Welcome to the Frank Stanford Page. We will try to provide readers with links as they become available to online writings and related topics about the life and work of America's greatest unknown writer. In addition, we hope to publish work about Frank Stanford by those who know his writing and by those who may have known him when he was alive. The goal of the Frank Stanford page is to pay homage to the author while connecting his work to a new generation of readers who may not have heard of him and with the hope that by doing so there may one day appear a Collected Works Of Frank Stanford. We need to keep his work alive and in the light of day.
Note: All Material/Links Copyright / All Rights Reserved By The Individual Authors / Web Sites / Editors / Publications. Portrait of Frank Stanford by Ginny Stanford.
Greg Bachar, Editor
"Really, I visualize the dead as well as the living. I visualize you who I will never know. We are constant strangers. I imagine you, I stare at you when I write."
When a writer dies, he or she dies two deaths and leaves two bodies behind, their physical body and their body of written work. It is the responsibility of the living to see that the writer's efforts to create a world on the page aren't wasted by allowing their words to slip and sink beneath the wake of passing time. Frank Stanford is a writer whose work and legacy now sit dangerously close to the edge of oblivion.
Of the eleven volumes of his work that were published both during his lifetime and after his death, only one, a collection of short fiction, Conditions Uncertain & Likely To Pass Away, is available today. NOTE: Since this article was written in 1998, University of Arkansas Press has kept in print the 1991 collection The Light The Dead See: Selected Poems Of Frank Stanford; in 2000, Lost Roads re-issued Stanford's epic poem The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You and just this year also published two of the author's early collections, You and The Singing Knives.
The rest of his books are out of print and hard to find and an untold number of poems and short stories remain unpublished and uncollected, a fact which might lead some to believe that his work is neither important nor deserving of a larger audience and proper evaluation by readers and critics alike. Among poets and writers who have discovered Frank Stanford's work, though, just the opposite is true, as they have kept his writing alive by tracking down and xeroxing for each other the rare volumes of his poetry that actually represent only a portion of the manuscripts he put together during his lifetime. For many who stumble upon his words for the first time, there is a mixture of responses--inspiration at the scope and magnitude of his body of work; curiosity to know more about his life; and frustration with the fact that the thousands of pages of poems, stories, essays, and letters that make up his literary estate have, for the most part, languished in the thirty years that have passed since his death.
"If I was a pilgrim, I only had a raft and the river was low. If I was a poet, then who was Shelly and that one F. Villon. If I was trying to be somebody else, then why was I becoming myself."
Frank Stanford was born on August 1, 1948, in Mississippi. When he was twelve, he and his family moved to Arkansas. Three years later, after his father's death, he discovered that he was an orphan and had been adopted. He completed the last three years of his high school education in the Benedictine Academy in Subiaco, Arkansas, and was accepted into the University Of Arkansas Graduate Poetry Workshop in 1969. He left the program without fulfilling its degree requirements, spent many of his years as a self-described "traveling recluse," wrote extensively, and was married twice, the second time to the painter Ginny Stanford.
He was the subject of a documentary, It Wasn't A Dream, It Was A Flood, made in 1975 by his friend and first publisher, the writer and filmmaker Irv Broughton, whose Mill Mountain Press issued Stanford's first seven books of poetry. He earned a modest living as a land surveyor, briefly ran a movie house that showed foreign films, and founded Lost Roads Publishers in an effort to bring to print the writers whose work he thought deserved to be read. On June 3, 1978, he committed suicide by shooting himself three times in the heart with a twenty-two caliber pistol. He was twenty-nine years old.
"For some reason, danger calmed my nerves and made me sleep. As Jean Cocteau said, I think, the old myths are constantly being reborn without their heroes, their victims, knowing it, like lies who always tell the truth, the poet lives beyond his era, thus tragedy, therefore black comedy, ad infi..."
The manner of Frank Stanford's death left an indelible absence felt to this day by those who knew and loved him. A close reading of the work he left behind makes his passing seem even more poignant and senseless to those of us who can only know him through his writing. The twenty years since his death have seen the perpetuation of a Stanford "mystique" that, in some circles, has allowed his life and work to take on an almost mythic quality. Caused, in equal parts, by a tendency of some critics to mistakenly point to his death as a way of understanding who he was and what his writing was all about, along with the steady disappearance and unavailability of his books, this "mystique" has disguised and overlooked the fact that, in his lifetime, he was an active participant in nearly every aspect of his chosen craft (writing, publishing, thinking about and speaking on his aesthetic ideas in interviews and correspondence with friends and other writers).
The Stanford "mystique" also does not acknowledge the fact that he did not die an unknown poet-- much of what he wrote, relative to the number of pages of writing he left behind, was published in chapbooks, books, and literary journals while he was alive by editors and publishers who recognized the beauty of his creative talent. Much has been written about Frank Stanford the poet, yet he also wrote what amounts to several volumes of short fiction over the course of his life. He also did translations of poems by Vallejo, Bertolucci, Pasolini, Follain, and Parra, evidence that he recognized the need himself to champion the work of writers who would otherwise remain unpublished, neglected, and unread. If one considers the fact that there exists today, in his literary estate and the private collections of those he knew and corresponded with, a reader's treasure trove of unpublished poems, stories, letters, essays, notes, and film scripts, it becomes obvious that Frank Stanford's legacy deserves to be championed by those who would like nothing more than to see his work in print and available to the generations of readers who have not heard of him yet.
"If we could think or dream, sending out a fleet of poems at the speed of light, or approaching the speed of light, what would we actually be doing. If a poem could travel the same distance light could in a year, then a poem I would launch now would be fifteen years old and passing thru this galaxy's edge and I would have been dead 45,000 years. There is something to all this and death."
A close reading of his poetry, letters, fiction, and essays reveals the presence of a confident, original voice and a personal aesthetic that was not only limited to literature, but also incorporated a deep understanding of painting, music, philosophy, and cinema. We can only speculate as to what might have come from Stanford's imagination had he survived the demons that led him to an early exit from this world.
In an essay titled "With The Approach Of The Oak The Axeman Quakes," Frank Stanford wrote: "When the poet is young he tries to satisfy himself with many poems in one night. Later the poet spends many a night trying to satisfy the one poem. My poetry is no longer on a journey, it has arrived at its place." One hopes that this statement might one day be fulfilled with a Collected Works Of Frank Stanford on the shelves of bookstores and in the hands of readers who might be moved or inspired by the words he left behind for us to read and carry with us as our own.
--Greg Bachar (This article first appeared in Rain Taxi)