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Create, Critique, Appreciate

Feb. 5, 2018 — “Dynamics plus chemistry equals poetry,” declared English Teacher Peter Jenkins, opening a recent Creative Writing class. Poet-in-Residence Anna George Meek ’87, joining the class that day, blurted out a hearty “Yay!”

Meek’s visceral enthusiasm for the written word set the tone for the class.

“The culture of poetry is growing in the U.S.,” she said. “It’s just human nature to create art.” Not that it’s easy, she added. “The experience of creative writing is blood, sweat, and tears.” Meek challenged the students to produce a piece that was hard for them to write. “We’ve all got hard stuff,” she said. Write about it, and “you’ll see what language can and can’t do.” 

The daughter of two professors, one a well-known poet, Meek says she’s not sure whether she chose poetry or poetry chose her. She’s the award-winning author of two poetry volumes and has published in many prestigious journals. Meek is also a professional singer and a professor of English at Minnesota’s Normandale Community College.

Before her visit, Jenkins assigned students to read Meek’s poem, “Trio for Poetry Reading, Cell Phone Call, and Muffled Rock Band,” and write their own poem in response to it. Students — none visibly cowed by the presence of a published writer in the classroom — read their work aloud.

“Honest criticism, please,” requested Jenkins, and it flowed, just a trickle at first, then a steady stream. “Good; you let the images do the talking,” Meek said after Seamus Garland ’18 finished his piece, which invoked all five senses to describe birds on a spring morning. “Having Anna Meek visit our class made me understand that even professionals truly appreciate and try to learn from anyone's poetry, even seniors in a creative writing class,” he said. “She genuinely cared about our writing, showing that anyone who wants to become a writer has the potential to be one.”

“Her passion for poetry created an atmosphere in the room that made poetry feel easy and fun,” said Alex Dumitriu Carcoana ’18. His poem had a killer first line: “Some things never leave a person.” That brought praise from Zoe Jacobs ’18, who liked his use of rhyme and the way he wrote about childhood in a sophisticated way. Jacobs said she was excited “to see the artist behind the poetry” during Meek’s visit. “I definitely have a better picture of the possibilities of becoming a writer, especially a poet,” she added. “The fact that she is an NMH alum reassured me that I am in good hands, and that our English department sets us up to succeed through honing critical and creative thinking.” 

After class, Carcoana was feeling nostalgic, as seniors will. “Seeing an alum coming back to her school after 30 years with a big smile makes me want to appreciate the few months I have left here,” he said. “That’s going to be me someday!” — By Emily Weir