Sunday, April 18, 2021

Stanley McNail

Stanley McNail (b. Centralia, Illinois, 14 March 1918; d. Alameda, California, 4 April 1995)

The 1965 Arkham House edition
Stanley Duane McNail was the only child of Karl (sometimes Carl) Hicks McNail (1897-1991), a railway switchman (per his 1918 Draft Registration and the 1930 US Census), and his wife Constance Kathleen, nee Poyner (1898-1978), who were married around 1914. The family  lived mostly in Illinois, though the 1930 Census locates them in Evansville, Indiana. 

Stanley moved to the San Francisco area around 1953. He contributed to many small press poetry magazines, and served as editor and publisher for some literary journals, including The Galley Sail Review (founded 1958), and Nightshade (founded 1965). He also served as poetry editor at other publications such as Renaissance and The Bay Guardian. Many of McNail's poems are macabre in nature.

His first publication was a genealogical booklet, Notes on the Family History of William B. McNail (1782-1868), as by Stanley D. McNail, published in 1957. It details his family history. His first of four poetry collections was the slim booklet Footsteps in the Attic (1958). His second collection, also small, was The Black Hawk Country (1960, second edition 1967). McNail contributed five poems to August Derleth's Arkham House anthology, Fire and Sleet and Candlelight (1961).

The 1987 Embassy Hall edition
His third collection is certainly his most famous work. Something Breathing contains thirty-two poems and was published by Arkham House in 1965. Only forty-four pages, it was printed in an edition of 500 hardcover copies for Arkham House by Villiers Publications in England. The cover art is by Frank Utpatel. McNail issued an expanded edition of this title, containing forty-six poems, in trade paperback, under the Embassy Hall Editions imprint, of Berkeley, California, in 1987. It includes Utpatel's original cover illustration (printed interiorly), as well as a new cover and three illustrations by Christopher Chavez. There is also a brief prefatory note by Steve Eng, who describes McNail's poems as "admirably brief" and "energetically wry." 

McNail edited a chapbook Sorcerer's Samplecase: Selected Poems in a Jugular Vein (1986), with all poems reprinted from either The Galley Sail Review or Nightshade. It includes works by nineteen poets, including four by McNail, and one by Paul Zimmer.

His final collection was At Tea in the Mortuary: Poems and Tales (1991), with an introduction by Alan Warren and illustrations by Christopher Chavez. 

McNail died of a heart attack at his apartment at the age of 77. An obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that he had worked for Greyhound for fifteen years, retiring in 1983.


  1. I met Stanley McNail a few times in the 1990s when he was living in Berkeley, in a small apt. on University Ave. A great, funny guy who read his poems with high drama. Loved his poetry but even more so when he di public readings.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if any recordings of his readings survive....