robert peters (1924-2014) / by Greg Bills

 Robert Peters

Robert Peters

The singular American poet Roberts Peters died on June 13, 2014 at the age of 89.  He was one of the members of my MFA thesis committee at UC Irvine, where he taught for many years.  Both in the course I took with him and in the consultations we had about my novel, Bob was a magnetic figure.  I was a bit in awe and a bit frightened of him--and not entirely without reason.  Bob had a puckish side, and in our poetry class, he rather enjoyed asking me to read what could only be described as the "dirty bits" of whatever poem we were examining (that bee clutching the hairy stem in Whitman).  I was a young, embarrassable gay man, and he was a ferocious, gay lion in winter.  So he was an intimidating but a fascinating figure. And he was very generous with his time and very gracious in inviting me, and later, me and my boyfriend to his house.  I got the chance to meet his partner of (now) 36 years, Paul Trachtenberg, and see a vision of what a writer's life might look like.  I remember being left alone for a moment in his study, listening to the Carter Family singing softly out of a small cassette player, and thinking about the long journey Bob had taken from his Depression-era childhood in rural Wisconsin. I also had the opportunity to see him perform in full costume, one of his signature dramatic monologues, The Blood Countess, with extraordinary intensity.  His fierce spirit lives in every poem he wrote.

Here is a small example of his work from a reading recorded in 1987 (I found it on the University of Cincinnati Digital Resource Commons, as part of a longer reading that includes a performance of The Blood Countess.)  This poem, "Gauguin's Chair," shows his passion for voice, his vibrant imagery, and his violent romanticism: