Peter Seaton: biographical sketch

Working with Peter Seaton's brother, Thom, and Nick Piombino, I have put together this bio of Peter and, with the help of Steve McLaughlin, am slowly making available all Peter's published works, and an unpublished ms, at the Seaton EPC page.


Peter Seaton with Judy Lippa on their wedding day, July 31, 1977. This is the only known photo of Peter.

 Peter Seaton: Biographical Sketch

Peter David Seaton was born in New York City on December 18, 1942, the son of Maria Zoldesi and Antal (Anthony) Sarkadi, both Jewish. Maria and Antal had emigrated from Hungary by way of England in 1938.  Maria was trained as a concert pianist, studying with Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.  Antal was an art dealer.  After arriving in the United States, Peter’s parents traveled the country selling artworks.  

They returned to New York, living in Queens. They later moved to Manhattan, renting an apartment at 1391 Madison Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets.  In 1944, soon after Peter’s birth, the family changed its last name to Seaton and Antal became Anthony. Peter’s brother Thomas (Thom) was born in June 1946. In the early 1950s, Maria and Anthony opened an art gallery, the Henri Antoville Gallery, located between 63rd and 64th Streets on Madison Avenue.

Peter’s life was adversely affected by several traumatic childhood events.  Soon after the end of World War II, Peter’s mother learned that the Germans had killed her mother, brother and half-brother. Two brothers had survived; one had been in a concentration camp, the other, a musician, had been interned in India while on a musical tour.  They both relocated to Australia. 

In 1951 or 1952 Peter’s parents separated; Peter, Thom and their mother remained in the Madison Avenue apartment.  Shortly thereafter, Peter’s parents believed that the children would benefit by attending school outside the city, and Peter and his brother were sent to Tarrytown School, a military school overlooking the Hudson River (now Castle on the Hudson).  The brothers also attended summer camp at the school. The property is now a well-known destination for weddings and other celebrations.

Although his parents had separated, Peter remained close to his father Anthony.   Anthony, however, suffered from a heart condition and, in 1954, following a lengthy illness, he died.  Peter was eleven years old. Peter’s mother changed the name of the art gallery to Maria Antoville Gallery.

Tarrytown School closed and Peter and his brother began attending Sanford, a boarding school located near Wilmington, Delaware, in 1955.  The boys attended Sanford for three years.  Peter played quarterback on the football team and made several friends with whom he would stay in contact for most of his life. 

After transferring to St. Paul’s, a boarding school near Baltimore, which the boys attended for one year, Peter and Thom returned to New York for Peter’s senior year of high school at Franklin School, located on West 89th Street, near Central Park West.  Following graduation, Peter enrolled in City College of NY.

In 1962, Peter’s mother married Samuel Greenfield, a retired physician.  In the summer of 1963, Maria, Samuel, and Thom moved to Florida, near Miami Beach.

After graduating City College in 1964, Seaton stayed in New York, lived on East 73rd Street and 2nd Avenue and worked as a copywriter for ad agencies and publishers, including John Wiley. In the early 1970s he was peripherally interested in some of the poets in and around St. Marks Poetry Project (Bernadette Mayer, Lewis Warsh, Clark Coolidge, Ed Friedman, Ted Berrigan). At that time, he was part of a one-shot mimeo magazine, Workshop, edited by Nick Piombino and Peter Stamos. By the mid-1970s, he became more directly involved, and central to, the poets in and around L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine and ROOF books, where he published his work and through that connection with associated poets in Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area. His first book Agreement, was published by Charles Bernstein and Susan Bee’s Asylum’s Press in 1978; his second book, The Son Master, was published by James Sherry's ROOF books in1982, and his third book, Crisis Intervention, was published by Lyn Hejinian's Tuumba Press in 1983. Over the next decade, his circle of friends in New York included Piombino, with whom he had gone to City College; Bernstein, who is his literary executor; as well as Bruce Andrews, Diane Ward, Henry Hills, Alan Davies, Abigail Child, and Sherry.

