Hannah Baker Saltmarsh


“And all this time I’ve stayed awake with you: Romanticism in Stanley Plumly’s Maternal Metaphor1


More than any other postconfessional poet, Stanley Plumly (19392019) has transformed contemporary American poetry not by deviating from English literary tradition but rather by echoing and reconfiguring English romanticism. He accomplishes this through reimagining the mind of John Keats and evoking the entire mood of the romantics. In Plumly’s work the tropes of childhood, nature, family, loneliness, silence, dreams, and mortality are never mere subject matters or fleeting occasions of poems but food for contemplative thought. Plumly stands quite apart from his generation in his aesthetic of meditative listening, dreaming, and longing. I can remember Plumly’s pointed advice during graduate poetry workshops at the University of Maryland: “Aural, not oral,2 he said as he steered students away from the kind of writing that makes a grandiose point or tries to win or fixes a “palpable design3 upon the reader. These are the sort of poems Keats despised. Plumly writes Keatsian “unobtrusivepoetry4 and relies on naturalistic observation and total awareness of the external world rather than on personality, rhetoric, or sentimentality. 

Throughout Plumly’s oeuvre, the poet-narrator evokes the listening ears, watchful gaze, and dream world of childhood. The speaker is often portrayed as a half-awake, half-dreaming, vulnerable, innocent child-witness rather than as a confident orator. Poeticinspiration visits the attuned ears of boyhood. The speaker is like a child overhearing adult chaos, birds, and trees and sensing tonal meaning in the sounds around him without imposing his own will or voice on the environment. It is from his mother’s voice—or his own rough memory of it—that he derives his quiet poetics. In “The Iron Lunghe writes that on summer evenings poetry arises from “something like your mother’s voice calling you homewhen you could lie down where you were and listen to the dead.5

In Plumly’s work the maternal voice becomes metaphorically intertwined with the voices of nature and the dead and with the deeper consciousness of dreams, inviting poetic composition. Often poetic meditation occurs during the evening, when the poet-speaker resurrects his mother’s voice. In many of Plumly’s poems, mother and son seem to suffer from insomnia, which puts them on the cusp of dreams, in the transitional spaces between dusk and late night, between night and dawn, and between the living and the dead. 

In Plumly’s poems, the poet’s mother, Esther Plumly, is usually figured in proximity to some kind of bed: deathbed, operating table, recovery room, or birthing bed. In some poems the mother should be in bed but cannot sleep. In “Linoleum: Breaking Down,she is asleep on the kitchen floor, away from an abusive husband while in “Cows” she is a plaintive insomniac outside singing to the cows.6 The poet is often in or beside the mother’s bed: the bed he was born in, blue with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck; her deathbed as he holds her hand on the night she dies; her hospital bed after another open-heart surgery; his childhood bed with her face above his as he wakes from a nap; her bed in the middle of the night, as he rushes to her sturdy feet propped there. Taken together, the motifs of beds, mother, evening, and childhood suggest dreaming: the way the mother calls her son home for supper and breaks through his solitude, watches over him while he sleeps, summons him in the transitional spaces between conscious and subconscious mind, rustles his mind through dreams, and carries in the timbre of her voice the echoes of the dead and the natural world. Because the mother is a sorrowful figure—victim of domestic abuse, a child of the Depression, and an adult who has never traveled the world or seen an ocean—she is organically swept up in Plumly’s poetic obsessions with solitude and loss that breed dreaming. 

Plumly casts himself in his poems as a consoler who absorbs his mother’s suffering without cold judgment—and more important, without condescending pity. In “Linoleum: Breaking Down,7Infidelity,8 and “Ghazal/Insomnia,9 Plumly enfolds his mother’s silences and her tragic, expressionless gazes into his own meditative silences and meaningful ambiguities. In poems such as “Say Summer/For My Mother,10 “My Mother’s Feet,11“The Iron Lung,12Cows,13 “Argument and Song,14Monostichs,15 and “For Esther,16 Plumly represents his mother’s voice across the years, reconstructing his mother’s younger self in the face of old age, surgeries, births, and death. In “Red Somersault,”17 “The Crows at 3 a.m.,18 “Orphan Hours,19Arbitrarily,”20Autumnal,21Mercy,22Naps,23 and “Lost Key,24 the poet shares with his mother the emotional spaces and stories of various beds. Even as the poet’s childhood bed is a powerful and formative dreamscape (and one that of ten features the mother’s presence), the mother’s different beds are critical to understanding her lifespan and her dreams.  

It’s impossible to read any of Plumly’s eleven poetry volumes without being stunned at the returning metaphor of the mother, who is at once a woman and an archetype. However, literary criticism fails to address this subject matter, clearly so integral to an understanding of Plumly’s aesthetic. Literary critics, interviewers, and Plumly himself have focused primarily on the poet’s father, Herman Plumly, a larger-than-life, volatile, and complex man. The poet titled his volume of selected poems Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me; and certainly the father plays an important role as muse and man. However, there are just as many hauntings of the mother in Plumly’s poetry, and every important poem in some way circles back to the mother’s voice. While, in Keatsian fashion, the maternal is linked to the deathbed and the bed of childhood dreams, the father poems tend to insist on curing a fractured father-son relationship, where forgiveness, universal frailty, and family loyalty cover a multitude of wrongs. The speaker of the father poems narrates almost anonymously about deep emotional wounds that seem to have an obvious source in the father; these poems exercise humility and grace that is more natural to children than to narcissistic, jaded adults, and thus the poems reflect the purity and innocence of the child-speaker’s point of view. There is a childlike longing for closure that brings emotional urgency to the father poems. Like all of us, the child still needs something from the father: acknowledgment, camaraderie, touch, closure, or assurance. The father still needs the child, to be brought back into the fold after an emotional outburst and to somehow apologize and provide again. By contrast the mother-son relationship does not need any cure. In fact the mother-son bond is the cure as the poet seeks to console the mother and to place himself between his abusive father and his burdened mother. Significantly, the mother offers the poet-son an emotional space from which to compose poetry: the bedroom—and with it the topos of dreams. It is through imaginative dreaming; through witnessing death, birth, and life-or-death medical procedures; through shared witnessing of violence; and through the voice of the mother heard even in sleep that the poet-son discovers language and lyric. 

