Plumly, Stanley 1939–

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Plumly, Stanley 1939–

(Stanley Ross Plumly)


Born May 23, 1939, in Barnesville, OH; son of Herman (a farmer and carpenter) and Esther P. Plumly; married fourth wife, 1974; wife's name Hope (divorced). Education: Wilmington College, B.A., 1961; Ohio University, M.A., 1968.


Home—Gaithersburg, MD. Office—Department of English, 4153 Susquehanna Hall, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD, 20742-8815. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, instructor in creative writing, 1968-70; Ohio University, Athens, professor of English, 1970-74; visiting lecturer in writers' workshops at University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1975-76, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 1976-78, Columbia University, New York, NY, 1977-79, and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1979; University of Houston, Houston, TX, professor of English, beginning 1979; University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, professor of English and Distinguished University Professor.


Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, 1973, for In the Outer Dark; Guggenheim award, 1973; grants from National Endowment for the Arts grants, 1977, 1983; award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2003; William Carlos Williams Award, for Out-of-the-Body Travel; Ingram-Merrill Foundation fellowship; finalist for National Book Award, poetry category, National Book Foundation, 2007, for Old Heart: Poems.



In the Outer Dark: Poems, Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, LA), 1970.

How the Plains Indians Got Horses, Best Cellar, 1973.

Giraffe: Poems by Stanley Plumly, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1973.

Out-of-the-Body Travel, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1977.

Summer Celestial, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Boy on the Step, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1989.

The Marriage in the Trees, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Now that My Father Lies down beside Me: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Old Heart: Poems, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.

Poetry available on sound recordings, including The Poet and the Poem at the Library of Congress, 1990; Forrest Gander and Stanley Plumly Reading Their Poems in the Mumford Room, Library of Congress, March 20, 1997, 1997; and Seven Washington Poets Reading Their Poems in the Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, November 4, 1998, 1998. Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including the New Yorker. Poetry editor, Ohio Review, 1970-75, and Iowa Review, 1976-78.


(Editor, with Michael Collier) The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1999.

(Editor, with Sebastian Matthews) William Matthews, The Poetry Blues: Essays and Interviews, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2001.

Argument and Song: Sources and Silences in Poetry, Handsel Books (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Sebastian Matthews) Search Party: Collected Poems of William Matthews, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

Posthumous Keats: A Meditation on Immortality, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributor to books, including After Confession: The Contemporary American Poet, edited by Kate Sontag, University of Michigan Press, 2001.


According to William M. Meredith in the New York Times Book Review, Stanley Plumly's poetry reflects the poet's need "to understand and share the long, inarticulate suffering of his parents' lives, and the hereditary implication of that suffering." Plumly's father, a farmer and carpenter, died at age fifty-six, a victim of alcoholism. In the poems collected in Out-of-the-Body Travel, Plumly wonders: "Who knows if my heartbroken father was meant / to last longer than his last good drunk." The poet also recalls that his family "saw even in my father's face how well he understood the pain / he put them to."

Plumly's mother also figures prominently as the silent, helpless witness of her husband's self-destruction. In "Summer Celestial" Plumly writes: "My mother still wakes crying do I think she's made of money. / —And what makes money make money make money? / I wish I could tell her how to talk herself to sleep. / I wish. She says she's afraid she won't make it back. / As in a prayer, she is more afraid of loneliness than death." And in Out-of-the-Body Travel, she is "the woman who loved / clean floors and rain / on the streets after dark—/ who knelt at my ear, / night after night, / whose story / could break your heart / if you listened, the woman / with her forehead pinned to the wall." Meredith called the book "a steady exercise in understanding and compassion."

Summer Celestial is Plumly's fifth book of poems. In reviewing it for the New York Times Book Review, David Bromwich considered the landscape pieces the best. Bromwich felt Plumly's "procedure and characteristic emotions are still those of a youthful poet; indeed, his work appeals most through its evident ambition to be greater and larger than it is as yet."

The Marriage in the Trees is a longer book than previous Plumly collections and contains thirty-nine poems. Poetry reviewer David Baker wrote that the book "shows Plumly's widest range of tones and stances." Baker said that since reading Out-of-the-Body Travel, he has "loved the obsessive severe melancholy of Plumly's art; here I am delighted as well by a new and developing sense of humor." "Earthy, edgy, and ethereal, these poems speak with dignity and simplicity," said Fred Muratori in Library Journal.

Plumly and Michael Collier edited The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, for which eighty-two of one hundred invited poets submitted their work. Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist that "passion is present, but it has been tamed. Where's the anger? The hunger, desperation, and messiness?" Library Journal reviewer Graham Christian called it "perhaps the best single volume of contemporary poetry now available."

In Now that My Father Lies down beside Me: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000 Plumly includes new poems with those from previous collections. He begins with his most recent work and goes back in time. A Publishers Weekly reviewer said Plumly's poems are "well-made" but felt that poems like "Complaint against the Arsonist," driven by a "pathos-of-my-labors" theme, "can seem a little shopworn. Often enough, however, something ravenous emerges."

