Robert Penn Warren: Born April 24, 1905.

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Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn Warren

The distinguished novelist, poet, critic and man of letters Robert Penn Warren, best known to many readers for his novel All The King’s Men, was born on this date in 1905 in Guthrie, Kentucky. Robert Penn Warren is the only writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and poetry. He was also the first United States Poet Laureate.

Robert Penn Warren was educated in the Guthrie local schools and in Clarksville, Tennessee before attending Vanderbilt University, the University of California, and Yale University. He then spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After his return to the United States, he became an instructor at Southwestern College in Memphis and then Vanderbilt before accepting a position as associate professor of English at Louisiana State University, which he held from 1934-1942. From 1942-1950 he taught at the University of Minnesota, and then moved on to Yale, where he remained until his retirement. From 1944-45 he served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the predecessor of the U.S. Poet Laureate position).

 

Vanderbilt University's Kirkland Hall.

Vanderbilt University’s Kirkland Hall.

His literary career began at Vanderbilt. Warren came to Vanderbilt to study science after declining an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy due to an eye injury. He decided to study literature instead after taking a freshmen composition class taught by John Crowe Ransom, a poet and critic who became a friend and colleague of Warren’s and an important force in American letters. With Warren at Vanderbilt was Kentucky native Allen Tate, another writer who became an important poet, critic and novelist. All three men would be part of the Southern Renascence in American literature after the First World War. While at Vanderbilt, Warren was also one of the Fugitives, a group of writers—including Tate and Ransom–who met to read and critique each other’s poems. The Fugitives eventually published a journal called The Fugitive from 1922-25 with Warren as co-editor.

John Crowe Ransom as an older man at Kenyon College in 1940.

John Crowe Ransom as an older man at Kenyon College in 1940.

Allen Tate

Allen Tate

Warren published his first book, a biography of John Brown, in 1929 after his return from Oxford. While at Oxford he also wrote a novella called Prime Leaf, which concerned conflict between Kentucky tobacco growers and buyers in the early twentieth century. This conflict, known as the Black Patch Tobacco Wars, would be the subject of his first novel, Night Rider, published in 1939.

Captain Newton Jasper Wilburn of the Kentucky National Guard, who helped end the Black Patch Tobacco Wars of the early twentieth century.

Captain Newton Jasper Wilburn of the Kentucky National Guard, who helped end the Black Patch Tobacco Wars of the early twentieth century.

night rider 2

It was during his time at Louisiana State University that Warren not only published Night Rider, but also wrote his first two books of poetry: Thirty-Six Poems (1935), and Eleven Poems on the Same Theme (1942). He also established himself as a scholar, collaborating with the critic Cleanth Brooks (born in Murray, Kentucky) on the influential textbooks Understanding Poetry and Understanding Fiction. In addition, he founded, along with Cleanth Brooks and Charles Pipkin, an influential journal called The Southern Review. The two textbooks would be important works in the critical school that became known as the New Criticism, which emphasized close reading of a text and focus on its structural and aesthetic elements while downplaying historical or biographical contexts for the work being studied.

Cleanth Brooks

Cleanth Brooks

After the release of the novel Heaven’s Gate in 1943 and Selected Poems in 1944, Warren found enormous critical and popular success with All The King’s Men in 1946. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for the stage and the movies. The film version, starring Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark, won three Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Actor (Broderick Crawford); and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge).

AllTheKingsMen

All the kings men_

Other novels followed, among them World Enough and Time, based on a famous murder and trial in 19th century Kentucky known as “The Kentucky Tragedy;” Band of Angels, about a planter’s daughter who discovers she is biracial shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War; Wilderness, about a young Bavarian Jew who immigrates to America in 1863 to aid the Union cause; and The Cave, about a Floyd Collins-type cave explorer trapped in a cave, the efforts of people to rescue him and the attendant media circus surrounding the event. Warren also published a remarkable narrative poem in the early 1950s entitled Brother To Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices.

Jereboam Beauchamp murders Colonel Solomon Sharp to avenge the honor of his wife, Anna Cooke Beauchamp. The murder was the subject of a number of literary treatments, including works by Edgar Allan Poe and William Gilmore Simms.

The Kentucky Tragedy: Jereboam Beauchamp murders Colonel Solomon Sharp to avenge the honor of his wife, Anna Cooke Beauchamp. The murder was the subject of a number of literary treatments, including works by Edgar Allan Poe and William Gilmore Simms.

This poem, like World Enough and Time, concerns a true story—the murder of a slave in 1811 by two of Thomas Jefferson’s nephews. In this work Jefferson’s optimistic view of human nature is contrasted with the vicious actions of two of his kin. A central theme in Warren’s work is the potential for evil in every human being, and how idealistic action combined with a lack of self-knowledge and ignorance of human nature can ravage lives. I’m currently reading the revised version of Brother To Dragons that Warren published in 1979 and look forward to doing a post on it here at Buckeyemuse. (For those interested in a top-notch nonfiction account of Jefferson’s relatives and their crime, see Boynton Merrill Jr.’s Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy).

