Bibliography

Evans, Steve. "Bob Perelman." In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 193, American Poets since World War II, edited by Joseph Conte. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998, pp. 266-281.

Monroe, Jonathan. "'Poetry, Community, Movement': A Conversation, with Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein, and Ann Lauterbach." Diacritics 26 (fall/winter 1996): 196-210.

Aimee Fifarek

PETERS, ROBERT (1924- ) Robert Peters is equally adept in confessional and observational modes of writing, brief, parabolic incantations, and book-length dramatic monologues. Besides being a poet, he is also a noteworthy scholar, critic, dramatist, and fiction writer. His chief influences are Theodore roethke, Robert BLY, and Robert Louis Stevenson, after whom he was named. His project is to find the connections between different poetic movements and, on a larger scale, different genres of writing. His work explores similar meetings of brutality and tenderness, the sublime and the grossly physical, memory and lived experience.

Peters was born and raised in northern Wisconsin. What he would later cite as the beginning of his life as a poet occurred in February 1960 when his four-year-old son Richard died of one-day meningitis. His first book of poetry, Songs for a Son, was chosen by Denise levertov in 1967 for a series of books she was editing. In 1952 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the 1966-67 academic year, and in 1974 he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He taught at several universities before finally settling at the University of California, Irvine, where he went on to teach for more than 30 years.

Although Peters sees brutality in the world, he does not try to avoid it. It is instead more important for him to be fully conscious in the face of trauma in order to render it more powerfully in language. He finds redemption in writing. This comes through in his erotic odes to John Dillinger and Robert Mitchum, the secret lusts of his youth. In maturity, having realized his identity as a poet and a homosexual, Peters retains his old longing; the only difference is in his freedom to articulate this longing.

An early work, "Christmas Poem 1966: Lines on an English Butcher-Shop Window" (1968), demonstrates well this willingness to confront—even to celebrate— violence. "O beautiful severed head of hog," Peters begins his catalogue of dismembered animal parts, ending with the almost euphoric exclamation, "I see you all!" To encounter this horror, then to speak of it is itself a triumph.

Pain threatens to destroy even language, as in Peters's poem "the child in the burnt house" (1974). The child "finds his father / charred, dead, huddled," and after escaping from the house, the stars "tell the child to sing. / but he can't do anything." Pain has overwhelmed the child, as it constantly threatens to overwhelm the adult poet. But language yields its own rewards. To speak is to survive.

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