PLUMLY, Stanley (1939– ), was born in Barnesville, Ohio, and grew up in the lumber and farming regions of Virginia and Ohio. His father was a lumberjack and welder. He was educated at Wilmington College, a Quaker school in Ohio, and Ohio University. In 1985 he married the poet Deborah Digges. He is a professor of English at the University of Maryland. His first collection, In the Outer Dark (Baton Rouge, La., 1970), won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award; his third, Out-of-the-Body Travel (New York, 1978), was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
For his Keatsian eye to nature, Plumly has been called the most English of American poets, and his quiet poems are unmistakable. His more autobiographical work, often depicting a working-class rural childhood, suggests that he may have inherited the mantle of James Wright, his fellow Ohioan. One is more astonished, however, by the garden found there than by the resolute bleakness of the life. Plumly writes compact, descriptive lyrics and more prosaic narrative poems. Both types are rooted in nature and both assert themselves melodically. In his earlier books Plumly used his mother and father as dual-axes for his poetry, but with time the machinery has enlarged, rotating history, family, and nature.
In addition to the two volumes named earlier, Plumly has published three collections of poetry: Giraffe (Baton Rouge, 1973), Summer Celestial (New York, 1983), and Boy on the Step (New York, 1989). He has also written The Abrupt Edge (New York, 1993), a book of personal and critical essays.
from The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Ed. Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford UP. Copyright © Oxford UP.
While Plumly was in Europe on his Guggenheim fellowship from 1973 to 1974, his father died of a heart attack, the result of chronic alcoholism. Plumly’s work has always addressed his father in some way, and continues to mine the hereditary and behavioral implications of growing up with an alcoholic parent. His mother, too, appears in many poems, but mostly as a silent figure overshadowed by her husband’s abuse. In all of his poetry, Plumly attempts to unearth a deeper psychological truth about family relationships, directing a near-Freudian attention to parents’ impact on their children.
Although Plumly’s eye for natural imagery is strong, he insists that if he had grown up in an urban setting, he would use the images of the city; in other words, his use of birds, flowers, and trees is simply circumstantial. He also claims that the figures in his poems are never completely imagined; they are more likely to be actual things than metaphors for something greater. If they transcend their everyday auras and appear to hold metaphysical weight, it is because Plumly is also concerned with the use of archetype. He intends the particular details of personal memory to hold the weight of the universal. Humor enters his work with Out-of-the-Body Travel (1977), the book that he considers his true beginning.
Stanley Plumly and Deborah Digges divorced in 1993. He has taught at the University of Iowa and at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Presently he is professor of English at the University of Maryland.
(Poetry Foundation, 2006)
In the Outer Dark: Poems. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1970.
How the Plains Indians Got Horses. Crete, Nebraska: Best Cellar, 1973.
Giraffe: Poems by Stanley Plumly. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.
Out-of-the-Body Travel. New York: Ecco Press, 1977.
Summer Celestial. New York: Ecco Press, 1983.
Boy on the Step. New York: Ecco Press, 1989.
The Marriage in the Trees. New York: Ecco Press, 1997.
Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me: New and Selected Poems 1970–2000. New York: Ecco Press, 2000.
Old Heart. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009.
Editor, with Michael Collier. The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1999.
Editor, with Sebastian Matthews. Search Party: Collected Poems. By Matthews William. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
Argument & Song: Sources & Silences in Poetry. New York: Handsel Books, 2003.
Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008.
Poems By STANLEY PLUMLY
LIFE SPAN 1939–