Stanley’s generosity to young poets was legendary: it was also genuine, to which I can testify. After picking my manuscript for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1973, he supported me relentlessly during the time I most needed it, privately and publicly. For the last 40 years of his life, he presented his life as a poet publicly while the roots of that life and the self he projected were private and spiritual, even mystical. His public project, of turning “life into legend” (as he put it), was adapted from Yeats, but his true loves were not performative but devotional poets: Blake and Hopkins and the tubercular fated Keats—all poets who generated their poems through the music of English, which at his best Stanley did, too. For all his strict maintenance of himself, what he loved most was wildness, the pure gifts of some unnameable indescribable God, whose force he experienced in what he took to be manifestations in poetry and his garden and the sweetest aspects of human beings, especially in the young and bewildered (like me). It sustained him to mentor those people. That he chose me probably had less to do with my worthiness than my need, but he made me believe that he believed in me absolutely. I know now that this was one of those pure gifts he received in giving, but that only makes me more grateful for it.

Originally Published: June 23rd, 2006

Poet and memoirist Michael Ryan was born in St Louis, Missouri. He studied at the University of Notre Dame and Claremont Graduate School, and earned an MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa. Ryan’s first volume, Threats Instead of Trees (1974), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award....

Related Content