Peters, Robert, 1924-....

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American poet, critic, scholar, and teacher, Robert Peters was born in 1924 in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and grew up on a farm. He studied British literature at the University of Wisconsin and received his doctorate in 1952; taught at several institutions before joining the faculty of the University of California, Riverside (1963-1968), and, later, transferring to the University of California, Irvine, where he retired in 1991. In addition to teaching, Peters has published numerous volumes of poetry, including Cool Zebras of Light (1974), Love Poems for Robert Mitchum (1981), and Makar's Dozens (2006); has read and performed his works internationally, especially "Ludwig of Bavaria" and "The Blood Countess"; and wrote critical reviews of contemporary poetry for small-press magazines, beginning in the 1970s.

From the description of Robert Peters papers, 1960-2005. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 64203472


Robert Peters, distinguished American poet, critic, scholar and teacher, was born in 1924 in Eagle River, Wisconsin. His father, Samuel, and mother, Dorothy, were farmers, and his own hard physical work and closeness to the land may contribute to the preference for the concrete over the abstract in his poetry, criticism, and scholarship. He studied British literature at the University of Wisconsin, receiving the Ph.D. degree in 1952 with a dissertation on several late Victorian poets and their relationship to the visual arts. It served as the basis for his major scholarly work, THE CROWNS OF APOLLO: SWINBURNE'S PRINCIPLES OF LITERATURE AND ART (Wayne State University Press, 1965). He co-edited the 3-volume edition of THE LETTERS OF JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONS (Wayne State University Press, 1967-69) and edited LETTERS TO A TUTOR: THE TENNYSON FAMILY LETTERS TO HENRY GRAHAM DAYKINS, 1866-1911 (Scarecrow Press, 1988) and Edmund Gosse's diary of his visit to America (Purdue University, 1966) among other scholarly pursuits in the field of Victorian literature. After several post-doctoral stints (University of Idaho, Boston University, and Ohio Wesleyan University), Peters received tenure in the English Department of Wayne State University. In 1963, he was hired by the rapidly expanding University of California, Riverside and five years later transferred to the University of California, Irvine, from which he retired in 1991.

Peters had felt the urge to be a writer from his adolescent years, but college studies, military service (1943-46), his teaching and research responsibilities, and raising a family -- he was married in 1950 and had three children by 1959 -- provided him with little time to pursue non-academic writing seriously. However, the sudden death from meningitis at age five of his second son, Richard, in 1960 led to an outpouring of poetry that was collected in his first major volume, SONGS FOR A SON, published in 1967 by W.W. Norton on the strong recommendation of Denise Levertov. Early influences on his work are varied, and include Robert Bly, James Dickey, Allen Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, and Gary Snyder.

Although he continued to teach and do research in Victorian literature, particularly on Symonds and the Tennyson family, until his retirement, from 1967 on Peters' identity increasingly became that of a poet and critic of contemporary poetry. SONGS FOR A SON was followed quickly by THE SOWS HEAD AND OTHER POEMS (1968), CONNECTIONS IN THE ENGLISH LAKE DISTRICT (1972), RED MIDNIGHT MOON (1973), COOL ZEBRAS OF LIGHT AND HOLY COW: PARABLE POEMS (both 1974), BRONCHIAL TANGLE, HEART SYSTEM (1975), GAUGUIN'S CHAIR: SELECTED POEMS 1967-1974 (1977), and THE DROWNED MAN TO THE FISH (1978). In 1973, the first of what would become a long-standing interest in biographical poetry, BYRON EXHUMED: A VERSE SUITE, appeared. It was followed by THE GIFT TO BE SIMPLE: A GARLAND FOR MOTHER ANN LEE (1975), HAWTHORNE: POEMS ADAPTED FROM JOURNALS (1977), THE PICNIC IN THE SNOW: LUDWIG OF BAVARIA (1981), HAWKER (1984, winner of the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize), KANE (1985), THE BLOOD COUNTESS: ERZEBET OF HUNGARY (1987), SHAKER LIGHT: MOTHER ANN LEE IN AMERICA (1987), and HAYDON (1989). Peters also adapted his work on King Ludwig and the Blood Countess into performance pieces, which he has performed internationally.

After his divorce in 1972 and meeting with life partner and fellow poet Paul Trachtenberg (b. 1948) later that year, Peters' poetry began to reflect his experiences as a middle-aged gay man; this theme is particularly apparent in COOL ZEBRAS OF LIGHT (1974), THE POET AS ICS-SKATER (1975), LOVE POEMS FOR ROBERT MITCHUM (1981), and WHAT DILLINGER MEANT TO ME (1983). In his mid-sixties, Peters began to write autobiographical work, including CRUNCHING GRAVEL: GROWING UP IN THE THIRTIES (1988), FOR YOU, LILI MARLENE: A MEMOIR OF WORLD WAR II (1995), and FEATHER: A CHILD'S DEATH AND LIFE (1997).

Feeling that too much academic criticism of poetry had become overly theoretical, Peters began publishing reviews of contemporary poetry in the 1970s, primarily in small-press magazines. These reviews were collected in three volumes entitled The Great American Poetry Bake-Off (1979, 1982, 1987). In this same vein, he began writing reviews of the little magazines themselves; these have been published, also in three volumes, as The Peters Black and Blue Guide(s) to Current Literary Journals (1983, 1985, 1987). The astuteness and the directness of tone and language in these reviews and their wide circulation among small press readers led Peters to receive and write an unusually large amount of correspondence with contemporary poets, all of which is preserved in archives here at UCSD and at the University of Kansas.

Peters and Trachtenberg live in Huntington Beach, California, where they continue to write, read, and attend Scrabble® tournaments and the occasional casino.

From the guide to the Robert Peters Papers, 1960 - 2005, (University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Paul Vangelisti Papers, 1970-2009 Mandeville Special Collections Library
referencedIn Griffith, E. V., 1927-. E.V. Griffith papers, ca. 1945-1995. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Dick Higgins papers, 1960-1994, 1972-1993 Getty Research Institute
creatorOf Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Lawrence Ferlinghetti papers, 1919-2003. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Symonds, John Addington, 1840-1893. Papers, 1844-1967. Indiana University
creatorOf Northup, Harry E. Harry Northup papers, 1940-2010. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Peters, Robert, 1924-. Papers 1970-1998. Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
creatorOf Choice Magazine. Records, 1961-1970. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
creatorOf Peters, Robert, 1924-. Robert Peters papers, 1960-2005. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
referencedIn Harry Northup Papers, 1940-2002 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
creatorOf Vangelisti, Paul. Paul Vangelisti Papers, 1970-2009. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Higgins, Dick, 1938-1998. Dick Higgins papers, ca. 1960-1994 (bulk 1972-1993). Getty Research Institute
creatorOf Robert Peters Papers, 1960 - 2005 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Choice Magazine. corporateBody
associatedWith Eshleman, Clayton, person
associatedWith Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. person
associatedWith Griffith, E. V., 1927- person
associatedWith Higgins, Dick, 1938-1998. person
associatedWith Northup, Harry E. person
associatedWith Prado, Holly, person
associatedWith Symonds, John Addington, 1840-1893. person
associatedWith Vangelisti, Paul person
associatedWith Vangelisti, Paul. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
American poetry
Gay men
Gay men
Gay men
Gay men


Birth 1924-10-20





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SNAC ID: 67618711