Friday, April 30, 2010

On the retirement of Mike Peich

Today is the last day of the semester at West Chester and the last "teaching day" of my good friend and colleague's long and illustrious career in the English Department.

Mike Peich (it's pronounced "pike") is retiring.

To say his career at the university as been auspicious would hardly do it justice. He has enjoyed a 42-year run that would place him in the Hall of Fame of English profs, if ever such a place existed. And he did it all without a Ph.D., a fact that deserves some mention here, if only because university administrators, their colleges and nearly every academic program on every American campus has made this a requirement for employment in the last 10 years or so.

Peich's work in his field should forever stand as testimony that the people without a Ph.D. can also make a lasting mark on their profession.

Peich's forte for the last several decades has been book printing. He runs the Aralia Press, a small but prestigous publishing endeavor that is located on the 5th floor of the university's Green Library. Every year, he prints another two or three volumes of poetry books on an old hand-lettered press, the kind of technology Ben Franklin might have used to print his Colonial-era newspapers. He has designed, printed and published more than 80 poetry books since its founding.

Usually his press run is between 100 and 150 books. They are revered and collected by poetry aficianadoes and libraries all across America. He has published some of the nation's finest and most lauded poets in the nation: Kay Ryan (America's current poet laureate); Richard Wilbur (who has also held that title); Anthony Hecht and A.E. Stallings. He is currently working on a book of poems by Pulitzer prize winner Nastasha Trethewey.

In addition, 16 years ago he and his friend, the poet Dana Goia, started the West Chester Poetry Conference, the nation's pre-eminent conference dedicated to "form" poetry. Every June, hundreds of poets, poetry profs, high school literature teachers and people interested in poetry come to West Chester to attend the conference and to hear some of the country's most revered poets read their poems and conduct work shops to assist aspiring poets hone their craft. This year's conference will run on West Chester's campus from June 9th though the 12th.

Of significant note is that he raised more than $3.5 million over his long academic career to help establish the poetry conference and to purchase and establish The Poetry House on the university's campus.

Peich enjoyed a long, personal relationship with the Phillies' braodcaster Richie Ashburn. On the weekend Ashburn was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Peich was invited to attend the ceremony at Ashburn's behest and he was Ashburn's personal chauffeur for the weekend.

He will continue to print his poetry books out of that tiny 5th floor office where the Aralia Press is located, so his presence on campus will not be too sorely missed. And he will continue to be affiliated with the poetry conference in an advisory capacity.

He is a giant in the field. The very least we can do is give him a shout out today and to acknowledge all he has accomplished in 40 years at West Chester.

Mr. Peich, your students will miss you. Your colleagues commend you for all you have accomplished. We look forward, with great anticipation, to see what you might still accomplish now that you have time on your hands to devote to your beloved press and those incredible books of poems you so lovingly create.


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