McDowell, Robert 1953-

views updated

McDOWELL, Robert 1953-

PERSONAL: Born April 8, 1953, in Alhambra, CA; son of Gordon R. and Rita Terese (Grum) McDowell; married first wife, Patricia Lynn, October 30, 1976 (divorced, April, 1979); married Lysa Howard (a painter, designer, and editor), July 6, 1985; children: Dylan Randall. Education: University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A., 1974; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1976.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—403 Continental St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060.

CAREER: University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, assistant professor of creative writing and English, 1978-84; University of California, Santa Cruz, visiting lecturer, 1984, coordinator of Reading Series, 1987-88; Story Line Press, Santa Cruz, CA, publisher and editor, 1985-88; CTB/McGraw-Hill, associate editor, 1986-87; writer. Chairman of The Reaper, Inc., 1980—; chairman of Ohio River Writers Conference, 1980; member of board of directors, Poets' Prize Committee, Inc.

MEMBER: Academy of American Poets, Associated Writing Programs, Poets and Writers.


At the House of the Tin Man (poetry), Chowder Press, 1980.

Quiet Money (poetry), Holt (New York, NY), 1987.

(With Kevin Brennan) Kingmaker (screenplay), New Line Cinema, 1989.

(Editor) Poetry after Modernism, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1991.

The Diviners (poetry), Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1995.

(With Mark Jarman) The Reaper Essays, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1996.

(With Harvey Gross) Sound and Form in Modern Poetry, second edition, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1996.

(Editor and author of introduction) Cowboy Poetry Matters: From Abilene to the Mainstream, Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 2000.

On Foot, in Flames (poetry), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2002.

Contributor of poems, fiction, essays, and reviews to periodicals, including Hudson Review, American Scholar, London Magazine, and Poetry. Editor, with Mark Jarman, of The Reaper, 1980-90.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert McDowell once told CA: "My fiction, rooted in realism, also focuses more on the lives of others and the creation of character than on the weather in my head. My criticism and reviews, mostly of poetry, often contain a polemical edge consistent with my striving for literature that turns away from the solipsism and self-indulgence of so much late-modern work and toward the rich subjects of the world outside the writer."

Among McDowell's works he compiled and edited Cowboy Poetry Matters: From Abilene to the Mainstream. The poets in this volume write knowledgeably of cattle, horses, and ranch life, even if, as Booklist contributor Ray Olson pointed out, they don't actually make their living ranching or farming. Olson recognizes that the themes of the poetry that predominate are "hard, painful work" endured by the cowhands and their horses, as well as the "otherness of the natural world in which it is done." The critic also noted the Old West-appeal of the anthology, adding that some of the best entries are written by women.

In addition to his editorial work, McDowell has published his own books of original verse. From 1980 to 1990 he served as editor of The Reaper, a magazine "devoted to the resurgence of narrative in contemporary poetry," as McDowell told CA. "Not surprisingly, my own poetry features a commitment to the story line, to lyrical, hard-boiled speech that evokes the lives of women and men in America. The long title poem of my book Quiet Money, for example, tells the story of a bootlegging pilot who flies the Atlantic solo before Charles Lindbergh, but he cannot go public because he was engaged in an illegal activity."

McDowell's The Diviners, published in 1995, is a long narrative poem covering five decades in the life of a family. The poems track a couple, Al and Eleanor, as they raise their son and face old age. Olson, in another Booklist article, compared The Diviners to a novel-in-stories, but maintained that the narrative suffers somewhat from "colorless material description." The critic felt, however, that the talent McDowell displays in the book is enough to make readers "wish for more—more detail, more color, more authorial daring."

On Foot, in Flames is a poetry collection "filled with loneliness," according to American Poetry Review contributor Kim Addonizio—but the selections are also "prayerful," the critic added. Also in American Poetry Review, critic Chase Twichell likewise found religious reference in the collection. To Twichell, the surface images of hymns and reveries to family, farm, and God serve to reveal "an ambitious scrutiny of those subjects." Olson's Booklist assessment found On Foot, in Flames rife with "more vivid, meatier poems" than those found in The Diviners. Olson added that the book's longest poem, "The Pact," a story of rural adultery, shows McDowell "venturing artfully on the terrain of the dour twentieth-century narrative master" Robinson Jeffers.



American Poetry Review, May, 2002, Chase Twichell and Kim Addonizio, review of On Foot, in Flames, p. 44.

Booklist, August, 1995, Ray Olson, review of The Diviners, p. 1924; May 1, 2000, Olson, review of Cowboy Poetry Matters: From Abilene to the Mainstream, p. 1646; March 15, 2002, Olson, review of On Foot, in Flames.

Choice, June, 1996, review of The Diviners, p. 1645.

Hudson Review, summer, 1996, review of The Diviners, p. 331.

Kenyon Review, summer, 1992, review of Poetry after Modernism, p. 188.

Library Journal, January, 1991, review of Poetry after Modernism, p. 105.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 15, 1987.

New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1987.

Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1990, review of Poetry after Modernism, p. 61.

Reference and Research Book News, November, 1998, review of Poetry after Modernism, p. 212.

School Librarian, April, 1992, review of Poetry after Modernism, p. 311; August, 1996, review of The Diviners, p. 116.

Sewanee Review, January, 1989, review of Quiet Money, p. R21.

Washington Post Book World, May 3, 1987.*

About this article

McDowell, Robert 1953-

Updated About content Print Article