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Francis Gildart Stanford was one of the most recognized and prolific emerging poets of his generation until his suicide at the age of twenty-nine. Though all but two of his books remain out of print, his poems, which pitch startling and often surreal imagery against stark Southern landscapes, have sustained Stanford’s reputation and influence among poets who knew him during his lifetime and have ushered in a resurgence of admirers among a new generation of poets.
Frank Stanford was born on August 1, 1948, on the Mississippi side of the Delta, was orphaned, and then was adopted in 1949 by Dorothy Gildart, who was single and the first female manager in the Firestone Corporation. In 1950, Dorothy Gildart adopted a daughter, Bettina Ruth, and in 1952, she married Albert Franklin Stanford, a civil engineer based in Memphis, Tennessee, where the family relocated; Albert Stanford adopted Frank and his younger sister.
After his adopted father’s death in 1963, Stanford entered Subiaco Academy near Paris (Logan County). In 1967, he entered the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) with a plan to pursue civil engineering but emerged to prominence as an undergraduate invited into MFA writing workshops. Stanford left the university in 1971 without a degree.
Stanford married Linda Mercin in 1971, but the marriage ended within a year. In 1973, he married the painter Ginny Crouch. They first lived near Beaver Lake, later at her family’s farm in southern Missouri, and finally in Fayetteville. Stanford worked as a land surveyor to support their artistic projects. The couple had no children.
Stanford published widely in a number of journals and magazines—such as Ironwood, kayak, and Field—between 1971 and 1977. Irving Broughton’s Mill Mountain Press printed Stanford’s first six books: The Singing Knives (1972), Ladies from Hell (1974), Field Talk (1975), Shade (1975), Arkansas Bench Stone (1975), and Constant Stranger (1976). In the early 1970s, while Stanford helped Broughton film interviews with poets including Richard Hugo and Malcolm Cowley, Broughton and Stanford shot an experimental short film on Stanford’s life, It Wasn't a Dream, It Was a Flood, which won the West Coast Film Festival Best Experimental Film Award.
In 1977, Stanford released his 15,283-line poem, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, through Lost Roads Press, which he co-founded with the poet C. D. Wright. The poem, which drew high praise from poets as diverse as Alan Dugan and Lorenzo Thomas, and drew comparisons to the novels Moby-Dick and Huckleberry Finn, follows the streaming visions of the boy-hero, Francis Gildart, passing through the throes of adolescent carnality, racial injustice, and Southern folk superstition. Shortly after Stanford’s death, Ironwood Press published Crib Death (1979). Lost Roads posthumously published You (1979) and a collection of short stories, Conditions Unlikely and Certain to Pass Away (1991). The University of Arkansas Press published The Light the Dead See: The Selected Poems of Frank Stanford (1991), which offers only a glimpse of Stanford’s vast body of poetry and contains none of the letters, film scripts, and short stories from his literary estate, which consists of thousands of pages.
On June 3, 1978, Stanford died from three self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the heart from a twenty-two-caliber handgun after confessing his infidelity to his wife; he had suffered from depression and threatened suicide on previous occasions. He is buried at Saint Benedict's Cemetery near Subiaco Abbey. In 2015, Copper Canyon Press released a compilation volume of Stanford’s poems titled What about This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Later that same year, Third Man Books published Hidden Water: From the Frank Stanford Archives.
For additional information:
Buford, Bill. “Delta Nights.” New Yorker (June 5, 2000). Online at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2000/06/05/delta-nights (accessed April 7, 2015).
Carter, Tiffany. “‘I am the Son of the River’: Frank Stanford’s Delta Poetry.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 50 (April 2019): 31–36.
Elkins, Ansel. “Last Panther of the Ozarks.” Oxford American (Fall 2015): 118–125.
Ehrenreich, Ben. “The Long Goodbye.” Poetry Foundation. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/181083 (accessed April 7, 2015).
“Frank Stanford.” The Academy of American Poets. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/730 (accessed April 7, 2015).
Henriksen, Matthew. “The Return of Frank Stanford.” Arkansas Times, April 9, 2015, pp. 26, 28–29. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/the-return-of-frank-stanford/Content?oid=3801756 (April 13, 2015).
Launius, Carl Judson. “It Was a Flood: The Life and Poetry of Frank Stanford.” PhD diss., University of California, Davis, 1988.
“The Writing: Collections.” Alsop Review. http://www.alsopreview.com/thecollections.htm (accessed October 30, 2006).
Wright, C. D. “Frank Stanford: Blue Yodel of a Wayfaring Stranger.” Oxford American, Winter 2006, pp. 98–105.
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Last Updated 4/9/2019
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