By Christine A. Thompson
Photographs by Dr. Gregory Byrd
As I drove to downtown St. Petersburg, I began to wonder if my small class was experiencing the same emotions I was, those of anticipation may be a little bit of fear and the big one, intimidation. This wasn’t about arriving at a place in St. Petersburg I’d never been. That may have been a sliver of it, but it was about who we would be spending our two hours of class with Peter Meinke, Florida’s Poet Laureate.
Meinke put all those fears to rest with the first handshake. His grandfatherly demeanor was pleasantly unexpectant.
Eight of us sat around a table almost shoulder to shoulder in suspense waiting to hear what we would learn. He didn’t disappoint. It reminded me so much of the PBS English series, in which the Oxford professor sits with his students in his office or a coffee house in an informal lecture/discussion.
Peter is a man who loves to take time with beginner poets like us to answer questions, and to spur us on. His stories gave new insights on why a piece was written, or what gave him the ideas. They would make us think about how we could apply new techniques or ways to observe the ordinary, small objects around us in new ways; a broken stem of a flower becomes a broken dream or relationship.
He made us laugh, contemplate, and realize that he struggles just like us. He has writer’s block, no motivation to write. Yet does so anyway. Mr. Meinke reminded us it’s not just the writing but the reading as well that makes a better writer.
These are the four takeaways from this time. If you’re not a poet they can be applied to any creative writing project.
- He still finds ways to improve them even those poems that have been published a long time ago.
- Even for someone who is so accomplished, he still has a rough time writing a poem. This gives comfort in knowing that my writing a poem every day is rough is not uncommon.
- Take a little notebook with you where-ever you go. You never know when inspiration will hit or an idea will pop up.
- The four questions to ask oneself about a poem. What does it mean? b. What could it mean? c. what are the connections that can be made? d. How is this connected with me?
Many times we look at the well known as people to put on pedestals, then we learn about who they really are: Stuck up, or don’t care about the fans who by the way pay to experience their work.
Peter with all his accomplishments is a humble man who has no problem in expressing his flaws but how he has used them in his art form. This is overwhelmingly refreshing, especially to this beginner poet. I don’t need the taskmaster, but an encouraging word, beneficial constructive critiquing, with the air of wanting the student to succeed or improve whether or not they do have a piece published or just write for themselves.
And perhaps the neatest observation of the night is how the master has handed down his ways of teaching and love for poetry to his pupil Dr. Gregory Byrd.