Daniel Halpern


For a Poet Gone

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, four male friends had what we then called a Boyz Night. We were Russell Banks, Stanley Plumly, William Matthews, and myself. What was discussed at that table remains at that table. We lost Bill in 1997—and last week, April 11, 2019, we lost Stanley. It’s been a bad year for poets and we’re only four months in.

I met Stanley in the early seventies. He was already “an important poet,” having published two very well-received collections. I bought his third at Ecco, Out-of-the-Body Travel. He would also become one of the most astute and intuitive critics of contemporary poetry, publishing long, highly anticipated essays on the landscape of American poetry. He had another distinction—known as the poet with the best hair. In those days, that was a distinction, of sorts. The rest of our group had no such distinctions, except what we each brought to the table that particular evening.

Our Boyz table contained a shitload of marital history—I think the table average weighed in at 3.5 weddings, although I was only on my first (and last). Stanley was our leader, another distinction, married more than [tk] times. But that was because he was the true romantic among us, a guy who just didn’t believe in dating.

Stanley wrote some of the most memorable poems of the last forty years, as well as remarkable books on Keats and the artists Turner and Constable. And he was as good a friend as he was a poet. But a poet he was to his core, the thing that mattered as much to him as his breathing in, and his breathing out.