Keep an Eye on the Frank Stanford Feature in Fulcrum #7

By Harriet Staff


We'd love to direct your attention to the new, seventh issue of Fulcrum: An Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics (that's right, annual), edited in Cambridge, MA by Stephen Sturgeon, with Philip Nikolayev and Katia Kapovich. At 629 pages (don't worry, about 13 of those are contributor notes, you could skip em), it's chock full of marvelous work, with entries from the likes of Lisa Robertson, Landis Everson, Tomaž Šalamun, Zachary German, Gerard Malanga, John Tranter, Anne Atik, Charles Bernstein, Stephen Burt, Patrick James Dunagan, Farrah Field, Dubravka Djurić, and many many more--certainly you can see for yourself it's a widely variant group, with probably more affinities than are resonant at first eyeball.

What we'd actually like to highlight here is an exciting feature on poet Frank Stanford, which has been carefully edited by poet and publisher Matthew Henriksen (whose first book, Ordinary Sun, came out just recently). Author of You and The Singing Knives (both in print again), and the epic Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, among other works published and not, Frank Stanford is oft mythologized; here, Henriksen combs through the particulars and presents, for the most part, previously unpublished writing. O the "amplitude"!

We employ "amplitude" because it's mentioned to describe Stanford quite a bit in this feature, at first by Henriksen in his introduction, with the usage cleared up later in the following pages ("Towards a Biography of the Poet Frank Stanford") as a defining characteristic Alan Dugan used to attest to Stanford's genius when convincing the Academy of American Poets that they had made a mistake not reading The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You for the Walt Whitman Award. In his letter, postmarked June 6, 1972, Dugan wrote:

I think you have made a mistake. Stanford is a brilliant poet and just because he is ample in his work, like Whitman, is no reason not to consider his manuscript. He has had this difficulty often in trying to get his poetry published. Again I say that I think that he is a brilliant poet and he should be encouraged in his amplitude rather than rejected for it. . . .

Indeed, the quality of the work is ample--clearly built out of "highly charged lyricism," violent images ("I gallop through the lowlands in a daze / the books in my saddlebag seep blood"); emphatic, stark emotion; mysterious, animal becomings through line break that almost erase the limits of metaphor (cf. "Bait" and "Children at the Point of Death"); generous transmission of direct experience; and what Henriksen calls a lineage of "synthesized contradictions," rarely representational of one locale and yet completely Southern (Stanford lived and wrote in the Mississippi Delta and the Ozark Mountains, with time also spent in New York, before committing suicide at age 30 in 1978 in Fayetteville, Arkansas). His influences were many:

...among them French surrealism, Medieval history, Arthurian legend, the mythos of Blake, foreign cinema (particularly Bergman and Cocteau), Delta blues, all forms of jazz, opera, Vallejo, Thomas Merton--in a myriad of references that flow through his entire body of work in an endless collage seamlessly joined with the time and place in which he lived.

Interestingly, it's also pointed out that the "surrealistic" tack often used to comprehend Stanford's work was something he himself refuted, having frequently lived out a proclaimed experience eventually set in the poetry, or known well a character later depicted. Steve Stern, who met the poet early on at the University of Arkansas, said, "For it was the simple prodigy of his nature that his world and his imagination were identical."

We could go on and on! It was obviously a monumental task to select the work that follows these introductions, which includes twenty poems (only three of which were previously published but remain uncollected, and two of which were his last); two short stories, culled from the collection of papers held by widow Ginny Stanford and transcribed by Henriksen from typescript drafts; and correspondence from Stanford to Bill Willet, "consisting of several postcards and a letter sent while Stanford was on the East Coast, [it] illuminates an important time in the poet's emotional and creative development which has remained largely undocumented." Henriksen has done a boatload of research, having spent time in C.D. Wright's papers in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, and interviewed and corresponded with several people close to or surrounding Frank Stanford during his lifetime. The work reflects, in all, an intensity of feeling for the poet and his creative endeavors; and serves as a gift for both those at the ready and others who might come to recognize Stanford as well worth further study and publication. We are still waiting for a Collected Poems, and there's heaps to go through--oh and only if someone could find the manuscripts lost, left behind in a hospital, on a yacht, and under a movie theater seat! We know you don't need the hard sell. It's just that, "[i]n his poems," Henriksen writes, "Stanford approaches sorrow and death with human purpose...". As Stanford wrote about his creative process:

Really, I visualize the dead as well as the living. I visualize you who I will never know. We are constant strangers. I imagine you, I stare at you when I write. And to think, you will never know, will never hear of those people I can no longer call anonymous. People close to me have said: I don't understand what you are talking about, but I know what you mean.

We've got more on Frank Stanford here, and do check out Fulcrum.

Originally Published: June 24th, 2011