There’s a Keatsian resonance to the dreams in Plumly’s poems that revises the Freudian dreams associated with confession and the interiority of postconfession. Plumly doesn’t break from the postconfessional mode, but he revises it through an engagement with romanticism. In Posthumous Keats, Plumly writes, “Dreaming, as a topic and thematic constant, seems to want to evolve into a perceived alternate state of deeper consciousness . . . as well as an alternate state of mind in which the imagination . . . can best make new synesthetic connections and visual discoveries . . . By the time he [Keats] returns from the North to nurse Tom, [dreaming] develops into the highest of mythic and metaphoric platforms on which to build. It becomes synonymous with the imagination.25

Not only is dreaming a motif about poetic creativity and poetic self-fashioning, but it is linked so clearly in both Keats and Plumly to the life and death of the poet’s mother. Keats nursed his brother Tom as he was dying of tuberculosis and, having lost his mother to the same disease when he was fourteen, he was being re-orphaned. Keats had seen the entire process of this illness from so many vantage points—as medical student, poet, and family member. He knew all too well what was happening in his own body as he succumbed to the disease himself. In Keats’s Hyperion,the muse Moneta reveals herself to the speaker, who perceives anew the vulnerability and the power of the mother-muse dying, but dying unto life. According to Plumly, in this recognition scene, “Keats address[es] his sources—his mother, Tom, and his own ‘immortal sickness.’ To recognize the wan, tubercular face is the dreaming made real, memory made alive. . . . To see as a poet, a true dreamer, is to see as a healer.26 This alternate way of seeing, reflected in poetry as a dream state, is not about fancy or what children call make believe or pretending; rather it is about perception and often gives the poet-speaker the kind of psychic distance or alternate reality that promotes empathy, understanding, and kindness. Plumly shows us the dreaming poet-son, full of compassion, extending a healing touch, and adopting a maternal role toward his mother, bedside the way so many mothers hover over their napping babies. Plumly attends his mother as she dies, a moment captured in “Red Somersault,” “Lost Key,and “Orphan Hours.” 

At least twenty-one major poems by Plumly are directly and deeply concerned with motherhood. One elegy is especially representative of the ways in which Plumly draws from romanticist themes in writing about Esther Plumly. Particularly in “Lost Key” in Orphan Hours (2012), Plumly contemplates the immediacy of his mother’s tears, voice, hands, and feet; the urgency of her fears, isolation, and death. He stands like a Keatsian physician-poet tending to his mother’s body. In “Ghazal/Insomniahe absorbs her “Century of pain.27 In the effortless mutuality of the mother-son union, Esther comes alive in Plumly’s poetry, even while aging or dying, turning into the natural world around her and informing the poet’s elegiac, romanticist tone. Plumly traces his mother’s voice as it diffuses into the snowfall in “Lost Key.” 

“Lost Keyfuses together the mother’s deathbed scene with memories of the mother and of an anonymous woman whom the poet saw in the 1960s but who mysteriously returns to the poet’s mind as a kind of mother-muse. The poem is surely the cornerstone of Orphan Hours, obsessed as it is with death and the ways in which time seems to “orphanus, not only depriving us of parents but of existence, so that we are stripped of time and our bodies of breath and life. “Lost Keyis centered around a small incident of a lost mail key, which signals to the speaker that the universe is kicking him out or at least telling him that he no longer belongs in his current apartment. Plumly writes, I thought the lost key was telling me to leave, / and in increments so small I’d have to dream them / to see them.28 It upsets him the way a lost penny disturbs Beethoven in the classic “Rage over the Lost Penny.Even the triviality of it, which could be comic, suggests the utter vulnerability of existence, so prone to loss and even more prone to hyperbole and hysteria over lossas Plumly himself noted in 2009.29 Yet such small losses are tied to the greater losses in the poem: the death of the speaker’s mother and his own fears about old age and death. In the poem, there are many ghosts and dreams: the poet sees his mother dying, follows John Keats walking, sees a woman in a Buddha pose, and ultimately confronts his own death, his own visage. 

The poem reveals Plumly’s lifelong obsession with the totality of sudden, fatal losses and the confusion of infinitesimal losses. He has said to many a graduate student, “All writing is about loss, and you put that loss into your poems. If you’re  happy, why write about it? If you want to win, run for office.Some of Plumly’s former students labeled him the “Death Poet” at the 2006 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Austin, Texas, where there was a panel about his influence. While Plumly’s writing has an elegiac tone, he is not morbid. To look only for inevitable failure, isolation, or burial in Plumly’s poems is too reductive. Yet death is always present, as is failure, even in the happiness and the successes of life, and the reverse is true as well. There is a kind of illumination, sublime closure, and bliss that is possible only in the face of death—what the Victorians used to render as miraculous deathbed conversions or realizations, only they are secular and naturalistic in Plumly’s work. Death laced everywhere in life and a kind of life only possible in death are firmly accepted, even anticipated, as the poet admits, echoing Yeats, “No wonder words are wasted breath,30 celebrating the life within death. One of my favorite moments in Orphan Hoursis in “The Best Years of Our Lives,when the poet’s parents crash a car yet remain unscathed: “And he [my father] won a car, a Chevy, that he and my mother / drove into another car, and walked away from whole.”31 These lines perfectly capture the paradox of creative destruction/destructive creativity: because of the near-death experience, the parents prize survival, as if they could not walk away “wholeor know wholeness until and unless the totaled car reminded them of how lucky they are to be alive, shook them with the reality of how dangerous a single moment can be. In a similar mode of humility, “Lost Keyrenders a lost mail key, lost memories, and a lost mother, as the kind of loss that ushers in deeper awareness. The loss of the mail key is not tragic; in fact it is a bit comic, the self-mocking obsessive compulsive admitting defeat and disorganization. But, to feel you do not belong anywhere, to be orphaned, motherless, is more consequential. As the poem considers the mother’s life and death, we see Plumly confronting and addressing his source and discovering a kinship beyond mortality that he shares with his isolated parent, the last parent. 

In “Lost Key,the poet figures his mother initially as an ideal reader of poetry, an audience for the best-written sob stories, and a pensive nature watcher. Possessed of a dreaming, solitary mind, she loves windows, the fields, and trees, and tragic heroines such as Anna Karenina. The poet is truly his mother’s son, but it is not the mother who reads the poet’s works so much as it is the poet whoreads his mother. According to Plumly, “My mother would sit for hours inside silence / who also loved windows and the picture / of the world outside them.32 The “alsoincludes the poet, who shares his mother’s longings to escape pain through nature and imaginative dreaming, reading herself into tragedies, her mind drifting as a railcar. The mother seems destined to die in the poem.The first stanza that introduces her ends with the mother closing the book and her eyes. The end of the book is rather lovingly wedded to the end of life: a writer’s ideal death. 

