He studied at Chadwick School, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, the American Academy in Rome, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University. He taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Boston University, and State University of New York, Buffalo. He was fired by SUNY-Buffalo for not taking a loyalty oath, but was vindicated in the Supreme Court. His students included Maxine Kumin, Peter Davison, Emily Hiestand, Mary Baine Campbell, Craig Lucas, James Hercules Sutton, and Askold Melnyczuk.
His work is marked by clever rhymes, witty asides, and the fusing of Romantic themes with cynicism towards modern life. Starbuck called his style of formalism SLABS, for Standard Length And Breadth Sonnets. He was not widely appreciated by mainstream culture during his lifetime, but in the few years since his death his work has earned favor from both literary critics and casual readers of poetry. Two new collections of his poems have been published in the last few years (Poems Selected from Five Decades and Visible Ink) and have helped win him a wider audience. Starbuck's best-known poems include "Tuolomne," "On an Urban Battlefield," and "Sonnet With a Different Letter At the End of Every Line."
- 1993 Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry
- 1982 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, for The Argot Merchant Disaster: Poems New and Selected
- 1960 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition
- Kathryn Starbuck, Elizabeth A. Meese, ed. (November 2003). The Works: Poems Selected from Five Decades. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-1378-4.
- Kathryn Starbuck, Elizabeth A. Meese, ed. (March 2002). Visible Ink. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-1154-4.
- The Argot Merchant Disaster: Poems New and Selected. Little, Brown. 1982. ISBN 978-0-316-81081-4.
- Desperate Measures, D. R. Godine, August 1978
- Elegy in a Country Church Yard, September 1975
- White Paper, Little, Brown, 1966
- Bone Thoughts, 1960 reprint. AMS Press. 1971. ISBN 978-0-404-53856-9.
- Lorrie Goldensohn, ed. (2006). "Of Late". American war poetry: an anthology. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13310-4.
- Jillian Frakes 2012 OR POL Champion. "Poetry Out Loud". Poetry Out Loud. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- McHenry, Eric. "Who is George Starbuck, anyway? - Slate Magazine". Slate.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "Richard Lipsitz Papers, 1964-1967 at the State University of New York at Buffalo. University Archives". Libweb1.lib.buffalo.edu:8080. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "345 F2d 236 Keyishian v. Board of Regents of University of State of New York C J a". OpenJurist. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Harvard News Office (2004-02-19). "Harvard Gazette: Local poet, teacher George Starbuck honored". News.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "W" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-23.