On Monday, St. Petersburg poet laureate Peter Meinke enlarged his domain when he was named poet laureate of Florida by Gov. Rick Scott.
"I guess I really am a Floridian now," Meinke said. "All these decades I've been thinking of myself as a guy from Brooklyn."
Meinke, 82, has lived in St. Petersburg since 1966 and is a professor emeritus of Eckerd College. For 27 years, he was the director of its creative writing program, which he founded when the school was still known as Florida Presbyterian College. "They brought me down here to get it started," Meinke said, noting that the program was one of the first undergraduate creative writing majors in the country.
He has held writer-in-residence and other appointments at several dozen colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. He was appointed poet laureate of St. Petersburg in 2009; he will be stepping down from that post.
Meinke has published 18 books and chapbooks of poems, many of them illustrated by his wife, Jeanne Meinke.
Eight of his poetry collections, including the most recent, Lucky Bones (2014), have been published by the prestigious Pitt Poetry series. His poetry has been praised both for its elegant craft and for its concrete, accessible style. Meinke has also written fiction and nonfiction; his first collection of short stories, The Piano Tuner, received the 1986 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. For several years, he has written a biweekly column, Poet's Notebook, for Creative Loafing.
Of hearing the news of his appointment from the governor's office, Meinke said, "I feel good, although I was surprised. I'll do the best job that I can."
Florida has had three previous poets laureate, all appointed by governors. The last laureate, Edmund Skellings, died in 2012. The Florida Legislature officially created the honorary post of poet laureate in 2014, and arts and cultural organizations helped create lists of candidates. The governor chose Meinke from those nominees.
Meinke's tenure will be announced officially June 26 at a reception during the national convention of the Federation of State Poetry Societies in St. Petersburg. He will also be the convention's keynote speaker.
According to the website of the state's Division of Cultural Affairs, the laureate serves one four-year term, with broadly defined duties: "Florida's Poet Laureate promotes reading, writing and the appreciation of poetry throughout the state and encourages students to express themselves through poetry and reading out loud."
Meinke says he genuinely enjoys giving readings, he says, and hopes to do so all around Florida. "I've been around so long that I know a lot of schools and a lot of people. I have good friends all over Florida, in Tallahassee, in Miami, in Orlando, in Gainesville. I know poets all over the state."
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