He has published many books of poetry, both in San Francisco and in Canada. One of his best-known poems is "Veracruz". A Tall Serious Girl is his collection of selected poetry. In 2006 he won the Shelley Memorial Award.
Stanley grew up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, attending St. Ignatius College Preparatory high school. His family was middle-class, Irish, and Catholic. In 1951, he attended the University of San Francisco, but left it to enrol at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City a year later. In 1953, Stanley enlisted in the US Army, where he served until 1956. He then enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley and remained there until 1957. It is then that he met Jack Spicer, who asked Stanley to join his Poetry as Magic workshop, which Spicer taught at San Francisco State College, and which included Robert Duncan, Helen Adam, James Broughton, Joe Dunn, and Jack Gilbert. Stanley's poems started appearing in publications such as J (San Francisco, 1958-1959), Floating Bear (New York, 1960), and Open Space (San Francisco, 1964). His two chapbooks, Tête Rouge/Pony Express Riders and Flowers, were published in 1963 and 1965 respectively. Stanley returned to formal education and received his bachelor's degree in 1969 and his master's degree in 1971, both from San Francisco State University.
In 1971, Stanley moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he lived for five years, working on the underground newspaper The Grape. New Star Books published his first full-length collection, You, in 1974. In 1976 he moved to Terrace in northern B.C., where he worked as an instructor in the English department at Coast Mountain College. In 1992 he moved back to Vancouver to teach at Capilano College. During this period, Stanley published books and was active in Canadian politics, unions, and the alternative media, and served as a board member of the Capilano Press Society, publisher of The Capilano Review. He also edited and contributed to the intergenerational Vancouver literary journal Tads (1996-2001), through which Stanley, George Bowering, Jamie Reid, and Renee Rodin mentored younger writers such as Thea Bowering, Wayde Compton, Reg Johanson, Ryan Knighton, Jason Le Heup, Chris Turnbull, and Karina Vernon.
- Beyond Love (San Francisco: Dariel Press, 1968)
- You (Poems 1957-67) (Vancouver: New Star Books, 1974)
- The Stick: Poems, 1969-73 (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1974)
- Opening Day (Fernie, BC: Oolichan Books, 1983)
- Gentle Northern Summer (Vancouver: New Star Books, 1995)
- At Andy's (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2000)
- A Tall, Serious Girl: Selected Poems 1957-2000 (Jamestown, RI: Qua Books, 2003)
- Vancouver: A Poem (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2008)
- After Desire (Vancouver, New Star Books: 2013)
- North of California St.: Selected Poems (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2014)
- West Broadway (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2018)
-  Web page titled "Don Precosky's Introduction,/ INTRODUCTION: North of What?" at the Harbour Publishing Web site, accessed December 17, 2006.
- "George Stanley fonds, Simon Fraser University, Special Collections and Rare Books" (PDF).
- Works by or about George Stanley in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
-  Interview, "It's Still Winter" at Web site of the English Department of the University of Northern British Columbia
- "The Power of the Unhappy People"
- "Outside the Kingdome"
- "Sex at 62"
- "In Scotland"