The mother’s doppelgänger also appears in “Lost Keyas the female in the other window—as if the mother is duplicated to protect the poet from loss, or to promise her return through poetic dreaming. Reiteration, not repetition, is the method of Plumly’s free verse. In fact “Lost Keyrepeats mostly word for word his earlier poem “Red Somersault,33 and enfolds it within an entirely different, much longer poem that contains a dreamlike, pastiche quality rather than a straight, single narrative. “Lost Keycontains a multitude of lifetimes whereas “Red Somersaultcontains one. “Lost Key” soars with the mysterious marker of time, “a lifetime sinceburrowed into the poem’s last line,34 thus expanding the already capacious narrative to include the future, various pasts, alternative dream states, and a multilayered present. If “dreaming [is] a way to remember lifeand if “death / . . . is dreaming”—as Plumly says in “I Love You,35 then the narratives in “Lost Key” contain both kinds of dreaming: dreams as the found key to the past and dreams as the found key to eternal rest. Dreams, like the archetypal mother, offer points of entry to both the past and the certain future, the bookends of mortality. In Above Barnesville,Plumly suggests he’s fully created out of his mother’s body. Beyond gestation and genetics and beyond fundamental maternal care, the poet seems certain he will follow after his mother’s footsteps. He begins and ends with her: “I think of how I will follow her, / how she brought me here, half her body, half of the rest of her.36

The unnamed woman who both opens and closes “Lost Keyis framed in a window, just as the mother’s mind is—her silent, meditative, listening, and reading mind. The woman, significantly a Londoner, approaches the speaker-poet, just as Moneta in Keats’s “Hyperion” does, the mother-muse that breathes life into death: A woman in the full-length / of a window in a brownstone walking toward me / as if to speak or break the glass, all of it / so fast I couldn’t tell.37 At the end of Plumly’s long poem, this woman reappears “a life time since, walking toward me / into the full-length frame of a window, one of us alive.38 In a climatic gesture, the poet has linked the deaths of mother, muse, and self, suggesting that the real living is in dreaming, meditating, merging into the landscape, making ghost not guest appearances. In Orphan Hours, the poet places the poem “On Deciding Not to Be Buried but Burneddirectly after “Lost Key” as if to bring the focus back on the taboo, yet revelatory, idea of erasure: the freedom to be purged, forgotten, absorbed, linked to the other worlds of nature, dreams, and ghosts. Diffusion, paradoxically, is the way to immortality. 

The poet, like the drifting consciousness of his literary mother, lives entombed in books. Whereas his mother stares through windows, hoping for escape but stuck in Ohio, the speaker-poet walks London and dreams of Keats. Walking is the only reliable way to “clear the head,he says in “Lost Key39—no doubt to clear it of the weariness, pain, and death around him—and this old-fashioned call for exercise and fresh air rings out as maternal advice to a lost soul. However, the poet is the healer, the dreamer, and the seer who holds his dying mother as she clings to him. Plumly goes so far as to say he is “hoping to meet John Keatson these “rich Sunday walks40; strangely, it’s as though he meets John Keats’s dying mother or the visage of Moneta: this strange Londoner, the female face in a window. This maternal figure comes from the same dream world in which the poet can hear his mother through sleep. 

In “Lost KeyPlumly recalls his mother’s hand on his forehead when he had a fever. It’s as if he is ever aware of the voice and the presence that watched over him as a child. Are we ever really orphaned if the mother’s voice is absorbed into the mind? Not literally as if the voice were a recording, but the texture of her voice and the multifarious ways in which one hears that first voice over one’s lifetime. The poem notes the speaker’s age as seventy, and across the many mother poems, one can read the various ways in which the mother’s voice is approximated, estimated, suggested, evoked, forgotten, sensed, likened to, or brought into relationship with another experience or person. Referring to Whistler’s well-known portrait of the artist’s mother, Plumly notes, “the painters mother is staring into the future, / as if her son could paint her back into her body.41 Similarly, Plumly’s mother poems suggest that the son wishes to paint his mother back into her body, to give her back “the breathto call her son home some summer evening in deep dark—as he writes in “Say Summer/For My Mother.42 Poetry becomes wish fulfillment, dreaming back through life. 

In “Cows” Plumly evokes his mother from his childhood days, recognizing how this voice still lives in him and in his poetry: “I could hear you all night from my room. . . . / I can hear you now, / here, in this room, as I have, poem / after poem.43 The room is not only the writer’s studio but also the stanza, which translates as “roomin Italian; the mother’s voice is metaphorically linked to poetic form. Plumly writes, “My mother, the familiar . . . is like the form in my poems—half-measured, precariously balanced, quietly obsessive . . . and—depending on the context—threatening to fall apart.44 The poet’s living memory of his mother is not fixed in the past but flexible in the moment, a cyclical evening that keeps returning like the moon: “And the moon’s still up, the doomed moon. / And all this time I’ve stayed awake with you.45 The lyric moment enables son and mother to stay together, to prolong the evening hours in which the son hears the mother incant her pain to the cows and the night air. “All this timeis nondescript enough to include not only that particular evening song, but all of the child’s existence. He has stayed attuned to his mother though the poems of his adulthood just as much as through the nights of his childhood. 

In an interesting role reversal, Plumly’s “Surprising the Airreveals a sleeping mother who still talks to her children long after they are raised; the poet, her lover, hears her in dreams addressing them.46 This poem reveals how the speech between mother and child is an intimacy for both and that the child is not always the addressee and the receiver. The child can hover over the mother in sleep, even if only in the mother’s fanciful memory. The child still exists as such for the mother, even as a quality of her voice, perhaps as she shifts registers into a particular kind of maternal longing for her baby, now grown. The dreaming woman in “Surprising the Air” calls out to her son, and after saying his name, her son seems to be held in her maternal address. Overhearing her, the poet says, “The child was the tenderness in her voice47 What if it is a shared fantasy of grown sons and mothers: the mother in the doorway, willing her child home, as in “Rainbow,48 and of the mother and son dreaming, each calling to the other?                  

