Paul Jerome Zimmer was born in Canton, Ohio, on September 18, 1934, to Jerome F. Zimmer and Louise Surmont Zimmer. He enrolled in Kent State University in 1952 but had a tumultuous college career marked by academic ineptitude—he failed freshman English three times. Even his early attempt at a workman’s life (he took a job in a steel mill) was tinged by misfortune when the millworkers went on strike ten days later and Zimmer got notice that he had been drafted by the U.S. Army. During Zimmer’s time in the military, which provided the young man with much free time and little to do, he discovered that he liked poetry. During those years, he voraciously read and tentatively wrote poetry. After his military service, he returned to college to continue studying poetry with an eye toward writing and publishing. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1958, Zimmer wrote, “I had this complex that I was not terribly important, so . . . I made poems about other people and spoke through their bodies, their beings.” The creator of the archetypical “Zimmer” persona would later find that his creativity abounded in the recollection of his own being.
After college, Zimmer found himself constantly working with books: He was manager of the book department at Macy’s department store in San Francisco (1961-1963), manager of the San Francisco News Company (1963-1964), and manager of the University of California, Los Angeles, bookstore (1964-1966). In 1967, he found an outlet for his poetic talents as assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Press and editor of the Pitt Poetry Series (1967-1978). He directed the University of Georgia Press (1978-1984) and then the University of Iowa Press (1984-1994), after which he reluctantly retired to spend more time on his own poetry and two succeeding volumes of memoirs. The author of “Sonnet: Zimmer Imagines Being Poet-in-Residence,” he was twice named a university poet-in-residence, first at Chico State College (now California State University, Chico) in 1970 and then at Hollins University in 2001, where he was named Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Writer-in-Residence. In 2009, he became the Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University.