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About this poet

Born in 1945, Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and attended the University of Washington, where she received her BA in 1969 and her MA in 1971. Her numerous books of poetry include Roget's Illusion (G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin, 2014); First Hand (Penguin, 2005); The Seconds (Putnam, 2001); The Profile Makers (Owl Publishing Company, 1997); The Ghost Trio (Henry Holt & Co., 1994), which was named a Notable Book Selection by the American Library Association; Heart and Perimeter (Owl Publishing Company, 1991); and The Stillness, the Dancing (Henry Holt & Co., 1988).

Her forceful and scholarly poems investigate science, history, and art, within collections that are haunted and shaped by the presence of historical figures such as Gregor Mendel, who leads the reader through First Hand, and the Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, whose glass plate negatives provided the inspiration for The Profile Makers when Bierds learned they were declared as surplus and sold to gardeners for use as greenhouse windows.

"As Bierds explores the lives of others—mostly nineteenth-century figures—from inside out, lyricism blends with scientific scrupulosity to give these poems a powerful charge," declared a review of The Ghost Trio in the New Yorker. "Whether illuminating odd corners in the life of Beethoven, Darwin, Toulouse-Lautrec, or some anonymous child, she manages to turn anecdote into epiphany—to translate idiosyncratic information into emotionally persuasive acts of historical recovery."

Because her poems are often laden with historical references and challenging language, Bierds is often described as a difficult and overly intellectual writer. In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bierds responded to the notion of obscurity by saying: "In grade-school classrooms, there's this notion that a poem is similar to a mathematical problem and that it has a solution. That's very off-putting to people. They remember back to fifth or sixth grade and how they didn't 'get' poetry then and probably never will. But they did get it, just in a different way. Much of the reputation that 'poetry is difficult' comes from this mistaken thinking that a poem has one answer."

Bierds has received several Pushcart Prizes, as well as grants and awards from the Seattle Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the MacArthur Foundation, who praised her in 1998 as "a poet whose attention to historical detail and to narratives of lyric description sets her apart from the prevailing contemporary styles."

She has taught English and writing at the University of Washington since 1989, and was the director of its creative writing program from 1997 until 2000. She lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington.

The Fish

Linda Bierds
". . . tomorrow I look forward to a greater harvest."
     —Charles Darwin, 1832


Month after dry month, then suddenly
a brief rain has delivered to the fractured hillsides
a haze of grass. So sparse it might be
a figment of the heart. Yet its path
on the outstretched hand is true—brush and retreat—
like the breaths of a spaniel.

There are buried in the decks of certain ships
melon-sized prisms of glass, dangling their apices
to the cabins below. Through
their forked, pyramidic ziggings, daylight
is offered to the mess tables, to the tinware,
the gun-gray curlings of salt-tongue.
Not rainbowed at all, the light
approaches the face of each sailor
in segments, like the light in a spine of
train car windows. Then fuses, of course, when it
marries the retina, its chopped evolution

lost in the stasis of the visible.
We turn homeward soon. I remember
the seam lines of southern constellations, and the twin
tornadoes of a waterspout: one funnel
of wind reaching down from a cloud,
one funnel of sea reaching upward. They met
with the waist of an hourglass—in perfect reflection,
as we, through the Archer, the Scorpion, the Painter,
call forth from the evening some
celestial repetition of our shared churnings.

We shattered the spout
with shotguns that kicked like the guns of my childhood
when leaves were a prune-mulch and my sisters
stood at the rim of the orchard.
Katty. Caroline. Susan. Marianne.
In the temperate wind, their dresses and sashes,
the variegated strands of their hair, were
the nothing of wood smoke. Steam.

I cannot foretell our conclusion.

But once, through a pleat-work of waves,
I watched as a cormorant caught and released
a single fish. Eight times. Trapped and released.
Diving into an absence, the fish
re-entered my vision in segments, arcing
through the pivot of the bird's beak. Magnificent,
I thought, each singular visit, each
chattering half-step from the sea.

From The Ghost Trio by Linda Bierds (Henry Holt and Company, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Linda Bierds. Appears courtesy of the author.

From The Ghost Trio by Linda Bierds (Henry Holt and Company, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Linda Bierds. Appears courtesy of the author.

Linda Bierds

Linda Bierds

Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and attended the University of University of Washington, where she received her BA in 1969 and her MA in 1971.

by this poet

poem
Osseous, aqueous, cardiac, hepatic—
back from bone the echoes stroke, back
from the halved heart, the lungs
three years of weightlessness have cinched to gills.
From a leather chaise, the astronaut’s withered legs
dangle, as back they come, sounds
a beaked percussion hammer startles into shape.
The physician
poem
When the cow died by the green sapling,
her limp udder splayed on the grass
like something from the sea, we offered
our words in their low calibrations—
which was our fashion—then severed
her horns with a pug-toothed blade
and pounded them out to an amber
transparency, two sheets that became,
in their moth-wing
poem

 

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