“Lost Keyfeatures the dreaming child who listens for his mother as the key to living, even if he does not discern specific wisdom. Emphasizing emotional tone rather than the content of the mother’s voice, Plumly notes, “If I fall asleep still half-awake, someone in / a half-voice is talking. What is she saying, / what is she saying?”49 Half-voice, half-light, half-thought, half-remembered, or half-forgotten, these strands make up the “memory work50 of “Lost Key,by which the mother is elegized and transformed. She may have looked from the window, but surely the poem is telling us she is also the “full-length window51 through which the poet sees. In a similar way, Plumly has remarked that no physical Grecian urn inspired Keats to write his famous ode but rather figures on the Elgin Marbles, which inspired Keats to imagine the urn; thus “the urn is the poem,as Plumly has said in his romanticism seminar at the University of Maryland. In “Lost Key,the mother is the window of perception; the mother is a metaphor of poetic vision, signifying as Keats’s urn did, the relationship between one’s imagination and one’s raw material or sources. The mother’s wistful gaze out of windows should not be read as a son’s pity for the victim-mother. Windows in the kitchen, windows offered by books, train windows, and the windows framing the two different women in “Lost Key” all become transitional spaces to dreaming. Similarly beds, the maternal voice, and open fields call out to the poet-son, inviting alternate ways of remembering and altering the essential narratives of the family. Despite the mystical and magical quality of windows in “Lost Key,loss runs through the poem like a river. It is possible that a reader might perceive “Lost Keyas morbid with its focus on the lost mother, the lost breast, the lost mail key (and with it the unread letters in the locked mailbox), the lost key to meaning, the closed page, the sealed eyes, the lost son, the language of lyric wrought out of loss, the lost poetic father-predecessor Keats, the orphaned Keats, the suddenly motherless Keats, and the orphaned poet-speaker in old age. But beside the loss and just as compelling are the miracles of life and death, showing the reader the value of life. Across other Plumly poems, the speaker refers to his parents’ deaths at fifty-six and seventy-five, as well as the fact that he was born nearly dead with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, as if to say his own life is a miracle. In “Argument and Song,he says, “I was lucky to be / alive.52 There is stillness, silence, and an unspoken blessing in the poet’s presence in “Lost Key; gratitude at witnessing his mother’s “truant spiritas it disperses into the earth in “Farragut North53, humility in knowing that he might never have even been born. In another homage, “Monostichs,he remarks to his mother or maybe a life-sustaining, maternal female lover, “I’m alive because of you, I’m alive all night and in the morning.54

Plumly finds forgiveness for his alcoholic father by imagining how parenting can wreck identity and ambition: “Somewhere in my twenties . . . I began to identify and even empathize with my father—somewhere around the time I turned twenty-three and realized that I had been born when he was twenty-three, a fact of life that would have sunk me.55 Beyond the stress of a young marriage and parenthood, there were other struggles, including poverty, farm life, and a working-class existence. In “Such Counsels” Plumly sees in his father’s alcoholism a coping mechanism for the violence of the farm: “Each year to kill those cattle / he had to drink a week in a day / to stay cold sober.”56

Plumly recognizes his mother’s sacrifice, and discovers motherhood pains through imaginative empathy rather than through literal experience, writing in “For Esther”: “You are thirty. I still seem to burden that young body.57 Unlike John Berryman and Frank Bidart, who locate in familiar, domestic spaces figures tormented and deranged by modern existence and who locate eerie beauty at the edge of torment, Plumly softens the edges of crisis with a kind of friendship with his parents. His work bears resemblance to the Robert Pinsky of “History of My Heart58 in the forgiveness directed toward one’s parents, although it is also a way of forgiving and understanding the self. Plumly’s books are characterized by humility, grace, and self-distancing that permit understanding and perception of parental figures not only in their desperation and weakness but in the fullness of their humanity, which not only includes but is best manifested through small graces and little mercies. Within this framework, death in old age is a blessing for his mother and for the son who holds her hand through her passage from life to death. Death allows other kinds of love to flourish; the father’s passing underscores the complexity of the man: “Even those of us who might have hated him also worshiped him, as my mother, once he was gone, was fond of saying.59

As in “Lost Key,death ends the burdens of past wrongs, parenthood, and old age. There is promise in the mother’s death because there is finally an end to pain. Death saves her from poverty, sadness, and alienation. The poet confesses that he has “seen her on the edge of chances60; that at one time she told her alcoholic husband to “die or go awayas he collapsed on the front stoop “like one of her children.61 The mother’s favorite books feature “souls like Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina / and other country girls who marry to be safe / then kill themselves.62 Her face is “covered black with bloodafter a violent confrontation with her husband, who likely struck her from the car to the ground.63 Her burdened body has been opened six times for three open-heart surgeries and three births.64 The poet sees her coming out of anesthesia following one open-heart surgery and links her bodily transcendence to “the way a woman unloved for / years is suddenlytouched and knows she will become pregnant.65 The intimate connection as well as the cold, pale loneliness of sex and death meet in the mother’s body; and the poet notes how intertwined their souls are, how at once close and separate they are as they share this first “loneliness” of birth.66 He says that he left so much of himself in his mother at birth. If birth is a kind of loneliness, symbolizing the separation as well as the intimacy of child and mother, then death is a reiteration of this fissure and this embrace. Her death ends her fears of being alone a minute longer: no more worries about money; no more lonely, twin-sized hospital beds or solitary meals or smoking a cigarette in a dark room at night. Her peaceful death seems to embrace her, to hold her even as she holds onto her son’s hand through the night of her death. Approaching death, she can articulate to her son where she would have gone if she could have travelled: Venice, where “she might still be in her haunting of the afterlife.67

At “three-quarters-of-a-century,she still has “clarityand “comprehension68 to understand her own death, to learn from it, as another alternate reality similar to the one created by imagination or dreaming. The mother’s death is revelatory: in “Autumnal”Plumly writes, “She wept, she understood the innocent of dying; she “now saw death as her last chance to live.69 In “Lost Keydeath ferries the mother into a naturalistic heaven by which “air is the angeland snow covers her hands in a surreal burial: “Her snow-covered hands holding fast to the fear / that she alone and without death would end / as one of those women on the street / who in weather sleeps wrapped up in cars.70 The mother dies in the arms of someone she loves, her son, in an almost romantic snowy vista, in an airy room fifteen floors up from the ground, beside an open window with streetlights glowing in the evening like candles. A grittier presentation of this deathbed moment in “Orphan Hoursshows the poet forced to decide when to turn off her life support71 but “Lost Keydoesn’t so much deny that fact as sublimate it. The focus of “Lost Keyis on the mother and her death-unto-life revelation, rather than on the orphaned poet. The poet recognizes the beauty of his position: being present for his mother’s last words and final wishes; the agony of the father-son relationship is in part because there was no deathbed or funereal closure. “Lost Key,for as much as it sheds (bodies, keys, cities, literary father, mother, lifetimes, and the past) reconstructs the first intimacy—the mother-child bond—which is also the first loneliness. Death allows another reiteration of this intimacy, as the son’s hands blend into the mother’s hands blending into sycamore leaves. In “The Crows at 3 a.m.the poet revisits the deathbed scene of “Lost Key,elaborating on the resurrection or the reincarnation made possible only by a death: the poet sees in his own hands “the sycamore, those pocked dry leaves / that were my mother’s final hands.72 In a dream state the poet-speaker of “The Crows at 3 a.m.sees his hands lifting up his mother’s. In “Lost Keythe mother holds onto her son’s hands because she feels as though she’s falling as she lies on her hospital bed: mother and son are bound together and then separated by her death. This death scene is a kind of birth, much like the birth/death imagery of “a darkness pulled out of usdescribed in “Infidelity.73 Through birth and through death, mother and child are bound together in elemental ways, yet split apart and sundered. 

