Robert Louis Peters is a poet, critic, scholar, playwright, editor, and actor born in an impoverished rural area of northern Wisconsin in 1924. He holds a Ph.D. His poetry career began in 1967 when his young son Richard died unexpectedly of spinal meningitis. The book commemorating this loss, Songs for a Son, was selected by poet Denise Levertov to be published byW.W. Norton in 1967, and it still remains in print. Songs for a Son began a flood of poetry.
Shortly after his divorce from his wife Jean, Peters met poet Paul Trachtenberg and established a relationship lasting over thirty-six years.
After army service during World War II, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, majoring in English. He received his B.A., in 1948, his M.A. in 1949, and his doctorate in 1952. His teaching career took him to Wayne State University, Boston University, Ohio Wesleyan, University of Idaho in the city of Moscow, University of Riverside, and then the University of California at Irvine, where he first taught in 1967. His field of study was Victorian literature, and in addition to publishing numerous articles and monographs, he edited, with Herbert Schueller, the letters of John Addington Symonds. Peters did receive a Fulbright Fellowship to Cambridge, England in the 60’s to work on these Symonds’ letters. After Peters’ Songs for a Son was published, he devoted more time to writing and study of contemporary poetry. Fellow poets Charles Wright and James McMichael and novelist Oakley Hall taught poetry at UC Irvine during this time and shared directorship of the university’s well known Master of Fine Arts program.
Peter is a prolific poet, having published some thirty books of poems, and he is an important critic of contemporary American poetry. In his controversial books of criticism—The Great American Poetry Bake-Off series, the Peters Black and Blue Guides to Current Literary Magazines, and Hunting the Snark: A Compendium of New Literary Terminology—he has assessed over 400 contemporary poets and critics. He also wrote poetry reviews for the Los Angeles Times.
He has been published by both large and small presses, including W.W. Norton, Wayne State University Press, Crossing Press, New Rivers, Cherry Valley Editions, Unicorn Press, GLB Publishing, Paragon House, and University of Wisconsin Press. In the fall of 2001, the 40th volume of his Familial Love and Other Misfortunes was published by Red Hen Press. Peters has served as a contributing editor for The American Book Review, Contact II, and Paintbrush.
His poetry covers a wide range of themes and forms, from intensely personal volumes of private celebrations and losses—the death of a son, the break-up of a marriage, and his rural Wisconsin origins—to excursions into the psyches of a vast gallery of historical eccentrics, numbering among them, a Bavarian king, a Hungarian countess (and mass murderer), and a British romantic painter. He adapted both King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Elizabeth Báthory the Hungarian Countess for theatrical presentation, performing them around the country. His Poems: Selected & New includes a rich sampling of work written over the past thirty years, while collecting in a single volume many of Peters’ best poems.
Peters has also judged competitions for fellowships and prizes for an assortment of small presses and for the Poetry Society of America and PEN International. He has enjoyed Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and won the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award of the Poetry Society of America.