Stanley, Mary

Stanley, Mary

In Brief

Poet Mary Stanley’s output was small but of a high quality. Three of her earliest poems won her the Jessie Mackay Memorial Award of 1945, and by 1951 she had a sufficiently large selection to publish one slim volume, Starveling Year. Stanley’s poems are carefully crafted, often employing personal and domestic themes to comment on significant issues like death, grief, materialism and nuclear war.

FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE

Stanley, Mary (1919–80), is a poet whose output, though small, is of high quality. Three of her earliest poems won her the Jessie Mackay Memorial Award of 1945, and she went on from there to publish in periodicals like Kiwi, Yearbook of the Arts in New Zealand and Here & Now.

By 1951 she had a sufficiently large selection to publish one slim volume, Starveling Year (1953). There is little evidence to support the view expressed by some critics that Stanley was silenced by the male literary establishment of the 1950s. Indeed, her second husband, poet Kendrick Smithyman, notes in his introduction to Stanley’s posthumous edition Starveling Year and Other Poems (Auckland University Press, 1994), that ‘men as different as A.R.D.Fairburn, M.K.Joseph, Robert Lowry, Frank Sargeson, Maurice Duggan, James K.Baxter, Robert Thompson and especially Louis Johnson treated her respectfully’.

Stanley’s poems are carefully crafted, often employing personal and domestic themes as vehicles for subtle comments on universally significant issues like death, grief, materialism and nuclear war. Her best work is characterised by a brilliance of image that merits comparison with work from the same period by Australian poet Judith Wright.

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Updated January 2017.