Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Edgar Bowers

Curiously, openly gay American poet Edgar Bowers (1924-2000) is little known today, even though he was the recipient of several important prizes and fellowships, including the prestigious Bollingen prize and two Guggenheim fellowships. Poet and critic Yvor Winters thought the poems in Bowers’s early books were among the best American poems of the 20th century, and distinguished colleagues included his works in British anthologies. Among his advocates were Richard Wilbur, Robert Lowell, Harold Bloom and Tony Tanner.

The title of a 1990 collection of poems was For Louis Pasteur, and every year Bowers celebrated the birthdays of three of his heroes: Louis Pasteur, Paul Valéry and Mozart. According to Clive Wilmer (The Guardian), those three all “suggest admiration for the life of the mind lived at its highest pitch – a concern for science and its social uses, and a love of art that is elegant, cerebral and orderly.” Although a rationalist, Bowers's poems are marked by aesthetic refinement and an intense feeling for the mystery of things. He rarely engaged with homosexuality as a literary theme.

Born in Rome, Georgia, Bowers had to leave the University of North Carolina in 1943, when he was called up for military service during World War II, serving in the Counter Intelligence Corps as a translator. At the age of 21 he traversed the ruins of Europe and for a while was stationed at Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden, where he participated in the de-Nazification campaign. The impact of those experiences on a sensitive and ethical consciousness influenced his poetry.

After the war, Bowers returned to his studies, earning a doctorate at Stanford University. His subsequent academic career included teaching positions at Duke University, Harpur College and the University of California at Santa Barbara. According to Wilmer he “fought against political compromises (over Vietnam, for instance) and the exploitation of young, untenured teachers. He sometimes suffered from sneering suggestions about his homosexuality, and, despite being the most radical and egalitarian of men, stood accused of elitism.” Throughout his career Bowers suffered from bouts of depression and alcoholism. Until 1965 he wrote in immaculately constructed rhymed stanzas, but changed to blank verse for the following decades.

After the death of his aged mother, Bowers left his beach front house in Montecito, CA, and moved to San Francisco, where he enjoyed the love and support of an openly gay community. Bowers remained in San Francisco until his death at age 75, fourteen years ago this month.

This poem is typical of Bowers, a writer who lived brightly but wrote darkly:

Living Together (from Collected Poems, 1997)

Of you I have no memory, keep no promise.
But, as I read, drink, wait, and watch the surf,
Faithful, almost forgotton, your demand
Becomes all others, and this loneliness
The need that is your presence. In the dark,
Beneath the lamp, attentive, like a sound
I listen for, you draw near -- closer, surer
Than speech, or sight, or love, or love returned.


Clive Wilmer for The Guardian

Literary critics Donald Justice and David Rigsbee

1 comment:

  1. Terry, Sorry I couldn't get you on your e-mail. Above, paragraph beginning ...
    After the war...the year 1865 was used. Pretty sure you meant 1965. just a head's up. I really like your blog and since I only recently discovered it am enjoying dipping into the archives. Take care