The child in a Plumly poem does not derive from confession or postconfession but is borrowed from romanticism. Within American confessional and postconfessional writing, the child speaks to cast blame on the parents, to locate emotional pain in the parents, and to constantly need what cannot be given by the parents. Or, in a slightly better light, the poet-child wants to engage the mother to perfect verbal prowess, to discover the self, to decode the mother’s mental illness, or to have the final say in endless battles with the mother over the past. Postconfessional poetry cannot stop ironically normalizing family crises by reaching back to examples of monstrous mothers in literature, psych wards, or song, thus trying to control the agon of the mother by way of other examples, other ghosts, and other people with similar problems. The research, the descriptions, and the digressions in postconfessional lyrics by Bidart, C.K. Williams, or Robert Hass, for example, seem bent on telling us that our problems are significant human dilemmas, also unsolved by other writers and thinkers, but made intensely interesting by the exercise of comparison and contrast with personal accounts of mother-son drama. All the while mother issues multiply for wearied, scholarly poet-sons who want to understand emotional pain through reading and rereading and to see themselves in historical and literary accounts. 

Through the lens of romanticism, Plumly has brought something different to the postconfessional mode: the child who absorbs the pain of adults and becomes a poet out of the whirlwind incoherence of the moment and the larger, more permanent inability to act. Clearly writing within the postconfessional mode, Plumly takes as his announced subject, the pain experienced within the family but filters it through a romanticist lens. The speaker in poem after poem represents a stasis of action but an abundance of empathetic feeling toward the very parents who have in many ways seemed to destroy the family. In contrasting Plumly to Plath and the confessionals, Bryan Walpert determines that “Plumly’s elegies are forgiving and consolatory.74 How has Plumly sublimated a desire to blame mother and father for the substance abuse, emotional isolation, enabling, dysfunctional relationships, infidelity, and violence? He has preserved the innocence and uncomplicated loyalty of the child who loves the parents, worships the parents, and ultimately cannot and will not choose a good parent over a bad parent. The most haunting conflict in “Infidelityis not marital unfaithfulness or the near death of the mother; but the child’s utter, natural, profound fidelity to the whole family. He will not reveal the one truth readers are looking for: which parent cheated? Instead both parents are uncomfortably silent as they pull out of the driveway; the mother either jumps or is thrown from the passenger seat. The child watches, screams, and sees a choice presenting itself “between / one or the other emptinessand “choos[es] at last between / parents, one of whom was driving away.75 This is clearly not a choice at all but a fate given; and this is why the poet does not name a doer and a done unto. The poem also dredges up other infidelities, other conversations about betrayal in love, where silence is painful and prolonged for both the faithless and the so called victim. When the child screams at the sight of his mother falling, as she is nearly killed, it appears that the narrator empathizes with the mother over the brute father, and that the source of infidelity matters not. Who cheated?; who is more at fault?; who is the enabler?; what did the affair mean to the faithless one?who did what, when, and why? These are not questions for the poet in this poem. In an interview, Plumly noted that the tone of “Infidelityis “implicitly forgivingand that it offers “reconciliation.76 The poem articulates a kind of closure impossible for the screaming boy in the poem to arrive at in that moment, but maybe in the moment after, given how quick-to-forgive a child’s love and loyalty are.

There is no black-and-white morality in “Infidelityor in a great many of Plumly’s family poems; instead there is the child standing in the driveway and screaming. What does that child know or care about the source of the troubled marriage and the broken family, if not to say that we do not choose our fate? We do not choose our parents; we are born into a world in which we had no choice. What does the child’s voice matter anyway? Can the child save the parents? Save himself? His screams are no more efficacious than those of the child Percival in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, who calls out his home address in the night, as if some kind policeman will wander by the deserted island and return him promptly to his mother. In Plumly’s archetypal family, the child is a witness and a bystander; he sees the parents’ fights but also yearns to be a part of their intimacy, to know “the talk in the great dark, / the voices low on the lawn / so the children cant hear.77 

There is something hauntingly celebratory in Plumly’s poetry about the child’s witnessing of violence, brutality, and destruction. The child is transformed into the figure of the poet, obsessed with parental muses and animating them in his own way. In “Autobiography and ArchetypePlumly says, “The absent mother is inconsistent, withdrawn, even aloof, manic-depressed, calling from death,78 and his poems evoke her cries from dreams and from the grave such that the insomniac mother-son coupling brings a sense of togetherness even in the loneliness. Ultimately, Plumly tries to give the parents back their dignity and reclaim what Joan Didion has called “the courage of their mistakes.79 After all, the poet-child is not meant to be seen in the poems as morally upright in contrast to wicked parents. In fact the child clearly learns the value of hard work and of money from both parents, and the value of silent meditation from both Quaker and Methodist heritages. Plumly knows that as their child, he has given his parents their gray hair: “We all know we’ll die of our children,he writes in “Say Summer / For My Mother.80 Like young Samuel in the Bible, the poet-child awakens to terrifying prophecy in the night and, having heard God’s voice, rouses the parental figure, Eli, only to find out he is the only person privy to the dream, and he is meant to write about it. 

The remarkable short lyric “Say Summer/For My Motheroffers the poet’s mother a gift in exchange for suffering: the breath of life. As if attempting to birth the mother anew, the poet gives her his life calling, his poetic gift, his name, and the acts of witnessing that are the seeds of poetry. The poem promises the mother that she can have her child back; that all his gifts, his name, and his talents in some way belong to her. She could have back all that her son is and does. It is as if the poet is acknowledging the debt of gratitude he owes his mother, and saying that his poetic gift circles back to her, and that he writes in part to return to her: 

I could give you back this name,
and back the breath to say it with
we all know we’ll die of our children
back the tree bent over the water,
back the sun burning down,
back the witness back each morning.81 

Plumly wishes to give his mother the “breath to say it,reversing the mother-child relation. He is the one to bestow the breath of life and the breath for speech. The urgency with which Plumly wants his mother to speak is seen in his offer of the breath to say it with. He would give her life, any resource she needed, to speak his name, to call him. The poem continually refers to language, suggesting that what the poet could give his mother back is the language that articulates the past through memory, dream, and wish. 

