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This review is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

SIMPLY RED The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren edited by John Burt with a foreword by Harold Bloom (Louisiana State University Press) $39.95.

Robert Penn Warren (1905-89) had one of twentieth century America's great literary careers. A prodigy at Vanderbilt, one of the 'Fugitives' and a southern Agrarian of I'll Take My Stand's revolt against modernity, he was a poet, scholar, and novelist as well as a teacher (coauthoring the ur-text of the 'New Criticism', Understanding Poetry with Cleanth Brooks) at LSU (where he helped found the Southern Review), Minnesota, and Yale. A public, globetrotting intellectual his unceasing and prodigious work rate resulted not just in ten novels, sixteen books of poetry, and innumerable essays and articles but in a long list of public honors: Pulitzers, Bollingens, National Book Awards, capped by his appointment as Poet Laureate. And yet despite his voluminous, career-long success, Warren, ten years since his death, seems an almost archaic figure in modern American letters, one who recedes from us even as we try to consider him, leaving in his trace only the superb novel All the King's Men and a few anthologized poems. This is not said to disparage or diminish Warren but rather to put the onus on us: Warren is a mystery which we have not solved.

Warren's writing career began out of disappointment. A teenage accident ruined an eye, keeping him from accepting an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Instead, he went to Vanderbilt where his natural intelligence combined with his early childhood immersion in literature by his parents (Warren's story will convince anyone of the importance of early reading!) ...


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