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Taking a new approach to the study of Robert Penn Warren's imposing and still growing poetic canon, Floyd C. Watkins has found in the poems what he describes as a "poetic autobiography" unparalleled in American letters. Drawing on interviews with Warren, members of his family, and contemporaries from his hometown, but keeping the poetry itself constantly at the center of his vision, Watkins shows how the poetry has grown from the experience of the boy and man and from his contemplation of his family's and his country's history.
He traces through the poems a family chronicle, moving from the frontier to the late twentieth century, and set in a landscape that is clearly derived from the Kentucky of Warren's boyhood. The little town of Guthrie, divided by railroad tracks, with its two burial grounds for whites and blacks, becomes in the poems a town of both memory and imagination, peopled by characters many of whom are recognizable to Warren's contemporaries. The images of a black man fleeing through swampy woods outside the town, of a grayfaced man who led a lynch mob, of a mad druggist making a list of people to poison, all have counterparts in Guthrie's history. Then and Now is a revealing and provocative study of the poetic process in a poet who is thought of as the originator of the biographical fallacy.
Floyd C. Watkins, Charles Howard Candler Professor of American literature at Emory University, is the author of Thomas Wolfe's Characters, Old Times in the Faulkner Country (with John B. Cullen), and other works.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Robert Penn Warren, American poetry, Kentucky, Kentucky in literature
Literature in English, North America
Watkins, Floyd C., "Then and Now: The Personal Past in the Poetry of Robert Penn Warren" (1982). Literature in English, North America. 33.