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Place, nature influence professor’s poetry

September 03, 2013 2:00PM

Whether it is a crow clinging to the bare branches of an elm tree in his Pittsburg backyard or childhood memories of a family farm near Concordia, images of Kansas are part of the fabric of Stephen Meats’ powerful poetry. Meats, a professor of English at Pittsburg State University, will read selections from his most recent book of poetry and short stories, “Dark Dove Descending,” at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5, in the Governors Room of the Overman Student Center at PSU. The reading is free and open to the public.

Stephen Meats with new bookMeats, who joined the PSU faculty in 1979, has a reputation as a regional writer whose writing reflects “a passion for place-Kansas wind and sky.” He said his writing is informed by the things he sees in nature every day and by powerful human interactions and emotions that, like the Kansas landscape, may go unnoticed by the casual observer.

“The landscape and the wildlife (are important),” Meats said of his influences. “I include a lot of references to birds. There’s something transcendent in the flight of a bird.”

Meats said becoming a poet was a personal journey.

“I’ve scribbled all my life,” Meats said, “but I didn’t write my first poem until I was 35.”

His first book of poetry, “Looking for the Pale Eagle,” was published in 1993.

“I produce a book of poetry every 20 years, like clockwork,” Meats laughed, noting that the life of a professor and university administrator sometimes leaves little time for writing.

Over the years, Meats’ poems and short stories have appeared in a long list of journals, including Kansas Quarterly, The Quarterly, Tampa Review, Flint Hills Review, Prairie Poetry, Arete: The Journal of Sport Literature, and in the anthologies “Kansas Stories,” “Begin Again,” and “To the Stars Through Difficulties.”

In the classroom, Meats said, he tries to encourage young writers, even when their first efforts are not inspiring.

“With students, I try to be very encouraging,” Meats said. “I tell them the poems they’re writing now are not what they will write later. I teach a Walt Whitman class and one of the first things I do is show them samples of his early works. It’s God-awful doggerel.”

Meats is much tougher on his own writing, however.

“The longer I’ve written, the harder it has become, because the standard keeps going up,” Meats said. “Poems are made out of words and the poet is always looking for bits and pieces of language that have energy.”

Sometimes, in the search for those bits and pieces, magic happens.

“(When I wrote my first poem,) I had a sense that something had happened,” he said. “It’s a little bit mysterious.”

“Dark Dove Descending and Other Parables” is published by Mammoth Publications and is available online through Amazon, Walmart and other outlets. Meats’ reading is sponsored by the PSU Department of English.

©2013 Pittsburg State University

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