Rosanna Warren

I’d take a big basket of laundry down to the cellar so I could have 10 minutes in the basement, sitting on the floor with my back to the washing machine, scribbling in my notepad.

(March 11, 2021) Rosanna Warren, who teaches at the University of Chicago, has been publishing “poems of riveting, compassionate darkness and social conscience for nearly 40 years” (LA Review of Books); her most recent book of poems is So Forth (2020). She is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets, The American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Lila Wallace Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the New England Poetry Club, among others, and she was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Rosanna has two daughters, ages 37 and 35 and two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, ages 6 and 3. She describes writer-motherhood in 3 words as: “frazzled, passionate, surprised.”


Rosanna Warren’s Website
Rosanna’s Books
Rosanna’s Poem, For Chiara
Rosanna’s Poem, “A Way”
Rosanna’s biography of the French poet Max Jacob
Rosanna’s Parents, Robert Penn Warren and Eleanor Clark
Academy of American Poets
The American Academy of Arts & Letters 
Lila Wallace Foundation 
Guggenheim Foundation 
American Council of Learned Societies 
New England Poetry Club
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Philosophical Society
University of Chicago 
Boston University
New York Studio School
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Hart Crane
Poetry Magazine
Marianne Faithfull
Paul Valéry  
Winnie the Pooh 
The Wind in the Willows

sound bites

I try not to write poems that explain themselves too much. I try to have the poem be suggestive, to have the objects and actions and colors in the poem do the work for the imagination.

I would like poems to be unsettling in different ways, and for occasionally a line to feel like a knife stab.

“Poems have to have an urgency. They have a demand, a problem to solve, and some kind of trouble is the germ of a poem for me.” Rosanna Warren

I was uncomfortable with the role of being a, quote, “girl” in high school. It was unbearable. Those awful dances. I just thought the whole thing was so awful. This romance stuff, when I was a teenager, struck me like a Halloween party—you had to play “girl” and put on some makeup.

Having children was this tremendous gift—and maybe all the more tremendous because I hadn’t imagined it for myself.

I had to deal with the social expectations of outsiders looking at me and thinking, “She’s just riding on her parents’ reputation.” In order to be a writer, in order to have the courage to go on and keep writing and publishing, I just had to ignore all that and follow the drive that I had to make things in words. It was such a strong inner drive.

I don’t remember feeling any resentment myself as a child with my parents closing the door. It was just understood that was the way things were. They were very loving when they when they were with us. They were really with us, playing games, including us.

My children missed me at times, and it was hard for them and hard for me, especially when they were little. My daughters have told me, “Mom, when you shut the door, I was crying on the other side.” I didn’t stay in the study with a little child weeping on the other side of the door, but there were tensions. This is not easy, being a mother and any kind of artist or professional person. There are costs.

One of the places I could try to write a poem was when I was doing the laundry. I’d take a big basket of laundry down to the cellar, and I could have 10 minutes in the basement, sitting on the floor with my back to the washing machine, scribbling in the pad. Or driving to BU and parking in the parking lot, and before rushing in to teach, giving myself 10 minutes in the car, resting the pad on the steering wheel.

“The book that I started in 1985 just came out in 2020, if that gives anybody courage to keep on going.” Rosanna Warren

“There are so many marvelous things to say about having children. You’re no longer the center of the world. Your whole cosmology has changed. Your fundamental imperative is to care for somebody else.” Rosanna Warren

“The mystery of personhood is an extraordinary miracle. It’s like watching a seed turn into a little sprout and then grow leaves and grow up into the sun. The rest of our lives, I think of us as struggling to become people.” Rosanna Warren

“Poetry is a theater of possibilities. It is where we experiment with consciousness and where we can take imaginative and emotional risks.” Rosanna Warren

I could not have imagined that we would have this kind of threat of a militant oligarchical revolution and takeover destruction of our democracy and suppression of the vote. I was trying to find ways to figure out how to put that horror, that fear, that anger into the shapes that would be honorable poems. Each poem is a new struggle.

“I stick my draft into what I call a compost heap, and I let it sit there decomposing or stinking, and then look at it a few weeks later and if it still seems to hold together, I send it out to a magazine.” Rosanna Warren

Reading aloud was always a very big part of our family life, from my husband and myself reading with our children every night and having supper together and talking, trying, no matter what was going on, to have some core to family life, even with all the other emergencies that were around us.

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