve (7+years). 

P.U.: We Grandmas do tend to live close to the grandkids. What a beautiful family you have!  Bend sounds wonderful! The gorgeous metal sculpture of horses on your banner – is that the entrance to your home? Do you know the artist?

Helen: The breathtaking metal sculpture on my banner was created by Greg Congleton.  It sits on the bank of the Deschutes River not far from my home.  Greg lives in the area and has other sculptures in place around Bend.  His work is amazing.

Around town-
Bend is full of traffic roundabouts .. most of them containing 
larger-than-life original sculpture. 

P.U.: Bend looks totally cool! I love all the sculptures. Where did you grow up, Helen? Who would you say was the biggest influence on you when you were a kid?

Helen: I was raised in a small town in Illinois right across the river from St. Louis, MO.  I am the oldest of three daughters.  My father passed away when we were young .. 16, 14 and 11.  My mother was only 35 – I can’t imagine how difficult raising us must have been.  We were blessed to have extended family surrounding us, our  maternal grandparents most of all.  I would have to say my music teacher (flute) was a huge influence in my life, as were a handful of educators along the way.
P.U.: When did you write your first poem? Do you remember what it was about?

Helen: I remember writing poems for relatives’ birthdays and sadly a few eulogies over the years.  I was my mother’s primary caregiver during the last five years of her life – she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease – and writing became therapy for me, a place to put my emotions, the frustration, the pain.     

P.U.: Have you written a poem you feel reflects or describes who you are? Or do you have a favorite you might like to share with us?

The road up to Mt. Bachelor-
about 20 minutes from our home

Helen: For starters, I don’t have ‘a style.’  I’m pretty eclectic when it comes to form, rhyme/no rhyme ... I enjoy creating the unexpected.  I believe everything I write reflects who I am.  No matter the challenge, topic, inspiration.   I write poetry when I feel happy, sad, frustrated and thankful.  When I cared for my mother, poetry reflected every up, every down.  I have attached several poems I wrote during the last few years of my mother’s life.     
I watch them as their day comes to a close
the continuous shuffling of bodies and souls
some of them walking unaided
some of them walking assisted
some of them being pushed in chairs ..
the familiar journey to a room
most of them can't recall from day to day
I wonder ~ will he or she be there the next time I visit
 I've grown so fond of them all 


I feel like a Pied Piper among fragile humans
Needing cues from their pasts to bring
Smiles to their faces
Light to their eyes
Music is the key 
I can help bring back memories of long ago 
When they were happy and carefree
When joy and freedom reigned
And images of their futures
Could not be fathomed 


Listen to the faraway
sound of the train
solitary companion
 in the middle of the night
focus on the wailing whistle
rhythmic beat and layered harmony
blotting out all the pain

(I wrote this for a “compose song lyrics in poetry form” challenge – I sing it to Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk from way back in 1956!!! )

Gonna sit myself down
Churn out some of that
Old time honky tonk music
I'm feelin' be-boppin' crazy
Rip roarin' ready
Finger snappin' groovy
Flowin' with the rhythm
Write that song while I
Move to the beat
Snap my gum
Tap my feet
Boogie-woogie, ragtime
It's in my core
I'm a honky tonk woman
           And a whole lot more            
P.U.: Even without the music, that honky tonk gets my feet tapping! I love all of them, Helen, especially your tender poems about the elderly, about to make their final journey. What do you love about poetry?

Helen: For me, writing poetry defines who I am .. where I’ve been .. where I dream of going.  I never know what might bubble to the surface!   I love the way reading poetry makes me feel.  I love being challenged, being transported to another realm.   (I may have a slight addiction to poetry?)

A nice view of The Three Sisters - North, South, Middle. 
We also have tremendous views of Broken Top, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Washington.  
We sit on the eastern side of the Cascades, dry and sunny High Desert country.

P.U.: Poetry is a good addiction! You have written about your love for music, saying it inspires you. Do you play an instrument? 

