Who Was the Poet Frank Stanford?


Next week—with the release of What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanfordthe work of a brilliant, difficult, much-mythologized and little-known American poet will finally be widely available.

Frank Stanford’s short life was a study in contradictions: his childhood was divided between the privilege of an upper-crust Memphis family and summers deep in the Mississippi Delta; he was a backwoods outsider who maintained correspondence with poets ranging from Thomas Lux to Allen Ginsberg; and posthumously, he is both little-known and a cult figure in American letters. He was a “swamprat Rimbaud,” “one of the great voices of death,” and “sensitive, death-haunted, surreal, carnal, dirt-flecked and deeply Southern.” He shot himself in 1978, just shy of his 30th birthday. Reviewing the new collection for the New York Times, Dwight Garner wrote about the enigmatic nature of Stanford himself, as well as why his work has been so difficult to…

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