Poetry Advice from a Retired Schoolteacher: Robert Penn Warren’s Lost Letter

Critics are divided on the role of Robert Penn Warren in American poetry. Many consider Warren a leading voice in the early twentieth century resurgence of Southern literature, an important member of the Vanderbilt Fugitives and early champion of New Criticism, and as a proponent of the “staunch conservative classicalism” of his Fugitive contemporaries. Others, however, see in him a sort of “reconstructed liberal southerner” (Boyne 189). Critics such as Michael Szalay see Warren as ever the “stiff, curmudgeon of a New Critic” (346). Clare Byrne, on the other hand, sees in Warren a conflicted writer with burgeoning progressive ideas who managed to infiltrate the conservative old guard of the Fugitive Agrarians. Still other critics point to the sharp differences between Warren’s early and late poems to posit that Warren’s views shifted over time away from the strict formalism of his mentors and came to embrace a more postmodern/Romantic view of poetry.