The unnamed “itin the poem refers to the language that resurrects the mother’s past. The poet promises in the first line, “I could give it back to you,” and from there, the poet hurries to reconfigure her past. Instead of a narrative of suffering, he finds redemption through a community of women, nature, and the mother-child bond. The poet sees the past anew for his mother: here is his own name, called home; here are his sisters, called in for supper; here is the kitchen, the lawn, the American family; the Bible, and the leaves. What exactly is Plumly giving her back? Words, memories, imagination, her youth, those days when her children are young, summer nights, and time itself? Plumly implicates himself as an unintentional destroyer of her body. The speaker comments in the middle of the montage of words, symbols, images: “We all know we’ll die of our children.The words are spoken softly and comically yet beneath them lies the fact that children usually outlive their parents, and take a particular toll on their mothers’ bodies. Many mothers have said to a child, “You’ll be the death of me yet.” In “Say Summer/For My Mothereven in the homage itself is a recompense for what has been taken from her both literally and figuratively. 

 “Say Summer/For My Motheralludes to the mother’s tears as well as the need for the language of compensation and—paradoxically—repetition of the past, both the “little tearsof pain and the mother’s stolen youth.82 The poet alludes to domestic violence in this poem, as in other poems where his father is seen as violent, drunk, and unpredictable. In “Linoleum: Breaking Down,the poet shows himself and his sister coming to their mother’s aid: 

She would come out of her bedroom
with nothing on and say that her arm
was sore or that her leg was numb
or that her heart hurt so much
she would have to lie down on the floor
right there and go to sleep. Go cold.
And we would lie down with her, my sister
and I, and she would tell us not to worry,
that it was all right, this is what happens,
like a bruise above the breast, we would
understand in time, body rich, body
poor, nothing is sure, nothing.83

Her children’s compassionate actions are heartbreaking, in part because of the mother’s nakedness in front of her children. She is exposed to them, their pity and their fear; she is forced to explain the unknowable, the unthinkable, and the unexplainable. When Plumly says that nothing is certain, we see the fragility and vulnerability of the mother but also the reach of her maternal love in her attempts to soothe the children. Plumly allows her the dignity of protecting her children, the decency of her well-meaning lies to them, and the purity of her nudity before them. Their sleeping together on the floor is presented as natural and tender. The poet never usurps or interrupts her maternal acts, even as he reciprocates care. 

The tone of Plumly’s verse makes it capacious and associative yet not rambunctious, showy, or loquacious. “Wide-ranging, digressive, meditative, repetitive, and deeply consideredis how reviewer Michael Dirda describes Plumly’s prose in The Immortal Evening, the second critical book Plumly has written about Keats.84 Such descriptors approximate the richness of Plumly’scontemplative prosea poet’s prose—and suggest the aesthetic behind Plumly’s poetry as well. His free-verse style is driven by the trinity of consonance, assonance, and association, but it is more conceptually organized by a narrative that thrives on three essential subjects: parental muses, Keatsian echoes, and observance of natural phenomena such as birdcalls, fallen trees, rivers, fish, and leaves. Plumly’s postconfessional verse is born from the romantic attachment to the silent sublime, the beauty of the natural world, and the purity of the child. 

Plumly differs from T. S. Eliot and the American modernists who, for all their American ingenuity, shone with Europhile and Anglophile earnestness. Plumly roots his connectedness to England not in glamor or showiness but in landscape, tone, and footstep. He has walked everywhere Keats has, lived in London, traveled in Italy, done research at the Keats House in London, and also haunted the Keats-Shelley House in Rome. Yet it is through the American midwestern landscape and family archetypes—child, mother, father, sisters—that Plumly discovered the romantic topoi of nature, childhood, and mortality. If confession was in part a response to the impersonal Anglophile poetics of T.S. Eliot, a rejection of the detached, formal qualities of English literary tradition, then Plumly’s postconfessional twist is to return to the English confession that preceded the twentieth-century poetry debates about raw versus cooked poetry, British versus American, personal versus impersonal. Romanticism offers a more contemplative look at the first worlds of family and earth and the first stories about nurture and nature. 

The silences, the meditative lone speaker, the scientific lens, the detective eye, the naturalist’s ear, and observations that suggest rather than announce: all these strategies contribute to a romantic mood. Beyond the shared themes of childhood, mortality, or nature is an essential approach to poetic material that feels like a peculiarly British throwback of an American poet. Yet Plumly is too idiosyncratic to be labeled part of a movement or school, a midwesterner wearing the death mask of Keats. What’s so interesting is that Plumly uses British romanticism to confess personal and traumatic subject matter in ways not explored by the original confessionals. Moreover, unlike Bidart or Williams, Plumly doesn’t explode the poetic line into something closer to prose or dramatic monologue. He’s not a poet of addition or excess, but a poet of subtraction and silence. His speakers are en route, circuitously wandering, lost in a thought, awakened from a dream, attuned to a haunting voice: they are men and women in reverie. This openness to the natural world, rather than openness of the self, distinguishes his postconfessional style. 

Through a commitment to the entire world his poem exists in, Plumly suggests what he will not write in. The reader will not find in a Plumly poem the elaborate dialogue or self-interrogation found in the work of Bidart, Robert Hass, or Williams. Plumly sublimates himself differently from other postconfessional poets through acts of witnessing and though adopting what he calls “intermediary identities”: “In a way the best autobiography is all of that which is not you, but that which you have passed through, passed among, been within.85 Thus, Plumly’s poems about his mother do not showcase arguments with her, conversations, or internal battles to kill or seduce or silence her. The mother in Plumly’s poems is both a mortal and a metaphor. Plumly writes about her tragic and traumatic moments in a fissured home under the tyranny of an alcoholic husband. The vulnerable figure of Plumly’s mother is symbolic and transcends autobiography. The mother as archetype is meaningful in Plumly’s romantic aesthetic. Childhood enters the poems in a mood of reverie as the mother’s voice soothes or troubles the child and occupies a place in the child’s imagination as one of the most powerful and vulnerable voices. Often heard in the evening or dead of night, the mother’s voice ushers the child into a meditative state: receptive, dreamlike, imaginative, and fragmentary. In one of the last poems Plumly wrote, “At Night,” he imagines joining his mother who is smoking in the evening all alone in a room, until she disappears: “my mother like another me in another life gone, / where I will go.”86 The poet elegizes himself as a child following his mother in death into a loneliness deeper than the initial rupture of mother and newborn at birth, achieving “a kind of purity of being.”87

