Warren, Jarrell, and Lowell
Collaboration in the Reshaping of American Poetry
246 Pages / 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.70 in / 6 halftones
- Hardcover /
- 9780807172179 /
- Published: June 2020
- eBook /
- 9780807173824 /
- Published: June 2020
Robert Penn Warren, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Lowell maintained lifelong, well-documented friendships with one another, often discussing each other’s work in private correspondence and published reviews. Joan Romano Shifflett’s Warren, Jarrell, and Lowell: Collaboration in the Reshaping of American Poetry traces the artistic and personal connections between the three writers. Her study uncovers the significance of their parallel literary development and reevaluates dominant views of how American poetry evolved during the mid-twentieth century.
Familiar accounts of literary history, most prominently the celebration of Lowell’s Life Studies as a revolutionary breakthrough into confessional poetry, have obscured the significance of the deep connections that Lowell shared with Warren and Jarrell. They all became quite close in the 1930s, with the content and style of their early poetry revealing the impact of their mentors John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, whose aesthetics the three would ultimately modify and transform. The three poets achieved professional maturity and success in the 1940s, during which time they relied on one another’s honest critiques as they experimented with changes in subject matter and modes of expression. Shifflett shows that their works of the late 1940s were heavily influenced by Robert Frost. This period found Warren, Jarrell, and Lowell infusing ostensibly simple verse with multifaceted layers of meaning, capturing the language of speech in diction and rhythm, and striving to raise human experience to a universal level.
During the 1950s, the three poets became public figures, producing major works that addressed the nation’s postwar need to reconnect with humanity. Warren, Jarrell, and Lowell continued to respond in interlocking ways throughout the 1960s, with each writer using innovative stylistic techniques to create a colloquy with readers that directed attention away from superficial matters and toward the important work of self-reflection.
Drawing from biographical materials and correspondence, along with detailed readings of many poems, Warren, Jarrell, and Lowell offers a compelling new perspective on the shaping of twentieth-century American poetry.
It would not have seemed strange to the biographers of these three poets to consider them together, since the biographers know very well how their careers intertwined. But it has seemed strange to literary history, which has sorted these poets into different suits or put them onto different teams, on opposite sides of the transformation of American poetry in the 1950s and 1960s. Shifflett’s book will change all this, I hope, and will spark a thoughtful and much-needed reexamination of the story of poetry from the late 1930s to the 1970s. Her book is at the same time a contribution to literary history and to literary criticism, detailing the dense connections among these three poets. As a literary historian Shifflett shows how these poets corresponded with each other and discussed each other’s drafts, how they intuited where the others were going and helped each other grope in a new direction, drawing each other’s work out of potential into reality. And speaking as a literary critic, Shifflett astutely points out how at crucial points in their own poetry, all three poets seem to obliquely quote lines of the others, so that all three poets are bound together in a dense webwork of allusion and quotation. This is a well-argued, carefully reasoned, shrewdly perceptive book, and I think it should have a strong effect in how these poets are read going forward. ~John Burt, editor of Selected Poems of Robert Penn Warren
Joan Romano Shifflett’s masterly synthesis of biography, literary history, and close reading makes a compelling case for the claims of her title. For me, her boldest move was to place Robert Frost at the head of the 1950s poetic revolution, when her three poets 'traded the lofty, prophetic tone of Eliot and Tate for the living, breathing speech of Frost.' An important book, admirably well written. ~Victor Strandberg, author of The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren
Joan Romano Shifflett has given us an important book, marked by thorough historical, biographical, and cultural contextualization and displaying a rare talent for close reading. Its implications for our better understanding of the symbiotic dimension of the literary vocation go well beyond the three master poets in question. ~William Bedford Clark, editor of Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren The "Southern Review" Years, 1935–1942
In brisk, compelling prose punctuated by incisive close readings of the poems, Joan Romano Shifflett describes the myriad points at which the lives and art of these three major American poets of the 20th century intersect and intertwine, creating a complex, detailed, moving account not only of the relationships between these particular writers, but also of that mysterious phenomenon we call 'influence.' This is a powerful, important book. ~Mark D. Miller, former editor of Robert Penn Warren Studies