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Stanley Plumly, Lyrical Poet Influenced by Keats, Dies at 79

Category: Art & Culture,Books

Reviewing “Posthumous Keats” in The Los Angeles Times, the author Nicholas Delbanco called it a “beautiful book” in which “one has the sense of an artist, two centuries later, acting as a conduit for a great predecessor and breathing him back to life.”

Mr. Plumly followed “Posthumous Keats” with “The Immortal Evening” (2014), a book that imagines a dinner attended by Keats and two other English poets, William Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. And he quickly returned to the English Romantic era with “Elegy Landscapes” (2016), a dual biography of the landscape painters John Constable and J. M. W. Turner.

Stanley Ross Plumly was born on May 23, 1939, in Barnesville, Ohio, and grew up in Winchester, Va., and Piqua, Ohio. His father, Herman, was a lumberjack, machinist and farmer. His mother, Esther (Welbaum) Plumly, was a homemaker.

As a child, Stanley was quiet and meditative, influenced by Quaker teachings.

“To a real extent, I grew up in silence,” he told The Atlantic. “On the good side, it was Quaker silence, which dotes on a kind of minimalist linguistic reality. The less said the better, unless you really had something to say, usually to a congregation. On the less good side, my father was a lapsed Quaker, but then he was a lapsed father too. (He was not a lapsed drinker, however.)”

His interest in poetry was piqued in high school. While studying art and poetry at Wilmington College in Ohio, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, he moved to focus on poetry because he did not think his drawing was good enough. His early poems in college were filled with anger toward his father, but he learned to temper that anger when he was 23, the same age his father had been when Stanley was born.

“A little empathy went a long way toward insight there,” he told Boston Review, leading to “Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me,” which he called his “first real poem.” In it, Mr. Plumly wrote:

I dream we lie under water,

caught in our own sure drift.

A window, white shadow, trembles over us.

Light breaks into a moving circle.

He would not speak and I would not touch him.

Mr. Plumly, who studied for a Ph.D. at Ohio University but did not complete his doctorate, taught at various universities, most prominently at the University of Maryland, where he was a professor of English and director of the creative writing program for master’s students. While teaching there, he was selected as the state’s poet laureate. He served in the position from 2009 until last year.

His volume “In the Outer Dark” (1970) won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, and his “The Immortal Evening” won the Truman Capote Award in 2015 from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Capote estate.

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