Plumly celebrates the paradox of the romantic child, who is the observer, the witness, and the one watching in the background while never saying anything; yet the child is the one who changes the past, alters memory, and tinkers with meaning through reiteration, repetition, and return. The child becomes the poet through hearing the maternal voice as he drifts from dream to consciousness and back again. The child is never not his mother’s child. He forever has a mother, and she will always view him as her baby. However, the child is also an intimate other to the parents, contemplating their identities and his own while he is still forming one. The child-poet is witness to the family traumas and tribulations though the child-poet’s utterance isn’t judgmental. It’s one of empathetic immersion into the moment. The narrative is driven by a listening, psychoanalytic ear, a Quaker-infused deep quiet, a yogic-emptied-and-silenced meditative mind that ponders the questions and human dilemmas (without answers, without opinions), as if the sole purpose were only to be more fully aware, open, and receptive to experience, rather than to alter it or impose one’s existence upon it. Painful childhood and domestic violence are often the subject matters of Plumly’s autobiographical poems, but they never accuse the parents or address broader societal ills. The poet accepts reality much as a child might—almost inherently, the way children are perceivers, seemingly untainted by the adult problems and entanglements around them because they know no other life. To see one’s own situation as toxic, to point fingers at an abusive, drunk father would require knowing another language with which to step outside one’s view and adopt the outsiders labeling, reductive, curing, interruptive speech. Thus the purity of the archetypal child rescues Plumly’s poetry from any accusations of the child-as-victim narrative. 

The poet’s position as child is intentional within a framework through which the triangular relationship of child, parents, and natural world can be best navigated by meandering, questioning, traveling, remembering, longing, and dreaming. Plumly constructs a postconfessional aesthetic not in response to the confessionals or the modernists but in alignment with the romantics. David Wyatt says of Keats and Plumly, “The two poets share a love of walking, an eye for landscape, and a fascination with an often wavering line between waking and sleep, life and death.”88 What Plumly brings to a romantic understanding of nature, childhood, and dreaming is the archetypal, metaphoric, and fully realized figure of the mother. Her voice and her visage hover at the barriers of mortality and immortality, of waking and dreaming. 



Afterword, March 2024


I wrote this essay before Stan’s death in 2019, and had the chance to share it with him. He returned it to me with one correction (How did I get the title of one of his poems wrong? I wrote “Promising the Air” instead of “Surprising the Air”!). Stan said he was humbled by the essay, and had returned from a trip abroad to find it in his mailbox. He was a generous mentor, meeting students for coffee or lunch, often to discuss student writing. The first time he invited me for coffee at a Barnes and Noble cafe near his Bethesda apartment, I didn’t know this was the expectation. I came with nothing. “Where are your poems?” he demanded, having arrived twenty minutes late. “Your poems ARE the content,” he continued, making me feel ashamed of my empty hands, though all I could think about for a week previous was this meeting. “Well, then, Hannah Baker’s future, that will be the subject.” He encouraged me to go to graduate school to get my PhD. He helped me break away from a repressive evangelical upbringing that prevented me, held me back in fear and anxiety, from a full-fledged identity as a poet and from the kind of independence necessary for an adult and a creative life. Though he was never one to encourage confessional poetry, he somehow gave me the confidence to write, to break silences, though initially my “I” was a “you” in autobiographical poems.

I wasn’t planning to do an MFA in the first place, but while I was an undergraduate in Don Berger’s poetry class, I’d written a poem about the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Don shared this poem with Stan. Stan invited me for a meeting, and urged me to apply to the MFA program. He had a blazer with the elbow patches. He was intense and the real deal, whatever that meant to me at the time, but someone who made a life out of writing and teaching poems. So I did my MFA at Maryland, and then he helped encourage me to do my PhD, even though it meant leaving the country: “Why not go a place you like?” And he also recognized my need to create distance from my past, my religious upbringing, to become an independent and more free creative person.

Stan, for his all protestations of loneliness and solitude (though privacy factored in his creative world as it does for me), was so generous and amicable. He told me he was “socially adept” but preferred his own company. As a similarly introverted yet affectionate person, this resonated with me. I didn’t know the extent to which I need a poetry community until I met Stan and was part of the program. He connected me with poet friends and a poetry family. My mentors at Maryland are still with me deeply, Josh, Michael, Liz, Olmert, Don, and Sheila, and my MFA classmates are forever friends, Kat, Gerald, Lindsay, Meg, and Sofi. He, along with MFA classmates Kat and Gerald, introduced me to yoga, which is still an important practice of peace and intention (though I could do it more often). I was part of a poetry workshop with fellow alum after graduation, and to this day, I am part of a poetry collective (Write Like a Mother) with several alum and some other poets I’ve met along the way, Sarah and Isadora. Gerald Maa would become the editor of the literary journal The Georgia Review and the imprint Georgia Review Books at the University of Georgia Press, and would publish my first poetry book. Everyone who worked with Stan knew how often he’d say “all poetry is about loss,or remind us in moments of crisis that “you just pour that into your poems,but at the same time, Stan was incredibly uplifting and inspiring to be around. He loved to laugh, even mocking himself. Former students would often come to visit Stan’s classes, but Stan insisted that only the students would sit at the table. Visitors, even very close friends and mentees, would be told to push back from the seminar table. They weren’t part of the workshop community. All the discussion of poet-walkers like Keats and Coleridge and Wordsworth from Stan’s romanticism course—and Stan’s own following of each of Keats’s footsteps—did this practice influence my love of writing in my head while running (later, with difficulty, with a double jogging stroller)? The psychological and creative outlet was an unmatched rush.

When Stan and his wife Margaret attended my wedding in Washington, D.C., in 2011, he laughed, “Who would have thunk it?” Was he referring to the fact that I was so serious about poems in his office that when he asked me, “How are you otherwise?” I shot back, “How can there be an otherwise?” Regardless, he helped me connect poetry to a life, and even for all his death and loss poems, was kind, sweet, remarkably comfortable and easy-going, inspiring one of his lifelong colleagues to dedicate a book to him: “To Stan, the most cheerful person I know.” When I moved to England for graduate school, Stan mailed me his warmest sweaters and a long coat. A midwesterner, he was always concerned about his students staying warm against the cold. Whenever a group of us parted ways, he would make comments about the warmth and make of our coats. As his lifelong friend the poet David Baker evoked his gesture at a remembrance of Stan at the UMD chapel, Stan used to dramatically flip his scarf up around his neck as we entered the cold outdoors. As Tyler Mills’ eulogy commented upon, Stan had a special way of making each poet student of his feel chosen, invested in, and worthy of the task. At the memorial, his best friend and colleague Michael Collier played an audio of Stan reading a poem, and I felt like the sound was coming from the back of the chapel. Had he been resurrected? Was he really still here? Like everyone around me, I was shocked, jolted into uncontrollable tears. That voice.

