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SELECTED POEMS: NEW AND OLD 1923-1966 by Robert Penn Warren


by Robert Penn Warren

Publisher: Random House

Robert Penn Warren's fame extends over a three-pronged front. As a novelist he has produced impressive, popular fiction, chiefly dealing with Southern themes, past and present. His criticism, especially that co-authored with Cleanth Brooks, affected a revolution in American academic taste. Only his various volumes of poetry, though always generously received, have not been an animating force. Indeed, covering more than forty years of careful activity, they have yet to emerge in imposing outline on the literary landscape. For Warren with all his gifts—wit, intelligence, pathos, technical command—never really achieves the excitement, singularity, imperilled self-exposure which traditionally bespeaks the personal style. There is, in short, the aura of failed stature throughout most of his work, as well as the trailing accents of other poets. Just as the early poems echo Marvell and Donne and the rediscovery of Metaphysical irony, the later exhibits suggest snatches of Berryman or Elizabeth Bishop. Of course, it's difficult holding out against Warren's tough, laconic lyricism, his grim humor, the sense of history and familiarity with cosmopolitan or provincial locales. Even so, one hopes for a shattering finality; one gets measured wisdom.