Seaton married Judy Lippa, a social worker, on July 31, 1977. They both moved to Maine but divorced after several years. Peter moved back to New York, where he had a relationship with poet George-Therese Dickenson. Subsequently, he had a long-term relationship with the painter Lee Sherry, though this ended before his death.

After returning to New York, Peter lived on the Upper West Side, moving in the early 1980s to an apartment on Riverside Drive between 78th and 79th street. For many years he worked at Coliseum Books near Columbus Circle. In the mid-1980s, he moved to East 25th Street., where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Peter Seaton died on May 28, 2010. The cause of death was arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Compiled by Charles Bernstein in July 2011; early biography provided by Thomas Seaton. See Nick Piombino’s sketch for a more detailed account of Seaton’s life.

 For writings and bibliography, see Seaton EPC and PennSound pages.

 

Nick Piombino on Peter Seaton:

 Peter Seaton graduated from CCNY in 1964. Except for a very brief stint working for a publishing company, Peter worked in bookstores, mostly Coliseum Books on West 57 Street, which closed in 2007. From time to time I would stop in there and look for him if I hadn’t seen him for a while. The apartment Peter had for the longest time was on East 73rd Street and 2cd Avenue; it was rent-controlled (to something like $75 a month). In 1967 when he moved in with a girlfriend he generously let me stay in that apartment. This was the time when I first met Jackson Mac Low at the Whitehall Street Induction Center sit in, November 1967, when I was attending Ted Berrigan’s workshop, and shortly before I hitchhiked to Berkeley to burn my draft card with the Resistance group. Peter kept that apartment for years afterwards. It was a tiny bathroom in the kitchen setup, but pleasant and quiet, facing a back yard in the rear of the building. Peter had a couple of interesting friends in that building who I met and kept up with for a few years. When I came back from my trip to Italy and Morocco in 1969 to 1970  I stayed in that apartment for a while also. Joel Sloman and Lewis Warsh attended CCNY at the same time we did. Peter always liked Warsh’s writing and he did seem to keep in touch with Joel Sloman who said that he received a manuscript from Seaton in the late 90’s.

Some years after graduating Peter started writing poetry, but in his college years he wrote short stories and seemed to be heading in the direction of writing narrative fiction, influenced, for example, by Norman Mailer. When I was staying at Peter’s apartment in 1967, I remember coming home once to find a letter sent to me by Norman Mailer. I must have written to him because of Peter’s interest in him, also somewhat moved by Mailer’s book Why Are We In Vietnam. I came home (to the 73rd St. apartment) to find a letter from Mailer to me dangling from the string attached to the ceiling light bulb. The letter was brief and sardonic. I must have sent Mailer some writing because his only comment was to say “your writing is too elliptical for me to say whether you’re full of shit or not.” By the way, Peter was a fan of Paul McCartney, in particular Band on the Run. But Peter once explained that he went for long periods of time listening to no music at all, that the silence helped him to write. He once confided to me, as if he were telling me a major professional secret, that he liked to write in the dark.  Peter was always skeptical about my interest in Timothy Leary and the hippy movement in general. He used to say: “I have nowhere to drop out from.”

As for other poetry connections, or friendships, although most people who met him were very charmed by Peter, he was the most reclusive person I have ever known. On a pretty much chance basis I once met Peter’s mother, who, according to him, ran an art gallery. When Peter explained I was becoming a social worker his mother strangely said: “Why don’t you do that?” This was strange for two reasons: one, because anybody who knew Peter Seaton would realize this was nowhere in the realm of possibilities. Second, that she would say this in front of someone she had never met before who was obviously a close friend seemed inconsiderate, even a bit rude and humiliating. He did train as a librarian for short time. By the way, I recently received a note from Katie Lippa, Judy Lippa’s niece, who said that she was so surprised to hear the Peter had passed, that he was one of those people who you always think of as remaining eternally themselves.

 July 2011