Revisiting this writing for inclusion in the Tribute to Stan, I wanted to at least mention the mother poem “At Night” from Stan’s posthumous Middle Distances (2020), so I updated a few things in the essay. In the face of insurmountable loss (I can hear Stan laughing, “Gimme a break”), there are Stan’s poems and critical writings. Perhaps no different from other of Stan’s students, I’m regularly haunted. I hear Stan. I hear his editing voice merging with my own inner critic, I feel his excitement about new work, I feel his gentle yet demanding expectations and presence. He could be a rough critic: “Whoever taught you grammar had rocks in their head!” or “Get rid of the fucking epitaph!” or “This is prose, not lyric—put it in prose!” or “But why all this apparatus!?” He urged students to read their work out loud as they wrote so they would catch their mistakes, lest we read the poem in workshop and everyone would think (or say, since Stan would say it): “Are you kidding me?” Stan would often read student work out loud, sometimes to point out the musicality of a phrase. When I was new to his workshop, I wasn’t sure at first if he was reading something out loud from student work to praise or mock it: I was terrified. Sometimes, he offered reassurance and pressure at the same time: “We all know you can write, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. It’s not about that!” or “The same way you care about what you look like, the care you take in your appearance: poems are self-presentation, care about your poems, what you bring here.” He could be gorgeously sentimental, telling anyone of his students, “This is sun against steel!” or “someone’s going to discover you!” or “You can’t teach this, what you have” or “Are you still writing those poems?” He was a poetry father, god, mother, brilliant light. Though he is everywhere in his words and haunting, still I miss him so much. My elegy for him, “Elegy for New Work” tries to honor the midwestern work ethic and affectionate intensity of his poetry practice but also his practice as a fathering/mothering mentor.



[1] This is a slightly adapted version of a book chapter originally published in my first book, Male Poets and the Agon of the Mother: Contexts in Confessional and Postconfessional Poetry (University of South Carolina Press, 2019).

[2] Teacher-student communication, Graduate Poetry Workshop, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, 2005.

[3] John Keats, Letter to J.H. Reynolds, 3 February 1818, Selected Letters, ed. by Robert Gittings (Oxford University Press, 2002), 58.

[4] Keats, Letter to J.H. Reynolds, 58.

[5] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000 (Ecco Press, 2000), 142.

[6] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel (Ecco Press, 1977): 21, 3.

[7] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel, 21.

[8] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 93.

[9] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel, 22.

[10] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 144.

[11] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 128.

[12] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 141–142.

[13] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel, 3.

[14] Plumly, Boy on the Step (Ecco Press, 1989), 48–50.

[15] Plumly, Old Heart (Norton, 2007), 89–90.

[16] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 146–50.

[17] Plumly, Marriage in the Trees (Ecco Press, 1995), 72–73.

[18] Plumly, Orphan Hours, (Norton, 2012), 18–20.

[19] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 103–5.

[20] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 59–60.

[21] Plumly, Old Heart, 88.

[22] Plumly, Old Heart, 20–21.

[23] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 2–3.

[24] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 28–34.

[25] Plumly, Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (Norton, 2008), 173–174.

[26] Plumly, Posthumous Keats, 182.

[27] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel, 22.

[28] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 31.

[29] Plumly, “The Poet on the Poem: ‘Lost Key’” American Poetry Review, 38, no. 6 (2009), 9.

[30] Plumly, “Lost Key,” Orphan Hours, 34.

[31] Plumly, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” Orphan Hours, 49.

[32] Plumly, “Lost Key,” Orphan Hours, 28.

[33] Plumly, Marriage in the Trees, 72–73.

[34] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 34.

[35] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 70.

[36] Plumly, “Above Barnesville,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 97.

[37] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 28.

[38] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 34.

[39] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 33.

[40] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 33.

[41] Plumly, “After Whistler,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 120.

[42] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 144.

[43] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel, 3.

[44] Plumly, “Autobiography and Archetype” (2001), Argument and Song: Sources and Silences in Poetry (Handsel Press, 2003: 153–61), 158.

[45] Plumly, “Cows,” Out-of-the-Body Travel, 3.

[46] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 127.

[47] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 127.

[48] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 145.

[49] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 32.

[50] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 33.

[51] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 28, 34.

[52] Plumly, Boy On The Step, 50.

[53] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 69.

[54] Plumly, Old Heart, 90.

[55] Plumly, “Autobiography and Archetype,” 159.

[56] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel, 39.

[57] Plumly, “For Esther,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 147.

[58] Robert Pinsky, “History of My Heart,” History of My Heart (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984): 25–34.

[59] Plumly, “Autobiography and Archetype,” 159.

[60] Plumly, “My Mother’s Feet,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 128.

[61] Plumly, “The Iron Lung,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 141.

[62] Plumly, “Arbitrarily,” Orphan Hours, 60.

[63] Plumly, “Infidelity,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 93.

[64] Plumly, “Argument and Song,” Boy On The Step, 49–50.

[65] Plumly, “Argument and Song,” Boy On The Step, 49–50.

[66] Plumly, “Argument and Song,” Boy On The Step, 50.

[67] Plumly, “Autumnal,” Old Heart, 88.

[68] Plumly, “Lost Key,” Orphan Hours, 32.

[69] Plumly, Old Heart, 88.

[70] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 32.

[71] Plumly, Orphan Hours, 104.

[72] Plumly, “The Crows at 3 a.m.,” Orphan Hours, 18.

[73] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 93.

[74] Bryan Walpert, “‘A Darkness Pulled Out of Us’: Stanley Plumly and the Elegy of Relationship,” Papers on Language and Literature (June 1, 2002: 227–43), 242.

[75] Plumly, “Infidelity,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 93.

[76] Plumly, “The Poet and the Poem,” Interviews with Significant Poets by Grace Cavalieri, Library of Congress, NPR, Feb. 2005.

[77] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 144.

[78] Plumly, “Autobiography and Archetype,” 157.

[79] Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect,” Slouching Toward Bethlehem (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1961. Rpt. 2008: 142–46), 143.

[80] Plumly, “Say Summer/For My Mother,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 144.

[81] Plumly, “Say Summer/For My Mother,” Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 144.

[82] Plumly, Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, 144.

[83] Plumly, Out-of-the-Body Travel (Ecco Press, 1977), 21.

[84] Michael Dirda, “Michael Dirda Reviews Stanely Plumly’s The Immortal Evening,” The Washington Post, 15 October 2015.

[85] “Stanley Plumly: An Interview,” Interview by David Bispiel and Rose Solari. American Poetry Review 24 (May/June 1995, 43–50), 45.

[86] Plumly, “At Night,” Middle Distance: Poems (Norton, 2020 posthumous), 80.

[87] Plumly, “At Night,” 80.

[88] David Wyatt, “Working the Field,” Southern Review 36 (Autumn 2000, 974–80), 874.