In Tennessee: The Last Garden

Old age is the best disguise. When Robert Penn Warren came to Vanderbilt University in the early 1920s, fresh off the farm in Gutherie, Ky., he looked like a poet. A city poet, after the style of T.S. Eliot. Glossy shoes. Handkerchief triangulated in the jacket pocket. Fingers exquisitely laced for the camera. Now, at 75, with over 50 years of poetry behind him—not to mention, a good deal of fiction, including All the King's Men—"Red" Warren looks like a farmer.

Seated on the stage of Vanderbilt's Underwood Auditorium, simultaneously slicked up and...

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