Peter Meinke named Florida Poet Laureate

Helen Pruitt Wallace will succeed the CL columnist as St. Petersburg's Laureate.

First St. Petersburg, tomorrow the world!

Or at least, Florida. Peter Meinke, the Creative Loafing columnist and St. Petersburg poet laureate, is movin' on up: He has just been named Florida Poet Laureate, a four-year honorary position established by the Legislature in 2014. 

According to the website of the state's Dept. of Cultural Affairs, the Florida 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 himself is a highly engaging reader-out-loud, not to mention a wonderful and wonderfully accessible poet, so the students of Florida are in for a treat, and not a little inspiration. He will be the first Florida Laureate to occupy the position since it was reconfigured as a four-year rather than a lifetime appointment. Meinke succeeds Dr. Edmund Skelling, who was appointed by Gov. Bob Graham in 1980 and died in 2012.

According to a spokesperson for the cultural affairs department, Meinke was selected from 15 nominees from across the state via a "very competitive" selection process. The nominees were submitted to the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, but the final say was Governor Rick Scott's.

Given that Meinke's award-winning Poet's Notebook columns for CL haven't been exactly supportive of the current governor, the poet regards his selection as "a victory for American democracy." Or maybe it just means Scott's a good sport, or doesn't (yet) read CL.

The Florida Poet Laureate position is unpaid, which Meinke is fine with, though he does envy the poets laureate of the UK.  He recalls that "one of England's recent laureates, John Betjeman, insisted on getting paid in the traditional way, with a 'barrel of sherry' (his translation of the old 'butt of sack'). I'd settle for a decent bottle of good scotch."

The St. Pete poet's laureate seat won't stay empty for long. A selection committee has named Helen Pruitt Wallace to the three-year position, beginning in January 2016. An assistant professor of creative writing at Eckerd College, Wallace is an award-winning poet who has published in multiple journals and anthologies, and, like Meinke, possesses both a shining literary talent and considerable personal charm.  Wayne Atherholt, Maureen McDole, Roy Peter Clark, Thomas Hallock, Mitzi Gordon, Colette Bancroft, Bob Devin Jones, and Meinke took part in the decision-making process for the position. 

Wallace is delighted, if a little daunted, by the honor.

"It's hard to follow Peter Meinke," she said. "How can anybody do that?"


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