Edgar Bowers was born in 1924 in Rome, Georgia and earned his BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Drafted into the army during World War II, he was active in the de-Nazification of Germany, and was stationed for a year at Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s retreat in the Alps. After the war, he earned his MA and PhD from Stanford, where he studied closely with Yvor Winters. Both his experiences of Europe during the war and the influence of Winters can be detected in his poems, which are known for their formal control and metaphysical subject matter. Spare and compact, and frequently dealing with loss, memory, and art, Clive Wilmer described Bowers’s work in the Guardian: “Bowers’s poems are marked by extreme aesthetic refinement and an intense feeling for the mystery of things.”
Declared one of the 20th century’s masters by Harold Bloom, Bowers published five books of poetry in his lifetime: The Form of Loss (1956), The Astronomers (1965), Living Together (1973), Witnesses (1981), For Louis Pasteur (1990), which won the Bollingen Prize, and Collected Poems (1997). Though Bowers was openly gay, his poetry’s stylish formalism and reticence about personal matters tended to obscure his personal life. Over the course of his career his poetry’s strict formalism loosened. Writing of Bowers’s later books, Wilmer noted: “these are short meditations, hospitable to casual observation, bits of quirky humour and conversational phrases. They are sometimes allusive and appear discontinuous. But closer reading reveals the same Jamesian feeling for elaborations of syntax, and an underlying thread of rational argument. The emphasis is more social than personal, in particular a concern for the fragmentation and casual nihilism of post-modern society.”
In addition to the Bollingen Prize, Bowers was twice awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. He taught for much of his career at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He retired from teaching in 1991 and moved to San Francisco, where he lived until his death in 2000. In 2003, UCLA hosted a conference and exhibit in Bowers’s honor.
Duke University, Durham, N.C., instructor in English, 1952-55; Harpur College, Endicott, N.Y., assistant professor of English, 1955-58; University of California, Santa Barbara, assistant professor, 1958-61, associate professor, 1961-67, professor of English, 1967-91.
- The Form of Loss, A. Swallow, 1956.
- (Contributor to anthology) Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes, editors, Five American Poets, Faber, 1963.
- The Astronomers, A. Swallow, 1965.
- Living Together: New and Selected Poems, David Godine, 1973.
- Witnesses, Symposium Press, 1981.
- For Louis Pasteur, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1989.
- Collected Poems, Knopf (New York City), 1997.
Poems anthologized New Poets of England and America (1960). Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Paris Review, New Statesman, Poetry, Listen, New York Times, and Sewanee Review
- Akard, Jeffrey, and Joshua Odell, A Bibliography of the Published Works of Edgar Bowers, 1948-1988. J. Akard (Santa Barbara, CA), 1988.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume IX, Gale, 1978.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume V: American Poets since World War II, Gale, 1980.
- Howard, Richard, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950, Atheneum, 1969.
- Winters, Yvor, Forms of Discovery; Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English, A. Swallow, 1967.
- Commonweal, September 24, 1965.
- Hudson Review, autumn, 1974.
- New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1965.
- Sewanee Review, spring, 1964, spring, 1969.
- Southern Review, summer, 1973, winter, 1977.
- Times Literary Supplement, February 10, 1978.
- The Times of London, March 8, 2000, p. 27.
Poems By EDGAR BOWERS
Audio & PodcastsPoetry Off the Shelf
The Virus Mutant in His Veins
Poet Edgar Bowers on Louis Pasteur.