Robert Penn Warren’s reputation as a novelist and critic has tended to overshadow his achievements and distinction as a poet. Like many of our best fiction writers, he was published as a poet before he gained recognition as a novelist; but, unlike most, he has continued to write poetry throughout his career. This fact would make him stand out even among the poets of his generation, most of whom, after achieving some measure of recognition, a niche in the pantheon of the establishment, have at best settled for the care and preservation of the “image” rather than the risky and perhaps unrewarding business of writing more poems. Both factors may help to explain the undeniable fact that Warren’s poetry is not as well known as it might be and ought to be. The divorce between the audience for poetry and the audience for fiction has not been settled. The poetry-reading public remains inconsequentially small compared to the larger public for fiction. And within the poetic establishment there remains a lingering suspicion of the poet who also writes fiction.
In Warren’s case this suspicion has without doubt been compounded by the fact that his novels have been extremely well received. Part of this suspicion can be written off as professional pride at best and, at worst, simple envy; but in a larger sense it is also the result of the specialization so characteristic of our culture as to be inevitably reflected by its artists and, indeed, strongly...
(The entire section is 1968 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Poetry of Warren Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!