Helen: I come from a musical family.  My father could play ANY instrument you placed in his hands ~ by ear.   My sisters and I sang trios for family and around our small town .. as I progressed through school I sang in several music groups and played my flute.  I still have my flute, and yes I do play – though not as well as I used to!  I participated in flute solo contests for five years (ages 10-15) winning all sorts of medals. 

P.U.: It  sounds wonderful growing up with music in the family! Your industry before retirement was tourism and you mention a love of travel. Where have you traveled in the world? Which trip was the most golden in memory and why?

Where I write - my office in the loft

Me acting silly
in my office in the loft

Helen: I was blessed to work in travel management during years ‘freebies’ were passed out to industry folks.  As a result I have traveled the world –  missing out on the Middle East, Italy and Spain.  I still dream of touring Italy .. maybe one day.  I spent three weeks traveling (solo) in New Zealand and Australia – my   favourite destinations.  

Unbelievably the camera I used during that three week trip in 1985 malfunctioned and I returned with just a few.  Thank goodness for memories.

I found ONE photo from Australia, me in a bikini at The Great Barrier Reef ~~ which I won't share.  However, another interesting tidbit of trivia .... in 1994 my travel agency and Northwest Airlines sponsored an outdoor concert on Summer Solstice in Anchorage, Alaska.  50s entertainers, we flew in tons of them.  The concert lasted nine hours!  The sun never set. 

Here's a photo of me with Fabian.........

........and another with Lou Christie...........  

I also got up on stage and performed all of American Pie with Don McClean!!!  

P.U.: Get out! This is just one more example of someone saying "oh I'm so boring, no one wants to hear about me" and then blowing my doors off with their stories! I so love my job! 

Helen: In 1998 I was an invited guest to Bill Clinton's White House for the screening of a film the Mossier Foundation funded.  "Out Of The Past" which traced the emergence of gays and lesbians in American history.  Unfortunately President Clinton was fundraising that night.  I will never forget the feeling of walking through that security, going through the background checks. 

I saved my little cocktail napkin!

P.U.: Cool, kiddo! You have mentioned a love of theatre. Have you ever been involved in local theatre, or do you enjoy it from the audience?

Helen: I love theatre, behind the scenes and as a patron.  There are several fine community theatres in Bend, I work backstage crew for many productions.  I have a secret desire to (just once in my life) have a small part in a play – however I would have to audition –  the thought terrifies me.  

Where I relax with books, music and television

P.U.: I see you are also interested in film. From the viewpoint of watching them? (I adore good movies!), or have you been involved in a film project?

Helen: I have not been involved in film production .. I love watching movies, plain and simple.  From indies to epics.  No horror films, please.

P.U.: Are you also an artist?

Helen: I would never call myself an artist .. I’ve dabbled and that’s about it.

Top deck
(I also do quite of bit of pondering out here) 

P.U.: You mention volunteering, on your blog. What  causes are dear to your heart?

Helen: Our middle son was born with developmental disabilities.  As a result I have been involved in Special Olympics and lent assistance to many special needs organizations over the years.  During the last five years of my mother’s life I began volunteering in her memory care facility.  Proud to say I was named “Caregiver of the Year, 2006” by the Central Oregon Alzheimer’s Association.  

I have led countless songfests, played my flute, baked pies, called Bingo, applied makeup, held residents' hands through the last hours of their lives.  I still volunteer in memory care from time to time.  Since 1997 I have served as one of five trustees on the board of the Mossier Foundation ~  the foundation is focused on supporting the LGBT community.

View from the deck
P.U.: You do good work, Helen. Way to be! What do you love about blogging?

Helen: I love the friendships and enlightenment blogging brings to my life.  I love the challenge of being creative, which for me is the best brain exercise possible.  I love the thought of leaving all of this for my children, grand children, generations to come.   
P.U.: Well said. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Helen: I am so impressed with the talented writers who are responsible for Poets United – who keep it flourishing.  I’m honoured to have been asked by Sherry to share a bit about me, about my poetry.  Thank you. 

