Scope and Content of Collection
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla 92093-0175
Title: Robert Peters Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0672
19.4 Linear feet
(19 archives boxes, 4 card file boxes, 12 records cartons and 6 oversize folders)
Date (inclusive): 1960 - 2005
Abstract: Papers of Robert Peters, American poet, critic, scholar, and teacher. A professor of literature (1968-1991) at the University
of California, Irvine, Peters reviewed contemporary poetry for small press magazines beginning in the 1970s, published over
thirty poetry collections, and performed his work internationally. Materials include manuscript drafts of recent writing,
including individual poems and drafts for collected poetry publications, book reviews (1993-2001); several novels; play scripts;
correspondence; and journals.
Scope and Content of Collection
Papers of Robert Peters, American poet, critic, scholar, and teacher. A professor of literature (1968-1991) at the University
of California, Irvine, Peters reviewed contemporary poetry for small press magazines beginning in the 1970s, published numerous
poetry collections, and performed his work internationally. The collection contains manuscript drafts of recent writing, including
individual poems, collected poetry publications, book reviews (1993-2001), plays, journals (1957-2004), and novels. Also includes
correspondence with family members, friends, colleagues and editors; interviews; audiocassette tapes of Peters' readings and
performances; and photographs of Peters. Photograph albums document Peters' personal life, travels and his relationship with
his partner, Paul Trachtenberg.
The papers are arranged in seven series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) CORRESPONDENCE, 3) WRITINGS, 4) WRITINGS OF OTHERS,
5) JOURNALS, 6) PHOTOGRAPHS, and 7) SOUND RECORDINGS.
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 1992.
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 ICE-SKATER (1975), LOVE POEMS FOR ROBERT MITCHUM (1981), WHAT DILLINGER MEANT TO ME (1983), and in SNAPSHOTS
OF A SERIAL KILLER: A FICTION AND A PLAY (1992). 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), FEATHER: A CHILD'S
DEATH AND LIFE (1997), and FAMILIAL LOVE AND OTHER MISFORTUNES: POEMS OF MY EARLY YEARS (2002).
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 four volumes entitled The Great American
Poetry Bake-Off (1979, 1982, 1987, 1991). 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 at UC San Diego and at the University of Kansas.
In the mid-2000s, Peters began to exhibit symptoms of dementia. He and Trachtenberg, who wed in 2008, enjoyed attending Scrabble®
tournaments, visiting the occasional casino, reading and writing, but no further books appeared. Peters died at his home in
Huntington Beach on June 13, 2014.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Robert Peters Papers, MSS 672. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.
Acquired 2005, 2016.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
American poetry -- 20th century
Gay men -- United States -- Poetry
Gay men -- United States
Eshleman, Clayton -- Correspondence
Peters, Robert -- Archives
Prado, Holly -- Archives
Northup, Harry E. -- Archives