BY LUKE WILLIAMS
Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 00:10
A faculty member of the Marshall University English department won the 2010 Robert Watson Poetry Award for her work, "Muckfire."
Rachel Peckham, assistant professor of English and editor of "Et Cetera," Marshall's literary magazine, received a $500 award in addition to a printing of her chapbook, according to a press release from Jane Hill, chairwoman of the English department.
Peckham wrote the majority of the work last spring through the Center for Teaching and Learning's research boot camp, which lets new faculty reserve time to break away from distractions and write.
"I needed a break from a longer memoir I was writing," Peckham said. "I needed something that made writing fun again. At the end of the boot camp, I had a book. I never expected to have something that cohesive."
Peckham explained that "Muckfire" is a piece of prose poetry, a form of writing that blends the form of prose with the rhythm, pattern and metaphor of poetry.
"You can play with sound, things like assonance, that you can't sustain in a longer piece of prose," Peckham said. "Prose poetry fits better when writing about an aspect of the human condition that's harder to pin down. If I know that a piece needs to be in an essay form, I have to wrestle with it to get the idea out. With a prosepoem, the idea is there – I'm performing the idea."
"Muckfire" is based on Peckham's experience growing up on a hog farm in southern Michigan and refers to a fire that burned for a whole summer.
"Muckfires are difficult to put out because they burn under the surface - they smolder," Peckham said. "I used it as a metaphor for the fires we harbor inside ourselves."
Peckham said she used this metaphor to talk about secrecy and suppression of drama, which she observed in friends and family.
"I'm not saying my family are brooders," Packham said. "It's just when there's conflict, we don't confront it directly. It gets worked out in ways we don't expect. The work is autobiographical, though. It says more about me than it does about them."
Peckham is now working more short creative writing forms like prose poetry, flash fiction and vignette into her classes.
"Students really enjoy experimenting with these forms, and not just because they're short," Peckham said. "Because it's short, you agonize over what parts to put in. There's so much possibility - how do you know where to draw the frame?"
She said there are resources and a community of writers at Marshall University from which faculty and students can gain support.
"I wouldn't have written this collection without it," Peckham said. "Now I think, ‘What can I contribute?' I try to make sure my students have a space to experiment, to ‘pay it forth,' and my workshops feed that need in them."
Luke Williams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FONTE: MU The Parthenon