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Warren continued to publish novels through the Sixties and Seventies, although most critics would likely agree that his earlier works were stronger. These later novels include Flood (1965), Meet Me in the Green Glen (1971), and his last novel, A Place to Come To (1977).

RPWBroDragPhotoReversed

And any account of Warren’s career must also mention his essays, nonfiction and literary criticism and analysis. Warren wrote penetrating essays on writers such as Joseph Conrad, Theodore Dreiser, and John Greenleaf Whittier. He also wrote nonfiction works on racial issues and was fascinated by the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. Works along these lines include Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South (1956), Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965), The Legacy of the Civil War (1961), and Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back (1981). Another interesting work of Warren’s is Democracy and Poetry (1975).

The civil rights movement and the legacy of the Civil War were important subjects for Robert Penn Warren.

The civil rights movement and the legacy of the Civil War were important subjects for Robert Penn Warren.

However, Warren’s career as a poet was what he called “my central and obsessive concern.” There was a period of silence following the Selected Poems of 1944, but Warren returned to poetry with Brother To Dragons in 1953 and followed it with Promises in 1957, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Distinguished volumes of poetry would follow, and Warren would win another Pulitzer Prize with Now and Then: Poems 1978-1979.

Robert Penn Warren was married twice. He married Emma Brescia of San Francisco in 1930, and they divorced twenty years later, Warren then married the writer Eleanor Clark. Their two children are Rosanna Phelps Warren, now a distinguished poet and professor herself, and Gabriel Penn Warren, a sculptor. Robert Penn Warren died on September 15, 1989.

John James Audubon

John James Audubon

In honor of Robert Penn Warren on his birthday, and since April is National Poetry Month, I’d like to conclude this post with the final section from his long poem Audubon: A Vision, a poem about the life of the great artist and naturalist John Audubon. For me it is rich with Warren’s gift for evoking the mysteries of time and the American south:

 

Tell Me A Story

 

(A)

 

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood

By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard

The great geese hoot northward.

 

I could not see them, there being no moon

And the stars sparse. I heard them.

 

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

 

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,

Therefore they were going north.

 

The sound was going north.

 

(B)

 

Tell me a story.

 

In this century, and moment, of mania,

Tell me a story.

 

Make it a story of great distances and starlight.

 

The name of the story will be Time,

But you must not pronounce its name.

 

Tell me a story of deep delight.

 

 

 

Patrick Kerin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating National Poetry Month: Rita Dove.

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This blog is certainly a work in progress. Next year I hope to get a jump on National Poetry Month and get information on regional events lined up ahead of April 2015. So since the month is winding down, I’ve decided to write some posts on various poets from the region. Today’s featured poet is Rita Dove.

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. She was educated at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the University of Tubingen in Germany and the University of Iowa. Her works include The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), and the Pulitzer Prize winning Thomas and Beulah (1986), which tells the story of her grandparents from their early lives in the south up through the Akron, Ohio of the 1960s. Rita Dove has had a productive career, and she’s also held important positions on editorial boards and prize committees. She is currently the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove

She has published nine volumes of poetry, a volume of short stories, a book of essays, a play and a novel. Dove also has a deep interest in music—she studied voice as a young woman and worked with composer John Williams on a production called Seven For Luck (1998). Dance is an interest as well. She and her husband, writer Fred Viebahn, are ballroom dancers, and the title poem of  her volume American Smooth concerns dance. She served as the United States Poet Laureate from 1993-1995, the first African-American to fill the position since the name was changed from Consultant in Poetry to U.S. Poet Laureate in the mid-eighties. African-American poets Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks had both served as Consultant in Poetry in the latter decades of the twentieth century. She also served as Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004-2006. She has received dozens of honors, including twenty-four honorary doctorates.

Dove recently garnered quite a bit of attention after editing The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century Poetry (2011). Some critics felt Dove had ignored important poets in the service of a democratic-populist agenda, while others came to Dove’s defense and praised the variety and sense of inclusion that informs the work. Whatever feelings people may have about the anthology, I would say Rita Dove has certainly helped stimulate debate about the state of American poetry in our time and the poetry of the past century.

 

Rita Dove has had a remarkable career, and she’s only sixty-one years old. I’m looking forward to seeing what the years will bring from this deeply gifted writer.

 

Patrick Kerin

 

Today--April 23--is also traditionally considered Shakespeare's birthday.

Today–April 23–is also traditionally considered Shakespeare’s birthday.

 

 

 

Lloyd C. Douglas: Novelist and Minister.

