Today, for the first time, St. Petersburg will have a poet laureate.
At 3 p.m., the City Council will proclaim St. Petersburg a City of Writers and bestow the title of poet laureate on Peter Meinke, a prize-winning poet, essayist, fiction writer and professor emeritus and former director of the writing workshop at Eckerd College.
"I'm very pleased I was chosen," Meinke, 76, said from his home in the Old Southeast neighborhood, where he lives with his wife, artist Jeanne Meinke.
"In the 40-plus years we've lived here, St. Petersburg has become more and more literary and art friendly. When I look out my window, I see potters to the left of me and actors to the right."
Meinke said he isn't sure yet exactly what his duties will be. "I'm sure I'll do a reading here and there. I'll try to represent the city well."
He'll miss his own elevation to laureate, though. "We'll be in New York City visiting our children and some old college friends," said Meinke, who grew up in Brooklyn. "We'll stop by the Algonquin," the hotel famed for the literary Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s, "and toast the occasion."
The impetus for the proclamation came from a group called City of Writers, led by Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit organization for the study of journalism, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.
The group was formed last year, and the proclamation was one of its first projects. "It only took a year, and a little nudging during the political season," Clark said.
When the City of Writers designation was proposed to Mayor Rick Baker, Clark said, he was interested but wanted "some real-life demos of how such a project would work. Most of it already existed in the city." The organization will function as a network to bring together writers and readers of many kinds.
An upcoming City of Writers project is a writing workshop at Poynter on June 13. Its aim is "as broad as possible. It's for people who want to write better at work, publish creative work, write essays, memoirs, legacy writing, and for teachers and students," Clark said. (For information, go to Poynter.org or call (727)821-9494.)
Making St. Petersburg a City of Writers cost "nothing beyond the paper the proclamation is on," Clark said, and could bring in resources such as arts grants.
Meinke's appointment as poet laureate won't break the city budget either. As he said with a laugh, "As far as I know, it's the usual salary for poets, which is zippo."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.