P.U.: Thank you, Helen, for allowing us this visit with you. It has truly been a pleasure.

Well, kids, another wonderful poet, another heartwarming life story. Every Monday I am reminded anew what a wonderful world this blogosphere is, filled with the loveliest of people. Let's spin the globe and put our finger down at random to see who we visit next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. smiles. helen is good people...and a poet...but you know what sets her apart...its the good people side..smiles...and her volunteering with the special needs shows a bit of that...

    nice interview ladies

    1. Thank you Mr. Brian ... you always say the sweetest things!

  2. This interview has knocked my socks off! How wonderful to read about Helen's journeys, and meet her family. I think Bend sounds like an amazing place to call home.

    1. Thanks so much Kerry ... I love visiting the Garden of Toads!! Bend is indeed an amazing place.

  3. Replies
    1. It was so much fun ... I remember the first poem I read that Sherry wrote ... "On Women and Shoes" ~~~ (it is epic) ~~ I became an instant fan!

  4. Wonderful interview of Helen, Sherry. Helen, how wonderful to read more about you. I think Bend, Oregon, must be a wonderful place to live. I loved the photos of you ant Fabian and Lou Christie and to sing "American Pie" with Don MacClean would be an experience to die for! And how cool to be invited to the White House for a film screening. Your blog is one I always enjoy. Love the diversity of your writing!! (And thank you, Sherry, once again!)

    1. Thank you so much, Mary. I love it when our paths cross in poetry cyberspace!!!

  5. Wonderful! It's so good to 'know' our fellow bloggers like this! And I'm grateful for Helen's frequent visits to my blog over the past few years. Great interview!

    1. How sweet of you to leave a comment ... have a great week, Rick!

  6. I'm so happy you enjoyed it, kids. I do love interviewing such wonderful people and hearing the stories of their lives. I have the best job in the world:)

    1. One more time ~~ thank you so much Sherry. I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the interview process.

      You are a Wild Woman and a delight!!

  7. Nice to know you Helen especially meeting such a beautiful person leaves one thanking to this forum and Sherry.

    1. I agree with you Akila ... Poets United and Sherry make an awesome team!!

  8. Helen, so great to read more about you! Love when I click on a link and see your banner pop up! I always know I'm in for a treat! You're so lucky to live near so much family! You're an inspiration through your poetry and your volunteer work!

  9. ... I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating ~~ when I see your blog header I automatically smile. Thank you for the compliment, Robyn.

  10. I loved reading all about Helen. She is an amazing woman, multi talented, who knew? Thanks so much Sherry!

    1. Multi-talented? Maybe we should just call me 'all over the place' ~~ thanks Annell.

  11. Thanks, Sherry, for introducing us to yet another fascinating person.

    1. .. and thank you Rosemary for coming to visit us.

  12. what fun to read this!Helen and I got together some time back while visiting in Bend- isn't it great to meet up with fellow bloggers!
    Have a lovely day!

    1. It was immediate 'friend' when we had our first handshake and a hug!!!

  13. Thank you for the lovely interview Sherry ~ Helen, you are so talented and I enjoyed getting to know more of you and your lovely family ~ Cheers ~

    1. The Life of a Poet series is such a neat way to learn more about the writers we read day in and day out ... Thanks for leaving a comment Grace.

  14. So glad you found the interview Loredana ... I had so much fun with Sherry during the 'process.'

  15. Wonderful piece about a wonderful poet and human being! How great to learn more about Helen and read some poetry I wasn't familiar with. :o) Thank you

  16. Thank you so much for the lovely compliment!
    I am in awe (and humbled) by the incredible talent of the writers I meet in cyberspace.

  17. Helen, I truly enjoyed meeting you here today. First of all I want make it clear you are certainly deserving of the artist tag. I am drawn to the writing of those who have spent time as a primary caregiver for elderly parents or ill loved ones. They seem to have a closer connection to the compassionate heart. Reading the poems you shared in the interview reminded of how difficult and at the same time rewarding that time can be. Thank you for sharing your life with us here at Poets United.


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