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Victor Mature as Demetrius in The Robe.

Victor Mature as Demetrius in The Robe.

When I look back on memories of Easter through the years, I often recall the smorgasbord of religious movies that are a constant on Easter Sunday: King of Kings, Ben-Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Quo Vadis, to name just a few. Another film is The Robe, which I saw once again on Christmas Day last year. This got me to thinking about the author of the book the movie was based on and his role in American popular culture.

Reverend Lloyd C. Douglas

Reverend Lloyd C. Douglas

It’s tempting to say that minister and novelist Lloyd C. Douglas is a largely forgotten and obscure figure. But a search of the Internet will inform anyone curious about him that people are still reading the man’s works sixty-three years after his death in Los Angeles, particularly The Robe, The Big Fisherman, and his first novel, Magnificent Obsession, which was published in 1929 and filmed twice.

MagnificentObsession-01

Lloyd Cassel Douglas was born on August 27, 1877 in Columbia City, Indiana, the son of a Lutheran pastor. Like a lot of clergymen’s children, he grew up in various towns as his father moved from one congregation to another. Douglas grew up in Monroeville and Wilmot, Indiana and also Florence, Kentucky, which is just a short distance from Cincinnati. He followed his father into the ministry. He attended Wittenberg College (now Wittenberg University) in Springfield, Ohio, where he received an A.M. degree in 1900 and graduated from Wittenberg’s Hamma Divinity School in 1903. For a couple of summers during his college years he worked as a sports and police reporter for a local newspaper.

Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

Following divinity school graduation he was ordained a Lutheran minister, and married Bessie Porch, a minister’s daughter. They had two daughters named Bessie and Virginia. Douglas’ career took him to North Manchester, Indiana, Lancaster, Ohio and Washington D.C. Douglas resigned his position in Washington, apparently out frustration with certain aspects of Lutheran dogma and the deep conservatism of some members of his congregation.

Young Lloyd C. Douglas

Young Lloyd C. Douglas

He then took a position as director of religious work at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and when he returned to the pulpit it was as a Congregational minister, serving first in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then Akron, Ohio, Los Angeles, California, and finally Montreal, Quebec. Douglas began writing and publishing essays, but felt he could make more of an impact if he shared his ideas through stories.

His first novel, Magnificent Obsession, told the story of a self-centered young man named Robert Merrick whose careless behavior damages the people around him, culminating in the loss of a dedicated doctor who has a fatal heart attack while helping Merrick after a speedboat accident. Merrick decides to devote his life to service and becomes a doctor as well. The book became popular through word of mouth, eventually becoming a bestseller. It was filmed twice. The 1935 release starred Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, and the 1954 version starred Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, the former wife of future President Ronald Reagan.

Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession.

Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession.

A succession of other novels followed, among them Precious Jeopardy (1933), Green Light (1935), White Banners (1936) and Disputed Passage (1939). Like many successful authors, Douglas received fan mail. Hazel McCann, a woman from Ohio, wrote to Douglas and asked him what had become of Jesus’ garments after his crucifixion. Douglas was inspired by her question to write The Robe, and he dedicated the book to her. It appeared in 1942 and was a best seller. His last novel, The Big Fisherman, appeared in 1948 and told the story of St. Peter. It was also made into a motion picture.

the robe_

Douglas would die before seeing The Robe made into a film, which was released in 1953. The film stars Richard Burton as the young Roman tribune Marcellus who wins Christ’s robes after the Roman centurions on Golgotha cast dice to see who will win Jesus’ garments. Marcellus is bothered by what happened to Jesus and begins to have nightmares about what happened to Christ. His slave, Demetrius, portrayed by Victor Mature, had been drawn to Jesus before the crucifixion and has the robe. When Marcellus later touches the robe, he feels a deep peace and begins to seek out more knowledge of Christ. One aspect of the film often noted by both critics and everyday viewers is that Richard Burton, so distinguished for his acting gifts, seems stiff in the part, while Victor Mature, better known for playing action hero roles, gives a strong performance.

bigfisherman

Lloyd Douglas died on February 13, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. He published the first volume of his autobiography, Time To Remember in 1951. His daughters continued his story in The Shape of Sunday published one year later. A collection of sermons, The Living Faith, appeared in 1955.

There are many once “popular” novelists whose works are truly forgotten, and if read at all it is by a small audience of scholars. Sixty-three years after his death, Lloyd C. Douglas still has readers, and film versions of his books keep those works and his name alive. Maybe we could say that inspiration of the kind he provided never really goes out of style.

Happy Easter,

Patrick Kerin

April 19, 1861: Ambrose Bierce enlists in the Indiana Volunteers.

