Readings, readings, everywhere …

… so you can stop and think.

| January 20, 2013
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- Jeanne Meinke

… Where was I? … I think the women are right: if food

and sex are all that matters a dog’s life upbeat

and flatulent would be better than ours …

The first poetry reading I ever gave was completely misleading. On Feb. 17, 1965, I wore a preacherly black robe and read to a packed house in the Hamline University Chapel in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was an assistant professor, Jeanne was in the audience, close to fainting; and all the students gathered there only because in 1965 Hamline had compulsory Wednesday morning chapel.

I hadn’t published much, but my poems were appearing in an exciting magazine, motive [sic], published by none other than the Methodist Church (trust me on this — it was apparently too exciting and got defunded in 1972); and Hamline was named for a Methodist bishop (not the Pied Piper — that was Hamelin).

Although the reading was successful enough — I printed out my thank-you remarks (THANK YOU, DEAN X), noting at the top, READ SLOW — I’ve enjoyed much more the hundreds of readings that were to follow, with far smaller audiences who, mostly, wanted to be there.

I’m remembering this because 2013 has begun with a rich convergence of literary readings in our area. Our four schools — Eckerd College, St. Pete College, UT and USF — have done a terrific job of hiring outstanding writers and attracting more students interested in the arts (not just STEM courses, as Governor Scott recommends).

Last week, UT sponsored its Lectores program — public readings as part of their new MFA Creative Writing program — and next week Eckerd College is holding its 9th Annual Writers in Paradise conference, with readings by Ann Patchett and others over an eight-day period. In February and March both St. Pete College and USF will host a series of poetry readings — and all four schools will be busy in April, National Poetry Month.

St Petersburg and the Bay area are already well-known for supporting the arts. The region’s literary identity — except for the high comedy of the Republican Convention — is less familiar, but is growing as students flock to the schools, and retired boomers move down for the good life. These colleges — with help from the Poynter Institute and others — have put together a great lineup of readings, so don’t give up on books yet: go on out and grab one of those empty seats at Miller Auditorium (Eckerd), Vaughn Center (UT), Gibbs Music Center (St. Pete College), or Marshall Student Center (USF). The readings are free, with generally palatable wine and cheese, also free; and writers, young and old, wandering around. That’s Dennis Lehane over there — and there’s Ann Hood! Who’s that funny-looking geezer with glasses? …

Readings, like art and music, appeal to different tastes — those who like Billy Collins may not like Maya Angelou; still, with a little effort you’ll soon find what you enjoy. Literature feeds the imagination, the most generous of our faculties — but it’s more than instructional: it can be fun.

I received a letter just today from Natasha Trethewey, the brilliant and accessible new Poet Laureate of the United States, which closed with “I hope to bring more people to poetry and to remind them that there is much of it that — instead of ignoring us — makes us remember that we are not alone.”

I’ll close with that, too. Come listen. You won’t be alone.

… Still … the branch may not break but like a

fiberglass wand bearing far more than its own weight

pull us all together to a temporary

clearing the sky making both sense

and beauty the high-pitched stars singing their linked songs

the trees calling also We have meaning meaning:

the animals staring with large reflective eyes

—Both quotes from “Multiple Readings” in Zinc Fingers by Peter Meinke (U. of Pittsburgh Press 2000). Peter will read with poet Beth Fennelly on Mon., Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m., at Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise Conference.

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