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About this poet

Stanley Plumly was born in Barnesville, Ohio, in 1939. Plumly graduated from Wilmington College in 1962, and received his MA from Ohio University in 1968, where he also did course work toward a PhD.

Plumly's father, who died at the age of fifty-six of a heart attack brought on by his chronic alcoholism, dominates the poet's work: "I can hardly think of a poem I've written that at some point in its history did not implicate, or figure, my father" (Iowa Review, Fall 1973). His mother also figures prominently as the silent, helpless witness of her husband's self-destruction.

Plumly's books of poetry include Orphan Hours: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2013); Old Heart (W. W. Norton, 2007); The Marriage in the Trees (Ecco Press, 1997); Boy on the Step (1989); Summer Celestial (1983); Out-of-the-Body Travel (1977), which won the William Carlos Williams Award and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Giraffe (1973); In the Outer Dark (1970), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. He is also the author of the nonfiction books Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (W. W. Norton, 2008); Argument & Song: Sources & Silences in Poetry (Other Press, 2003).

He edited the Ohio Review from 1970 to 1975 and the Iowa Review from 1976 to 1978. He has taught at numerous institutions including Louisiana State University, Ohio University, Princeton, Columbia, and the Universities of Iowa, Michigan, and Houston, as well as at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 1978 and 1979.

His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram-Merrill Foundation Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

He is a professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently, he is Maryland's poet laureate.

Spirit Birds

Stanley Plumly, 1939
The spirit world the negative of this one,
soft outlines of soft whites against soft darks,
someone crossing Broadway at Cathedral, walking
toward the god taking the picture, but now,
inside the camera, suddenly still. Or the spirit
world the detail through the window, manifest
if stared at long enough, the shapes of this
or that, the lights left on, the lights turned off,
the spirits under arcs of sycamores the gray-gold
mists of migratory birds and spotted leaves recognize.

Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues,
wind kicking up newspaper off the street,
those ghost peripheral moments you catch yourself
beside yourself going down a stair or through
a door—the spirit world surprising: those birds,
for instance, bursting from the trees and turning
into shadow, then nothing, like spirit birds
called back to life from memory or a book,
those shadows in my hands I held, surprised.
I found them interspersed among the posthumous pages

of a friend, some hundreds of saved poems: dun
sparrows and a few lyrical wrens in photocopied
profile perched in air, focused on an abstract
abrupt edge. Blurred, their natural color bled,
they'd passed from one world to another: the poems,
too, sung in the twilit middle of the night, loved,
half-typed, half-written-over, flawed, images 
of images. He'd kept them to forget them.
And every twenty pages, in xerox ash-and-frost,
Gray Eastern, Gold Western, ranging across borders.

From Old Heart by Stanley Plumly. Copyright © 2008 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

From Old Heart by Stanley Plumly. Copyright © 2008 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

Stanley Plumly

Stanley Plumly

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Stanley Plumly's book Out-of-the-Body Travel received the William Carlos Williams Award and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

by this poet

poem
They fly up in front of you so suddenly,
tossed, like gravel, by the handful,
kicked like snow or dead leaves into life.
Or if it's spring they break back and forth
like schools of fish silver at the surface,
like the swifts I saw in the hundreds
over the red tile roofs of Assisi—
they made shadows, they changed
poem
 
1
And then he would lift this finest
of furniture to his big left shoulder
and tuck it in and draw the bow
so carefully as to make the music

almost visible on the air. And play
and play until a whole roomful of the sad
relatives mourned. They knew this was
drawing of blood
poem

 

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