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On this day in 1861, author Ambrose Bierce became the second man in Elkhart County, Indiana to enlist for service in the Union volunteers after President Lincoln’s call for troops following the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Bierce, who was born in Meigs County, Ohio, was working in a local business that was a combination dry goods store, tavern, and ice cream parlor when the call for volunteers came. He joined Company C of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers. Thus began what would be service for the duration of the war and firsthand experience of combat in some of the war’s most famous battles: Shiloh, Kenesaw Mountain, Chickamauga, to name but a few of the places where Bierce fought. In turn he would draw on his experiences in uniform for a remarkable body of stories and short memoirs.

Robert H. Milroy, commander of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers. Photo by Matthew Brady.

Robert H. Milroy, commander of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers. Photo by Mathew Brady.

Bierce would later write, “At one time in my green and salad days, I was sufficiently zealous for Freedom to engage in a four years’ battle for its promotion. There were other issues involved, but they did not count for much with me.”

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce

The youth’s decision to enlist would have its effect on American literature. Roy Morris, Jr., author of the biography Ambrose Bierce: Alone In Bad Company, wrote of Bierce’s experiences at Shiloh that they “would stay with Bierce for the rest of his life, occasioning some of his finest writing and foreshadowing and directly influencing an entire generation of American writers, men whose own take on war owed a great deal to his seminal works.”

Patrick Kerin

Now the Tax Man Cometh

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Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce

“Houseless: adj., Having paid all taxes on household goods.”

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

(In the United States, all state and federal taxes are due on the 15th of April).

Patrick Kerin

Congratulations to Vijay Seshadri!

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Congratulations to Vijay Seshadri, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book 3 Sections: Poems. Seshadri was born in Bangalore, Indiana and came to the United States with his family when he was five years old. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father was a chemistry professor at Ohio State University. Seshadri went on to earn an A.B. at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and an MFA from Columbia University. He currently lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Vijay Seshadri

Vijay Seshadri

The win is also another victory for the midwestern publishing house Graywolf Press in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to Seshadri’s winning title, the nonprofit firm also published Tracy K. Smith’s 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection Life on Mars and Mary Syzbist’s Incardadine, which won the 2013 National Book Award for poetry.

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Patrick Kerin

National Poetry Month Events in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Dayton.

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Here is some information about some events for National Poetry Month in the state of Ohio. I will also seek out some information on events in other states covered by buckeyemuse.

The main library of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has readings every week during April. There are usually one to several featured local poets followed by an open mic session. This year the series is focused on poets who are members of the Greater Cincinnati Writers League, an organization that has been around since 1930. The readings start at 7 P.M. and the open mic signup sheet is passed around at 6:45. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s main location is 800 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-2009. For more information call 513-369-6919.

Featured readers for Tuesday, April 15 are Joanne Greenway, Jerry Judge, and Mary Ann Reese. Featured readers for Tuesday, April 22 are Bucky Ignatius, Karen George, and Terry Petersen. April 29 will feature readings by various members of the Greater Cincinnati Writers League.

Karen George

Karen George

Jerry Judge

Jerry Judge

Here’s the library website for more information:

http://www.cincinnatilibrary.org/news/2014/poetryinthegarden.html

Here’s the website for the Greater Cincinnati Writers League:

http://cincinnatiwritersleague.org/

Noted Ohio poet George Bilgere, who also teaches creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, will be reading at noon on Thursday, April 17 in the Louis Stokes Wing Lobby of the Cleveland Public Library. Bilgere has published poems in many of the country’s most distinguished journals, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Kenyon Review. His work has also been featured on National Public Radio’s The Writer’s Almanac and in former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” newspaper series.

George Bilgere

George Bilgere

The Cleveland Public Library is located at 325 Superior Avenue N.E., Cleveland, Ohio, 44114. For more information call 216-623-2881. The Cleveland Public Library is also home to the Ohio Center for the Book, an outreach effort to promote literary, libraries, reading and writing in Ohio. Here’s their website.

http://www.ohiocenterforthebook.org/

Conrad Balliet, University professor emeritus of English at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, will be hosting a reading by local poets on Saturday, April 19 at 2 P.M. in the Main Library Auditorium of Dayton’s Metro Library at 215 E. Third Street, Dayton, Ohio, 45202.  The phone number to contact is 937-463-2665. Conrad Balliet also does a nightly reading of poetry on WYSO 91.3 in the Dayton area.

Conrad Balliet

Conrad Balliet

The website below has some information on the event:

http://www.wittenberg.edu/academics/english/news/14/04_11-conrads-corner

Here’s an interesting article about Conrad Balliet and how he became interested in poetry. He’s doing good work helping to keep the art alive:

http://www.springfieldnewssun.com/news/entertainment/arts-theater/conrad-balliet-not-only-reads-poetry-on-wyso-he-li/nNpjH/

Yours for National Poetry Month,

Patrick Kerin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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