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Robert Peters Papers
MSS 0672  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Peters, Robert, 1924-
    Title: Robert Peters Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1960 - 2005
    Extent: 19.40 linear feet (19 archives boxes, 4 card file boxes, 12 records cartons and 6 oversize folders)
    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 numerous poetry collections, and performed his work internationally. Materials include manuscript drafts of recent writing, including individual poems and drafts for collected poetry publications, especially FAMILIAL LOVE AND OTHER MISFORTUNES: POEMS OF MY EARLY YEARS (2002) and MAKAR'S DOZENS (2006); book reviews (1993-2001); several novels; play scripts; and documentation for performances of "Ludwig" and the "Blood Countess." Also includes correspondence with family members, friends, colleagues, and editors; interviews with Peters; audiocassette recordings of his readings and performances; journals (1966-2004); and photographs of people, performances, and travels.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0672
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Robert Peters Papers, MSS 0672. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    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.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers of poet Robert Peters contain 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) AUDIORECORDINGS.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Miscellaneous, B) Interviews and C) Peters' Family.
    A) The Miscellaneous subseries contains memorabilia and documents related to important events in Peters' life, biographical and bibliographical information, and keepsakes.
    B) The Interviews subseries, arranged alphabetically by interviewer, includes published interviews, as well as drafts of biographical questionnaires.
    C) The Peters' Family subseries largely contains materials related to the death of Peters' infant son, Richard, including a "death journal" and family correspondence.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series is arranged in two subseries: A) Family and B) Professional. The first subseries contains recent correspondence with Peters' two sons, Jeff and Robert, and his daughter, Margaret, among other family members. The Professional subseries largely relates to the publication of his poetry.
    The WRITINGS series is arranged in nine subseries: A) Reviews, B) Novels, C) Short Fiction, D) Plays, E) Collected Poetry, F) Individual Poems, G) Non-Fiction, H) Essays, and I) Miscellaneous.
    A) The Reviews subseries includes manuscript drafts of recent (1993-2001) book reviews by Peters' of other poet's published work. The reviews are arranged chronologically.
    B) The Novels subseries, arranged chronologically, contains drafts of unpublished novels.
    C) The Short Fiction subseries includes three works.
    D) The Plays subseries contains scripts for many of Peters' performances, including the "Blood Countess," "Ludwig of Bavaria" and "Serial Killer: A Play for Single Performer." The subseries also includes the costume for "Ludwig of Bavaria."
    E) Materials in the Collected Poetry subseries date from 1992 and include LOVE POEMS FOR ROBERT MITCHUM (1992), FAMILIAL LOVE AND OTHER MISFORTUNES: POEMS OF MY EARLY YEARS (2002), and MAKAR'S DOZENS (2006).
    F) The Individual Poems subseries contains drafts of poems arranged alphabetically by title.
    G) The Non-Fiction subseries, arranged chronologically, contains published and unpublish works related to Peters' early life and career.
    H) In the Essays subseries are short essays on poets Katherine Ann Porter and Charles Bukowski, the Los Angeles poetry scene and a visit with William S. Burroughs.
    I) The Miscellaneous subseries contains a tribute to Charles Bukowski of poems by other authors collected by Peters and files related to publication business.
    Included in the WRITINGS OF OTHERS series are several works by Peter's relatives, as well as other authors.
    The JOURNALS series, arranged in chronologically, contains bound blank books (bulk 1966-2004) with diaristic entries, poem drafts, memorabilia and photographs pasted in, and occasional letters that document Peters' life.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series is arranged in two subseries: A) Photoalbums and B) Prints and Slides.
    A) The Photoalbums (1977-2003) subseries comprises snapshot color photoprints pasted into albums that describe Peters' travels, especially with Paul Trachtenberg. At the end of this series is a World War II album documenting his service in Europe.
    B) The Prints and Slides subseries largely documents Peters' performances and contains publicity images taken for book jackets and portfolios.
    The AUDIORECORDINGS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Readings by Peters, B) Readings by Others and C) Interviews.
    A) The Readings by Peters subseries contains audiocassette tapes of poetry readings at UCI and other venues.
    B) The Readings by Others subseries contains tapes collected by Peters.
    C) The Interviews subseries includes audio versions of interviews with Peters.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Peters, Robert, 1924- -- Archives
    American poetry -- 20th century
    Gay men -- United States
    Gay men -- United States -- Poetry


    Eshleman, Clayton, -- correspondent
    Northup, Harry E., -- correspondent
    Prado, Holly, -- correspondent