Circle of Friends

Article excerpt

ROBERT PENN WARREN HAD A circle of writing friends. They summered at "camp" in Vermont, gathered for the holidays, hobnobbed around the world. The novelist Katherine Anne Porter was matron of honor for Warren's marriage to the writer Eleanor Clark and became godmother to their firstborn. Ralph Ellison wandered the streets of Rome with him and William Styron joined him on camelback along the Nile.

PARTYING AT OXFORD

One of the more memorable occasions at Red's place on Wellington Square was the dinner party that he gave for a friend who was going down from Oxford. The feast was to be served in Red's rooms and his landlord had assured him that he was up to not only serving the meal but preparing the particular dishes that Red wanted. Consequently, he was startled to see the landlord bearing to the table a punch-bowl filled with wnat proved to be rather sweet martini in which a dozen raw oysters floated. Red asked what in the world it was. The landlord's reply was "The gentleman asked for oyster cocktail, didn't he"?

-"Brooks on Warren " by Cleanth Brooks from FOUR QUARTERS Vol. 21, May 1972.

WEDDING MISHAP

"Mother was really heroic on that occasion," Eleanor remembered, "because we just had only one week and she liked to do things rather grandly when possible. We intended to have a justice of the peace, but we couldn't because the JP in Roxbury was a Democrat and my mother wouldn't let him in the house. So we got this Congregational minister. We couldn't get the Episcopalian because we'd been divorced." Albert Erskine, now twice divorced, would be best man, and the matron of honor would be Katherine Anne Porter, now four times divorced-most recently from Albert-whose best man Warren had been. Eleanor drove herself and her groom up to Roxbury. Among the many guests were Tinkum and Cleanth Brooks, who were responsible for a slight delay. Cleanth took their dog, a friendly, impulsive mastiff named Pompey the Great, to the road to relieve himself, just then Pompey saw something and lunged toward it, carrying Cleanth into an old barbed-wire fence, which cut his face and sent a trail of blood down his shirt. The wedding had to wait while Cleanth borrowed a shirt from the groom. "Mother put on a very nice wedding," the bride said. "I had the best husband in the world and our fulfillment with each other was wonder, glory, joy-non-stop . . ."

-ROBERT PENN WARREN © 1997 by Joseph Blutner.

LEAVING YALE

"I must say that I feel a little like Lot's wife in leaving the academic scene," he wrote Allen Tate. "A big chunk of my life is invested in it. But I guess the bigger chunk is invested in the typewriter, and the two chunks are becoming more and more incompatible-chiefly because of the kind of teaching I have been doing here. Teaching writing chews up the very part of your energy you want to save for yourself."

-ROBERT PENN WARREN © 2997 by Joseph Blotner.

EXPLORING ROME

The Warrens enjoyed seeing the Ellisons again, friends since the husbands had met four years before at a publication party for Invisible Man. It was in Rome, Ellison remembered, "that we really became friends. For it was there that he became the companion with whom I enjoyed an extended period of discussing literature, writing, history, politics-you name it-exploring the city, exchanging folk tales, joking, lying, eating and drinking. . . . A vigorous man, he damn near walked my legs off as we covered miles of what for him were familiar historical sites, restaurants, and bars. And it was through such pleasurable roaming that any bars to our friendship that might have been imposed by Southern manners and history went down the drain and left the well-known Fugitive poet and the fledgling writer and grandson of Freedmen marvelously free to enjoy themselves as human beings." The Warrens entertained as well as being entertained, and Monroe Spears and his wife, Betty, remembered particularly going to tea in their apartment with the Ellisons and other guests. …