Robert Penn Warren, 1980
POETRY MISCELLANY: Let's begin by talking about time. In a Paris Review interview a while back you talk about the distinction between William Faulkner's "still moments," the "frozen moments" that solidify meaning, fix it against the rush of time, and Ernest Hemingway's moments that "are key moments in themselves, moments of action." There's a richer sense of time and history in Faulkner--and in your own work. One of the more interesting things I find in your poems is the way you can counterpoint specific acts and larger contexts of history as in the lines "we think, Hear / The earth grind on its axis, or history / Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar." Very often a character finds himself in a context in which the horizon itself is past and future, time, history--a large set of forces beyond him, like at the end of "Tale of Time," where the character stands at a threshold, the edge of the woods, and sees the heat lightning play like time over the horizon. But "time / Is only a mirror in the fun-house," you say in Or Else; "You must reevaluate the whole question" (of identity). I could continue to cite these marvelous images for obviously time and history are important questions for you. Could you begin by sketching out a little of how you conceive time and history? how you see it operating in the poems? in you?
ROBERT PENN WARREN: When I'm stuck with the question of time in some larger sense during the process of writing a poem, I'm following my nose, as it were, following an instinct about the material rather than follow-