In an interview with Plumly for the Writer's Chronicle, Jeffrey Greene asked him: "At what point did you feel your language ‘married’ the experience in your early poems?" Plumly referred to his latest collection and said, "I feel I wrote only a couple of poems that I wanted to live with from the early work. Clearly that's why the selected poems are arranged this way. I was really learning to write and learning how not to write more than anything. I didn't have anyone to instruct me except myself and I guess reviewers. It turns out that those first books were well received, so it kind of baffled me where to go next." Plumly said he learned from his books, Giraffe: Poems by Stanley Plumly and Out-of-the-Body Travel, and considered the latter "as the real beginning."

In 2007 Plumly published Old Heart: Poems, the "old heart" being his own, in the aftermath of a heart attack not unlike the one that ended his father's life. The collection, not surprisingly, offers the poet's musings on life, the passage of time, and the mortality of man, and was awarded the critical praise that his readers have come to expect. During approximately the same time period Plumly was exploring the life and death of another poet whose life had been cut short when his career had barely achieved flight and, as many of his critics felt, before he had reached the height of his genius. Posthumous Keats: A Meditation on Immortality offers a thoughtful collection of essays on the sad life of John Keats, who knew from the beginning of his career that he had only a short time before tuberculosis would silence his muse. Plumly's work has been classified as a biography, but it differs from the myriad of Keats biographies in several ways. It is not chronological, for example, nor is it complete. Plumly explores several themes that permeated Keats's life and poetry, and does so from every angle that he could uncover, not the least of which is the theme of death, which followed Keats throughout his entire life. The picture that he presents is a collage of observations by the poet's most intimate contacts, including Joseph Severn, the friend who nursed him through a painful demise at the heart-breaking age of twenty-five; and Fanny Brawne, the love of his life. Plumly also studies the work of the dozens of artists who rendered Keats's image as they saw it and the even greater number of correspondents with whom he shared his thoughts in letter after letter. Some reviewers found Posthumous Keats confusing, partly because its thematic treatment assumes some prior knowledge of the poet's life on the part of the reader, and partly because it is not, and was not intended to be, a conventional "biography." Others, however, appreciated the depth of Plumly's selections. Matthew Ladd commented in American Scholar that Plumly "lingers on moments that easily could have been swallowed in a new ‘definitive’ biography." The author's scholarly examination bypasses a scholarly tone in favor of a personal, more intimate voice, expressing, as a Publishers Weekly contributor observed, Plumly's "unstinting admiration and evocative prose" that may ultimately serve "to create Keatsians yet unknown."



American Scholar, summer, 2008, Matthew Ladd, review of Posthumous Keats: A Meditation on Immortality, p. 152.

Antioch Review, spring, 2008, review of Old Heart: Poems, p. 397.

Booklist, August, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, p. 2015.

Essays in Criticism, January, 2005, David Haglund, review of Argument and Song: Sources and Silences in Poetry.

Georgia Review, winter, 2002, David Baker, "Provision and Perfection," pp. 1047-1055; fall-winter, 2006, "Peripheral Pleasures."

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2008, review of Posthumous Keats.

Library Journal, October 15, 1989, Fred Muratori, review of Boy on the Step, p. 85; January, 1997, Fred Muratori, review of The Marriage in the Trees, p. 104; August, 1999, Graham Christian, review of The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, p. 98; September 15, 2007, Ellen Kaufman, review of Old Heart, p. 64; April 15, 2008, Megan Hodge, review of Posthumous Keats, p. 85.

Literary Imagination, fall, 2003, David Biespiel, review of Argument and Song.

New Leader, January 9, 1984, Phoebe Pettingell, "In the Spirit of John Keats," p. 13.

New Yorker, July 7, 2008, Adam Kirsch, review of Posthumous Keats, p. 92.

New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1977, William M. Meredith, review of Out-of-the-Body Travel; October 9, 1983, David Bromwich, "Remembered Gestures," p. 12.

Poetry, December, 1984, Paul Breslin, review of Summer Celestial, p. 170; April, 1991, Henri Cole, review of Boy on the Step, p. 41; August, 1997, David Baker, review of The Marriage in the Trees, p. 288.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1983, review of Summer Celestial, p. 43; July 26, 1999, review of The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, p. 84; May 29, 2000, review of Now that My Father Lies down beside Me: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000, p. 79; August 20, 2007, review of Old Heart, p. 49; April 21, 2008, review of Posthumous Keats, p. 36.

Southern Review, autumn, 2004, Jay Rogoff, review of Now that My Father Lies down beside Me, p. 602.

Village Voice, December 26, 1977, review of Out-of-the-Body Travel.

Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 2001, review of Now that My Father Lies down beside Me, p. 28.

Washington Post Book World, December 11, 1977, review of Out-of-the-Body Travel.

Writer's Chronicle, fall, 2000, Jeffrey Greene, "Interview with Stanley Plumly."